Fool Needs Assistance
dsb589 > 03-23-2017, 05:48 PM
My name is Dan, and I am a white college student who enjoys writing fiction, even though I’m not the best at it. Over the past couple years, I’ve somehow managed to concoct a strange, rather idiotic scifi/fantasy novel whose major themes include race and inequality. It’s 700 pages of ramblings on things I know nothing about.
Even in my laughable ignorance, though, I do believe that the issues I have written about are important. I study sociology at my college, and I have taken classes, attended talks, and the like on the topics of my novel - but there are elements of racism and bigotry, I have little doubt, that no class can teach you. There are, quite simply, feelings I haven’t felt, thoughts I cannot express, and words that sound empty when they leave my mouth.
My first beta reader, a young black woman, found my nonsensical mess a bit upsetting, and rightfully so. After only two chapters, she was very frustrated with my protagonist, a quiet black teenager who spends a lot of time in his own thoughts, but who has a hard time putting those thoughts into words. She found his subdued, timid nature in the face of his oppression unbelievable; she told me that “no one is faced so bluntly with ongoing discrimination and keeps silent” like my protagonist does (the portion she read includes several instances of severe discrimination, both overt and subtle). His timidity in these chapters, she argues, reads like complacency, and this might lead whoever reads the work to conclude that black people are complacent in/okay with how they are treated.
A valid interpretation of what I have written, and not one that I’m in any real position to criticize. But I did think a lot about what she said, and I wonder, I really do, how I might write my protagonist differently. If he seems too dejected at the ways of the world, do I make him angrier and more bitter? Do I make him lash out against the people who harm him? I could, but I’m concerned that I’d simply wind up paying homage to a stereotype, to an animalistic, angry black man. It seems that neither of these portrayals is void of serious problems. He will, I fear, be either too complacent or too militant, too forgiving or too angry, too stupid or too intelligent, too emotional or too cold. A reflection, perhaps, of the struggles that persons of color experience every day, but that I, a white writer, can ignore as soon as I close my laptop.
My question, really, is how I might do my protagonist (and my novel) justice. It is possible - likely, even - that I can’t. But I feel that I must try. I’ve written one story, and I’m sure I can write another - one that is instead about white problems, white concerns, and white feelings. But in my opinion, there are more pressing issues that need to be written about. How can one reconcile this with writing about things he simply can’t ever understand?
Ultimately, I am not an expert in racism, and I never will be. Like all white people, I have grown up in a society that values my life, that takes my words to be true, that sees my ideas as substantial and my concerns as legitimate. That is the life I know.
So I am wondering, basically, if anyone on this forum has any suggestions for a way forward with my project. I am in no rush to write a final draft. It will be done when it is done. It might take five years, it might take ten. Books are powerful, and I must use that power wisely.
Thank you for your thoughts.