The Problem with “Natural Diversity”

Today I read this opinion piece on why diversity in books is often poorly mishandled and encountered a quite familiar mantra that has never sat right with me, and that we’re gonna discuss today. I’d love to hear your opinions and urge you to read this piece for yourself.

Before you start throwing rotten mangoes at me, let me explain. I don’t think diversity in books is WRONG. NOT AT ALL. I just think that the way some authors and readers go about it is wrong. NOW THAT THAT’S CLEARED UP, hello! Welcome to yet another discussion in which I am more rambly and […]

 

via Diversity in Books // Why We Need it But Also How it’s “Wrong” (I’m Not Crazy, I Promise) — Forever and Everly

My first instinctive reaction to this piece as a #blackgirlnerd #blackauthor #femaleauthor #contrarianPOS was “What the hell is “natural” and how do we know what “natural” is?” It is often one of those I-know-it-when-I-see-it scenarios, but the whole concept of natural v.s unnatural diversity is laughable to me.

Let me tell you a little story, recently I was on twitter and came across a woman I’d been aware of before. She’s a white nationalist mommy blogger, who hopes to use her promotion of motherhood to prevent “white genocide” and she posted an image of the countries of the world. On this map were white figures to represent population density of white people and black figures to represent population density every other ethnic/racial group in the world. The captions basically were “Do you believe in white genocide now?”. When I first saw this image I wasn’t even upset or bothered by it. All I could think was “Did you…did you honestly think most of the world is white?” and instantly my mind was flooded by examples across my 25 years that confirmed that yes, a lot of people do.

And why shouldn’t they if they’re in the western world?

This isn’t exactly a common scene

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Flipped and Switched art exhibit.

Television, books, radio shows, newscasts, newspapers, and even the toys sections of children’s stores are dominated by the imagery of white people to an excessive degree. As a kid it was a struggle to find black media in North Carolina, and even when the X-Men movie came out I spent at least a half hour going through the action figure section, filled with Rogue and Jean Grey, until my mom asked a salesperson to go in the back and see if they had any Storm figures. That was a blockbuster film and still not all of the characters were available based on the perception of what people wanted and who could buy.

HumanaeDiversity as a concept is deeply influenced by individual perceptions of the world even if they are not accurate. As a result the whole concept of “natural diversity” is buggered. What is natural diversity in a world where writers of color are told their minority characters aren’t realistic for not conforming to stereotypes, when constantly imagery exists predicated on the belief that white is universal and in high quantity. It simply does not exist.

With that said authenticity does and it isn’t limited to people of a character’s background being the only ones to write it. The above piece makes an excellent point, and I’ve seen much of the same where people struggle with including minorities of any kind into their work. While I sympathize with trying to create a character and struggling this is an excuse. What is it an excuse for? Bad writing at best and someone’s unconscious biases at worst. Why do I say this? Because I’m a person who is also black, and while that impacts my perception of the world it doesn’t not negate that I’m a person. I talk a hell of a lot about race because it impacts my life, because of the rise of nationalism, and honestly because I’m in an interracial relationship and if he can’t take me at my Angela Davis he can’t take me Marcus Garvey. But I remain a person, and I have friends who are gay. They are not just my gay friends, but my friends who are gay. They are people.

If you have problems with a character because they are not like you then you need to do research, and if that’s too hard for you then you need to just write something else. Find beta readers like your characters, email other authors for advice, and don’t get upset if someone says “How you asked that question and wrote this character is fucked up”. That is a question of authenticity, of whether the character sounds natural. If it is easier for a person to write dragons than asians…something is wrong, and I extend that to white people as well (but that’s not as big of an issue because white is used as the universal story).
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The idea of natural diversity is an admirable one, and yes I do believe it makes sense to reflect the realities of diversity in context. While I enjoyed the black victorian soldier in a recent Doctor Who episode, the unwillingness to acknowledge that he was a black victorian soldier and just make him a soldier is problematic. To me it signals avoidance, but it still was nice to see. It was a clunky aspect of that episode’s casting that did feel forced, and it felt forced because no one wanted to deal with it. When The Doctor brought black woman, Martha Jones, to meet Shakespeare she addresses it directly and part of what makes it work is…characters respond to her race. Even in being flirted with she’s treated as an exotic dark woman. It wasn’t just glossed over. That felt natural. Not every setting, character, etc. will address race, but pretending it doesn’t exist is unnatural. In fantasy settings, and Americans have trouble conceptualizing this sometimes, ethnicity matters too. Race is noted because physical differences are noted, toted, and demonized. Over that? Ethnicity. Historically we know that is natural to people. That is an issue of authenticity.

