Monday, February 11, 2008

Black and Christian and spec-fic oh my!

As a black woman, I have the pleasure of writing in two marginalized kinds of speculative fiction: Christian spec-fic and Minority spec-fic.

These two kinds of fiction have many things in common:

1) Some folks assume christian fic and multiculti fic will be preachy.

2) Some folks assume they'll be badly written (because many of these writings are not published by large publishing companies.)

3) Some folks assume (rightly) these books will speak to areas in their own lives that OTHER books never speak about. (A black person reading an all-white Christian specfic book will feel the same kind of alienation a Christian reader will feel when the Christian reader reads a specfic book that avoids or insults Christians.)

4) Some Christian readers consider fantasy/imagination vaguely sinful. As do many black readers.

5) Both these two different types of spec-fic have to find common denominators among their readers. They don't want to splinter already splintered groups. Thus, at conventions, multicultural specfic writers often group themselves under one umbrella, despite race, religion, etc. In the same ways, Christian speculative fiction writers aren't going to get all worked up about denominational issues. At least not in public.

But Christian speculative fiction and Multicultural speculative fiction also have many things not in common.

The biggest difference is often in how white Christians and black Christians see the Bible, Eden, Paradise, and each other.

For instance,

The white Christian speculative writer often creates fiction devoid of black folks or other minorities. It's as if a great disaster occurred on earth and all the black folks and minorities in the world were deemed unsalvageable. Or, if a minority shows up in a Christian story, he or she is the odd escaped slave, drug addict, black secretary, or token. In addition all discussion of racism is generally avoided

White Christian speculative fiction is also very imitative of Tolkein, C S Lewis. Although Christianity is primarily a non-european and a non-white religion, many Christian writers write European-based --elves, dwarves, vampires, and the like-- spec fic that a non-white Christian has to pretty much put away much of her own culture in order to read.

For many white Christian writers --especially those who write slice-of-life fiction and romances-- there is a nostalgia for the rural world. Eden is kind of a home in Appalachia or on the frontiers, while the city represents Babylon. For Black or Native American Christians, the rural world is suspect. That's where we were hung..or are still being hung. That's where our people were maimed or lynched or cast out of their houses. For us, race is still very much alive. Many of us still remember uncles and grandfathers who were lynched by white townsfolk and aunts and mothers and grandmothers who were raped by white men.

Black speculative fiction writers, on the other hand, tend to lose white readers because we often have a "enemy of my enemy is my friend" mentality. We are often politically liberal in some things and spiritually conservative in others. Therefore it is not unusual for a black minority Christian writer --because for some reason we consider our white Christian brothers suspect-- and find herself aligned with gay writers, moslem writers, ultra-liberals, extreme feminists, and even wiccans. Sometimes we are so caught up with the bitterness we have suffered because of white racists, an innocent white reader has a tough time getting through a story.

The white Christian writer has to find a way to write fiction which doesn't seem as if he thinks his race is the only --and the greatest-- race. And minority Christians have to be careful lest racial bitterness overwhelms our pages.

As a black woman it wasn't easy for me to find this balance when I write a Christian story.

It isn’t easy walking through the world where people think you’re always ready to jump down some “innocent” white person’s throat. When I think of all the times I never complained because I feared some white person would think I was a touchy black woman!

It isn’t easy walking into a store and having the cashier follow you around suspecting you of wanting to steal something. Certainly more black women have grinned and borne it than have snapped, “Why the heck are you following me around?” I tell you… we black women are generally beacons of patience and forbearance.

It isn’t easy walking through a world where people assume you lack the great noble European trait of discipline. I went to a local gourmet supermarket run by a woman from Spain. I told her everything I wanted. She snapped, “I’m really busy. Do you really want to eat all that?” Why it didn’t occur to her that I was buying tons of food for a potluck dinner (’cause I didn’t want to cook) is beyond me. I’m sure she would’ve made kinder less judgmental assumptions about a white woman. And hey, although I was taken aback, I didn’t snap at her. But I didn’t explain myself either…I just kinda cowered shamefacedly and walked away feeling hurt.

It isn’t easy walking through a world where if you disagree with an editor, you are assumed to be touchy because well….”black women are touchy.”

It isn’t easy walking through the world when people – sometimes American but often folks newly arrived from the Old Country– —equate blackness with dirtiness. A Polish acquaintance of mine had a mother who actually believed blacks were dirty because they didn’t clean themselves and the dirt had stuck to their skin. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been in public malls and movie theaters where I see a Hispanic person avoid an open bathroom stall because a black person has exited it. Sounds old-fashioned, I know. But remember, much of the rest of the world doesn’t go around teaching racial enlightenment.

It amazes me to think that most of the black Women I know are gentle souls saying prayers for sick friends and generally doing good stuff in the world and yet, the world insists on thinking we’re angry people. And it amazes me that when we DO become angry they belittle our racial pain by saying we are “always getting angry.” Come now, we don’t!

So as a black woman Christian writer I have to be very careful. I think I managed to make my novel, Wind Follower, honest to my Christian principles...and also honest to my race. There were moments of great temptation, though, I'll admit. There were times when racial bitterness might have entered the book, or the need to appear as a "sweet Christian woman who is above racial issues." But I wouldn't have been true to myself if I had not rightly divided my particular word of truth.

I trust that God has helped me to write a balanced book. Now that I am working on a novel that takes place in contemporary reality, I suspect the same temptations will arise. Again, I trust God will help me walk the fine line.

As Christian writers of all races, we must be careful that our stories don't become mutually exclusive. After all, we need to build our audience. But even more we need to understand each other's paths.

Dear Father, you have created one family out of many tribes. Bring unity, understanding, and love to your people. Help us to write stories that include all of your peoples, all our Christian brothers and sisters across the world. Help us to love each other as you have loved us. I ask all this in Jesus name, Amen.

-Carole McDonnell
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