Is It Your Story To Tell?

Before I write my blog I’d like to point out a new podcast, The Fantasy Writer’s Toolshed and you can find it here on You Tube: Thanks to my friend Richie Billings!

Okay. This is undoubtedly a touchy subject. Racism is a hot topic no matter how far we get from the bad, old days. From British colonialism to American slavery to the near-genocide of the First Americans to the grisly efforts of Nazi Germany, mankind has always sought to either enslave or subjugate their fellow man. Always the perpetrator of these heinous acts believed their victims were below them in standards of humanity. Ignorant. Barbaric. Heathen. They felt they had a mandate to overthrow their governments and way of life in order to “show them a better way” or force a religion on them they didn’t want but mostly to take what the other guy had.

As a white American I feel no personal responsibility for the atrocities my ancestors committed but reading “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” and other histories of white American expansion nevertheless made me ashamed of every drop of white blood in my veins. To think that “Manifest Destiny” drove the American government to bow down to the greed of the settlers of the west makes me ill. Who deemed it necessary to send blankets used by people sick with smallpox to the Indians they’d already condemned to miserable reservations? Congressmen and land speculators. Pastors and priests deplorably used the Holy Bible and soft words to help persuade the Native Americans to trust the white men. It’s an anonymous quote that I remember more than any other: “The white man made many promises and kept only one. They promised to take our land and they took it.”

Just as appalling as wiping out a people that were living full, peaceful lives before we ever got here was bringing over another race to build our roads and towns, plant crops, nurse white babies and endure our efforts to “civilize” them. I’ve only heard one black person ever say she thanked God for slavery because she might otherwise now be some man’s third wife and forced to undergo female circumcision. Slavery wasn’t all of it, by any means. There was the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws and a one hundred year wait for civil rights reform.

So what’s my point? I’ll tell you. A few weeks ago I posted a short story to my Facebook author page, Dee Caples, Writer, called Everything’s Copacetic. It’s about a man who believes he’s the reincarnation of Mr. Bojangles. Not the man from the Jerry Jeff Walker song, but the real man, Bill Robinson. He danced his way into film legend and helped pave the way for racial reforms whose fruits he didn’t live to enjoy. It could arguably be said I should have kept my mouth shut but I didn’t. Upon posting the story to my site I thought to ask if it bothered black people to read a white author having one black man call another black man the N word. Upon having a woman respond that she was “usually uncomfortable” with this I changed the story, not wanting to offend anyone.

It led to a firestorm, to say the least, because I posted the query on a writer’s group I belonged to. Belonged, that’s right. I was labeled as being a racist at worst and an idiot at the least. I felt like I’d been told to take my ball and leave the playground. Then a white, politically correct British Facebook friend explained I was taking matters too personally and it was viewed by black people as just another white person trying to write about a history she’d not lived.

I read an article entitled “Not Your Story To Tell.” Point taken. I don’t know a damned thing about being black. Racial injustice isn’t something I’ve ever encountered. When a cop stops me all I have to worry about is the beer I drank fifteen minutes ago or whether I have a tail light out that I was unaware of. If I’ve been racially profiled I didn’t know it. Once I did walk into a bar that was full of black faces and decided I’d better go on in and have a drink now that I was framed in the doorway. Was I uncomfortable? A little. No since in lying about it. I got a drink and found some folks I’d gone to school with and sat at their table but I didn’t dare get up and dance. Was that a racist action? Maybe, but it was based on a self-truth. I can’t dance for shit.

You’ll have to decide the title question for yourself. I will concede that any future novel of mine that has someone of another race as the main character will need to be thoroughly researched for authenticity. I will also run it by someone of that race to see if I have the right of it. My last word on the idea of something not being my story to tell is: stories are kind of like our children. They are conceived in our head and grow inside us. We give birth to them, sustain them, correct them then send them into the world and hope everyone loves them as much as we do. Even if they’re ugly.

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