The problem has never been that there are all white settings. I’m from the south where in the 1990s and 200s my family was often stared at in restaurants.  Two years ago I was on vacation/research with my mother and a white woman did a fucking double take. She was tall like me, and she looked from my mom to me with utter confusion because two black women were in the nice part of down town because that usually doesn’t happen there. There are neighborhoods I know of that a white person gets stared at because they are so not common. At black BBQs I’ve been to a person’s white partner is accepted but also exceptionally rare. Majority asian, white, black, latin, etc. settings and places exist, but that isn’t an inherent problem. That is equally natural.

The problem has been that majority to all white settings have been unequivocally accepted as natural for centuries, creating a belief that white is the majority, which then feeds back into “It is natural to have majority white character settings as the relatable settings and cast”. The default is white, natural is white, in the west, to such a degree that people are uncomfortable with the modern reality of globalism as “white genocide” when what they’re experiencing is population reality. So this idea of natural v.s unnatural diversity is a big farce in the context of reality.

What is natural to write isn’t always actually natural, and the assumption that this would be the case or can be the case is one done with a lot of optimism, as the blogger of the piece reflects, or in more negative terms, as has been my experience.

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White Men and Machine Gun Penises: An Essay

Listening to white, especially American, dudes talk about weapons is some of the most scary shit on this planet. It’s so fucking fetishistic, almost cultish, and there is this profound disassociation between reality and what they want to be reality…which is faux machismo “in another life I’d be a a successful warrior” fantasies. So many seem to use a love of weapons to make them seem interesting and cool. They may claim to see a gun or a knife as not a toy, but a second later they start verbally masturbating themselves, mentioning how big their gun collection is, uploading pictures to facebook, and seeing any critique on gun laws as a personal attack on them because the dozens of guns hanging in their room are for looks. And the big kicker? These are the same guys who get upset when you point out you have more reason to be afraid of someone like them, when you live in a nation full of men mistaking weapons for their penises or personalities, than a terrorist.
 
Shit is insane.
 
And yes, you little snowflakes, its not always just white guys, but a large number of guys like this are white in my experience from North Carolina to Maryland to the under bellies of the internet. From cradle to adulthood I encountered these folks in the mostly white spaces I entered with alarming regularity. These gun toting men who’re very unaware they can act this way, as though this is normal and shouldn’t ever be questioned, so openly because is because of their privilege. Often these guys are “nice guy” types, nerds, awkward sorts, and the other half I’ve encountered tend to be men bathed in a household where guns were everything to a man. To them they aren’t speaking like guns are toys to be collected like mint condition Barbie dolls or G.I Joes. They don’t see how uploading a wall of guns in their basement with them grinning makes other people cringe and wonder “what if this guy snaps and thinks I’ve wronged him in some way”. They see their 2nd amendment rights, an unquestioned fact for many white people. They expect the world to know he’s dangerous, cool, but also an unquestioned and unfettered example of one of those mythic “good guys” the NRA and GOP like to mention. They laugh over their guns the way they laugh over their penises. Their eye rolling responses to the recent NRA video, which essentially declared that gun owners should attack “they” and “them” to protect “their president” from protestors and left leaning people, and dismissing other gun owners who were alarmed by it seems deeply attached to the “but I’m a nice guy so its ok” attitude a lot of melanin deficient men think is their protection from judgement.

That is a privilege…one I will not indulge and you shouldn’t either.

The problem of course isn’t just owning the guns. I grew up around guns. I’ll probably own a gun at some point, in fact. But there’s something deeply troubling about listening or watching a group of white guys whether on Facebook or in person brag about their weapons in such an open and often times pushy way. The weapons sound like toys, trophies, and the conversations remind me of men flashing watches, talking about houses, wives, and sex. Conversations where even if it isn’t gross there’s a one sided fascination that leads a person waiting for the gun lover to drool and lick their lips.

