The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, February 03, 2005

More from Bro Perry

"If somebody can put it on the page, that's what will sell it. And I have yet to hear any reason what a black guy can't put in on the page."

Yes, if he writes about white people. And let me tell you what that does: for the average person, I believe that that decreases the sense of self-worth.  And decreases the belief that it is safe to reveal Self to the audience--the very core of artistic expression.  "I'm writing to people who think those of my color are beneath them."  THAT is the reaction of the average person, Steve.  So it "drops the curve" in the sense that when you come from one culture and write about another
1) you don't have the same fluidity of referants of someone born into that culture.
2) you don't get to write heroic stories that nurture your inner self to the same degree
3) you are writing for editors and readers who, on the average, have a little less automatic respect for you than they have for someone of lighter skin.  I cannot begin to tell you how sick I am of white folks telling me how well spoken I am, or if "they" were like me there would be no problem, or in essence challenging me to prove I belong in their company.  This was my life, guys, from the day in 1st grade when they automatically put me in the slow reading group because of my skin color.  Can you grasp that?  That I got this crap handed to me a hundred times a day, every single day of my life, with every billboard I saw, every dollar bill in my pocket, every image of Christ and the Saints, every hero in every movie or television show I ever loved.  This crap adds up, and most people don't have the stomach to wade through  it.  
4) (the following is difficult to prove, but would make sense based on those box office numbers) You will sell fewer copies of a book of equal quality to a book written by a white writer, because the cultural empathy factor kicks in.
I remember one of the most valuable conversations I ever had. I was discussing these matters with a friend, a black computer software engineer named Darnell Gadberry.  I told him that I was certain, from a decade spent studying the market, that if I began writing books with black characters, my sales would drop.  But if I didn't, I would feel that I was betraying myself.  And he said:
"Steve, someone has got to start writing science fiction and adventure books with black characters.  If not you, who?  If not now, when?  And anyway, why would you want to write books for the pleasure of people you wouldn't even want to have in your home?"
and that's the crux of it.  The black people who can write pretending to be something other than what they are, are those who can stomach entertaining people with contempt for them.  And that is far less than 100% of the black folks who might otherwise be capable of making the grade.  Add it all up, and what's left is me, and Octavia, and Chip.  Oh, wait.  Chip left the party, didn't he? 


1 comment:

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