I couldn’t imagine living that way not just because I’m a woman, but because I’m darker than a Hershey’s kiss.

A black guy? A latinx guy? They’re “just thugs” and the associations both inter-personally and by others are different when they post weapons pictures. However the core function is in many ways the same. That said most know better than to be so…proud of exchanging weapons for character, or to boast so readily in a world where their bodies are considered super human weapons of inherent and imminent danger to others. Those who do either make money off it, or are in a life where they feel they have nothing to lose but everything to gain by being viewed as a badass. A way of being, which I can assure you has some thinking after the death of so many black men and boys…and even women who were believed to have guns or who did legally. Yet we’ll touch on this in general masculinity terms in a second, but just know that’s a response to cultural pressure, poverty, and shifts where guns give power, which is generally tied t racial class perceptions of what is “cool” where power is always cool. Guns are penis extensions, but for the poor and those wanting social approval they get this strange fetish object status which manifests across racial lines with different meanings.

Truthfully that’s a western attitude influenced deeply by western masculinity, whereas the role of weapons and becoming a man are aesthetically similar to other cultures until you dig deeper. Where other cultures tend to hold weapons as weapons, valued, but holding more significance and power than a dick extender (see the Masai, samurai, and numerous other cultures; also note how colonisation and loss of masculine power structures reorganize men around the gun around the world). The difference in part is those cultures tend to hold coming of age rites, and make distinctions of maturation and masculinity tied to a group identity. There is no need for a machine gun pensis…it has already been bequeathed. They have been scarred, taken hunting, traveled outside their communities, they’ve been asked to perform some sort of something or have had something given to them. American culture doesn’t really do that by and large, and when American culture has defined itself by White culture that has impacts.

 
Men using weapons to give a sense of masculinity and identity in place of rituals or rites signifying adulthood in modern culture is a grave condition that continues to associate male power with male aggression. But it makes sense. After all what is easier to produce than that which is already within yourself? Testosterone levels make humans more aggressive regardless of gender, and men have been socialized to angry and emotional so their emotions don’t appear weak. No matter if you are scarred ritually or can afford to travel, you can be aggressive and you can buy a gun. The gun becomes power, power is masculinity, and ergo the gun becomes something as phallic and edifying as the penis.

But why am I talking about white men specifically? Am I a racist?
Nope. Not even a little. I’m a realist, and I have been in and out of white circles my whole life usually as an outsider…a quite observer and very rarely a friend to a select few. I have seen this attitude in action, and have been forced to smile as male friends of friends show pictures of their latest gun buy a world away from the way my father taught me to feel about guns.

The fetishizing of weapons  is exasperated in poor communities of all races, but also in communities whose cultures are so diffuse to no afford members specific identity signifiers. So white folks are “white” they as a group traded, across time, specific in-group positives to become a mass ultimate in-group, i.e the mainstream on every level.. Working class=white. Middle Class=White. People=White. Anything else is othered even if their counted. The result of course is plenty of white folk don’t feel this power, or this trade particularly if they aren’t racist consciously, in public, or in general. Much like how many don’t want to or incapable of seeing their privilege because it doesn’t necessarily manifest in their every day lives.

 
They gain net social power, but in a time when that power is being challenged, and when men in general are struggling to meet the coming of age and personal identity signifiers presented to them they seek out and construct their own. That’s part of why poor black dudes in Bmore ride off-the-road bikes. That’s part of why you honestly see a lot of gun nuts have tied themselves to imagery of the confederate flag etc. It’s a way to psychologically and socially establish what men have come to see as inherent to masculinity, various rites and markers tied to being distinct, part of a hobby/culture, and to feel as though they’ve come of age, have gained power which is implicit in the very definition of western masculinity.
 
White men don’t really have the unquestioned social power they once did, nor do they have an overt strongly felt in-group of identity that isn’t associated with being racist because…white culture was a construct designed to be the definition of normal every day life. American culture praises Machismo differently in every community, and many do not meet those communities standards. Many cannot. They’re too nerdy, quiet, mentally unwell, awkward, bossy, and yes even aggressive. Some just don’t have the money to do the “adult” things they’ve been taught mean they’re adults. But weapons, phallic and powerful, are easy means to satisfy the psychological and social needs taught to males. That’s also one part of why it’s so fucking scary because those who hold power and don’t see it, but feel powerful contingent on a gun that emboldens masculinity which generally excuses aggression…is terrifying. What truly soldifies it is how many of these men think they’re owed implicit unquestioned trust regardless…and that, as a black american raised to be aware of shit, is something I simply can’t afford to give.

On Black Cops in America: From a Daughter

On Black Cops in America: From a Daughter

In light of recent events I wanted to take the time to talk about my father, a former police officer, and a black man in the United States of America. Over and over again I hear the same resistance, and the same arguments. I hear blanket attacks on cops, reflecting passion and the same blanket offenses. To me these are understandable reactions, but there is one question that cuts through both in many ways…”What are the experiences of black cops, of black men who work public safety as more than just a bouncer?”. Another way of wording this question: “Does being a cop protect you from other cops?”. When these officers take off their uniforms do they get treated like other black folk do? I’ve known an officer of the law since I was born, and that officer taught me repeatedly that no matter what people will see your skin color before they see anything else about you. Black folk have to prove a world educated in anti-blackness wrong, so we work twice as hard to get just as far and do everything everyone says we should do. Some of us grow up to work in law enforcement, the military,  public service…but when has that stopped us from getting killed or injured? When has that stopped people from assuming the worst of black people and fearful of black bodies?

I don’t know, but I do know this…my father was a black man before he every put on a badge and that badge didn’t change his color.

People talk about cops like somehow being one erases blackness, and while there obviously some very vocal cops who think that way (of all colors) my siblings and I were taught how wrong that was by watching and listening to our father. He was a cop from 1972 to 1990, worked contracted security (Nascar tracks and other places), he worked for the county sheriff from the late 90s to the earlier 2000s, and now he works security for the federal government. That’s 45 years of combined security and safety work from D.C to North Carolina and back. He always liked to have two things on the car…a sticker indicating he was a retired police officer and a free mason symbol. My dad is one of those guys who loves repping his teams so to speak. He still has an old Cowboys jacket we got him for Christmas over a decade ago because of it (and sentiment). But one day not too long ago, soon after he got his new truck, he told me that the reason he always had those emblems on our cars was that he was a black man in America.

No one was going to stop and ask if he was a “safe black man”, no one was going to assume he had his gun because he was a former officer, no one was going to assume he had a gun because he was a lawful citizen, and even as a member of the NRA my father knew they wouldn’t do shit for a black man whose rights were infringed. After all he knew his history. He knew what pushed gun laws and reeled in the NRA was black people with guns stating they had a right to defend themselves, and defend themselves from injustices committed under white supremacy. He knew the internal racism of police departments, of which black. latinx, and other minority officers thought they could join the old boys club by being just as or harder on blacks and latinxs. He’s seen other retired and active cops be yelled at by white officers while trying to assist potentially different situations. He’s been stopped between NC and D.C, and god knows where else and questioned about why he needs a gun by white officers who have literally refused to accept he was an officer in another state or D.C.

He knows being a black police officer will not protect him, or afford him the immediate response of kinship other lighter officers may receive. He was a black man in America long before he was cop, and very few officers raised in a racist society taught by an institution dripping in current and historical racism will automatically assume he is someone who protected the public. These days they may see an older black man, and maybe his age will protect him, but that’s if they look at his face. These days they may see the patches on his favorite vest and see he has some ties to law enforcement, but they have to get close enough to see it. These days my dad knows that his smart and sarcastic son and his bright anxiety filled daughter are too old to automatically get a sympathy (not empathy) from an accosting officer from dropping “Oh my father was a cop” in conversation.

Over my relatively short life I learned all sorts of things from my father both good and bad, both things he meant to teach and not. He’s mellowed in his old age. The man who once said don’t bring a white boy home, smiles warmly at my white boyfriend and enjoys taking the both of us out to eat (If you’re reading I could go for a steak soon by the way, daddy, or an Eddie Leonard’s fish sandwich in the near future). He tells us about the supreme court justices and judges he protects. Nothing much just that they are nice and funny people. We talk about the news and politics a lot more these days. He can’t stand that Sheriff Clark, and says most black officers he’s known can’t either. Every time his face comes on the TV “I can’t stand him” or sometimes “That Tomming asshole”. It usually makes me laugh cause he’ll stop talking and get this sour look on his face, and even interrupt our other conversation. Now sometimes he’s even nice and listens to him talk to reporters, essentially say all black people but him are liars(including other black officers with differing opinions), and that asking for justice reform means you hate cops because apparently demanding them to be accountable is too much. Daddy will roll his eyes, say “Please” while rolling his eyes, grab the remote, and usually turns it something else. Sometimes QVC, but more often the History Channel.

It’s funny to remember that daddy used to be one of those rare creatures, the illusive black republican, a phase my mother still groans about. I can remember that phase too and it was eerily adjacent to his bolo tie and cowboy hat phase. Even then he couldn’t stand officers like Clark, blacks who didn’t just have an opinion(that’s their right), but who silenced other officers and repeatedly were paraded by white higher ups like a willing praised poodle. Why? Because they always claimed there were no problems, that the police needed uncritical support, and that if other blacks just “did right” things would change.

These officers of color say they integrated and flew right, when really they just assimilated, and began believing they were special snowflakes while other blacks were brainwashed and ignorant. They keep their mouths shut when they see injustice, or don’t see the injustice at all because they believe they’re cops first. Hell some of them believe with their white wives/husbands, their pats on the back, and their willingness to readily agree with white officers that their uniform is the only protection they need out in the world. After all they assimilated into white culture, and feel successful under white supremacy. They have their opinions, and consider every other black officer is uninformed. That is their right(and a dangerous one), but when they come out of the side of their mouths and begin to say that all police officers everywhere leave racism at the door? When they say that in light of internal emails, texts and more from fellow officers cracking jokes about black people, our black former president and first family, and about other black officers? No, they say, nothing is wrong. All those racists disappeared when they came along. Much like all those grinning white folk you see in lynching pictures they vanished and turned off every racist comment, belief, conversation and lesson. They’re not anyone’s superiors, teachers, parents, friends, and family. No, to Sheriff Clark and his ilk police officers are without racism or justified in it. So holding cops to a higher standard to ensure they protect everybody isn’t needed, and cops protect all other cops no matter what because racism doesn’t affect justice. We know this isn’t the case, a fact reinforced by the Philando Castile verdict by that officer’s non-sensical words. Justice isn’t and has never been colorblind. Justice isn’t and has never ignored ethnicity. Justice isn’t and has never ignored gender, sexuality, or plain old personality. I wish that was the case, but unlike these officers of color and white officers my family, my play-uncles, play-aunties, friends, etc. can’t afford to pretend it does. Maybe if you get on TV every time your superiors need a cop-friendly brown face you can, but I don’t know many cops like that.

To my father and to me when they say that nothing is wrong in light of entire police departments all over this country being 70% to 90% white with an exceedingly disproportionate arrest rate for blacks and latinx, when crime rates are so deeply skewed because of an inability to pay bail, when again and again black people young and old are murdered regardless of whether they listen to an officer, employ their right to bare arms, or are a cop themselves…they are choosing to believe that they are exceptional black people because they have done everything right, because they disagree, because they’re cops and no cop ever threatens, harasses, or shoots black cops without cause right?

Tell that to the officer shot in St. Louis.

In April 2015 I went to protest in Baltimore in a march I’m 90% certain you didn’t see because it was one of the many peaceful marches in 2015 where reporters stood around looking irritated by how peaceful it was. I chanted for reform in police departments, that black lives mattered, told people that I wondered about having kids because I didn’t know if I could take it if they were as dark as me and they came into a path of a officer whose first instinct was to assume they were dangerous criminals. I marched because I believe in justice and because I care about the black community. I marched because I love black officers, and know their lives and jobs would be better without entrenched racisms. Citizens who want change and believe in the better natures of their people, while still knowing the worst, get involved anyway they can in changing society.

I didn’t tell my parents about the protest. They’d worry, and when they found out…they were more than surprised to say the least. Despite that daddy was proud because he spent years telling his children that black lives did matter and that we couldn’t trust the world to see it. We had to make the world see it. We had to be willing to fight, to be both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and learn the lesson he taught us without ever having to say it:

You’re black long before you are ever anything else.