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Author Topic: Racism In Your Literature?  (Read 2898 times)  

Online Lorri Moulton

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Re: Racism In Your Literature?
« Reply #50 on: August 16, 2017, 08:40:22 AM »
Oh yes, Mr. Spock was my favorite character. And I loved that episode because I didn't notice the 'issue' either and it made me realize how any non-Earth civilization would look at our issue in the same way - What are you talking about, You look all the same to me? But just look at that person, they have darker skin color. So? - LOL I loved that!

Exactly. :)

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Offline WHDean

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Re: Racism In Your Literature?
« Reply #51 on: August 16, 2017, 09:04:17 AM »
I would argue some of what you wrong is incorrect. As a trained anthropologist I can't find a time where race wasn't a dominant factor in the human timeline. There certainly hasn't been a timeline within the European and Asian civilizations where race wasn't always a huge factor. Are you referring to times where people were so insulated that they had no contact with others? Because those tended to be the most-racist of people.

Here's what happens when we eschew definitions. David seems to be talking about social race and you a mix of social and biological race. I'd have to agree that biological race has always been around because it is an observable physical thing. But the age of social racism, and especially social racism based on biological race, is open to question.

Consider your anthropological evidence. Hunter-gatherers competed for resources directly with people nearest and thus most like themselves in appearance and social organization, not people who were different from them. They didn't fight along racial lines, but along tribal lines over territory with their nearest neighbours who, given the distributions of races and food sources, would have looked and acted just like them. Plains people versus plains people, mountain people versus mountain people, and coastal people versus coastal people. Take the ancient feud between the Huron and Iroquois, two groups who were virtually identical to each other in every way, even speaking the same language. They'd been at war (as far as they could remember) for at least 200 years.

Now ask the question: What does any of this have to do with racism? Does it explain anything about this history? Not really. Even if the Huron and Iroquois thought of themselves as different races, this was more likely an effect and not the cause of the enmity between them. In other words, the war came first, the racism second. After all, there was virtually no way to distinguish them from one another, and they looked, talked, and lived more like each other than they did like any of the other groups around them--and this is an important point, their primary enemies were those most like them. This is no anomaly either, and it generalizes right into the historical era. The ancient Greeks, for example, fought each other far, far more often than they fought outsiders. 


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Re: Racism In Your Literature?
« Reply #52 on: August 16, 2017, 02:24:34 PM »
Here's what happens when we eschew definitions. David seems to be talking about social race and you a mix of social and biological race. I'd have to agree that biological race has always been around because it is an observable physical thing. But the age of social racism, and especially social racism based on biological race, is open to question...

I agree. I minored in anthropology myself. I argue that racism is an inherent natural condition of humans, and is why multiculturalism is a doomed idea. There is natural backlash to outsiders when those outsiders begin to be noticeable in any significant numbers. Almost looked at as invaders. History proves this over and over.

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Re: Racism In Your Literature?
« Reply #53 on: August 16, 2017, 02:55:10 PM »
It depends on how you do it. Let me make a comparison to homophobia. I recently started a historical mystery series. When the characters made some homophobic comments, I had no problem with it because the era was homophobic. It was still a hanging offense. However, when the author put in a number of homosexual characters all of whom were deplorable or worse in one way or another, I stopped reading.

Similar considerations apply to race. There is no point in pretending that it didn't and doesn't exist. It's when unrecognized racism seems to creep into our work that it is a problem (for me as a reader). I am writing a novel set in Oregon during WWII which was extremely racist at the time. I'd do myself and my reader a disservice if I ignored it, but how I present the characters is important too.

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Offline JRTomlin

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Re: Racism In Your Literature?
« Reply #54 on: August 16, 2017, 03:03:45 PM »
I would argue some of what you wrong is incorrect. As a trained anthropologist I can't find a time where race wasn't a dominant factor in the human timeline. There certainly hasn't been a timeline within the European and Asian civilizations where race wasn't always a huge factor. Are you referring to times where people were so insulated that they had no contact with others? Because those tended to be the most-racist of people.
Probably true but we're authors, not anthropologists. If our characters are not interacting with people of other races then it is usually a non-issue in the story. However, 'racism' has its interesting permutations such as a belief that the 'Celtic nations' are inferior.

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Re: Racism In Your Literature?
« Reply #55 on: August 16, 2017, 07:06:01 PM »
I agree. I minored in anthropology myself. I argue that racism is an inherent natural condition of humans, and is why multiculturalism is a doomed idea. There is natural backlash to outsiders when those outsiders begin to be noticeable in any significant numbers. Almost looked at as invaders. History proves this over and over.
As a child I remember asking my mom why a woman's skin was so dark. It was the first time I'd seen a black person and I remember feeling curious, not afraid or feeling some inherent natural racism switch flipping on. Even in grade school, I remained curious about the differences - hair especially. Learning to fear difference came from my parents and relatives and other adults in my life. It wasn't an innate instinct.

Offline P.J. Post

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Re: Racism In Your Literature?
« Reply #56 on: August 16, 2017, 08:07:51 PM »
Maybe it's worth exploring intent?

It seems to me, you have on the one hand, some version of historical accuracy, regardless of who the oppressed culture/race/religion may be. Silence was a recent Scorsese film that explored the experience of Christian missionaries, and the Christian Faith, in seventeenth-century Japan. Hotel Rwanda was a more recent, journalistic example.

On the other hand, perhaps the author is using examples of racism to make a point, be it how to endure, overcome, educate or as a metaphor to make some broader social commentary or empower their readers. Hidden Figures, Loving, Get Out, Snow Falling on Cedars.

Amistad, like many historic films, aimed to be more than a simple dramatic re-telling of "history". It meant to make us think while it educated. More often with these movies and books, it's about creating empathy. Glory, Schindler's List, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

The other other hand is fairly common too, especially in books, but can be much trickier; this is where racism is used for character development rather than as a metaphor, be it the MC or side characters or villains. It's trickier because depending upon how it's done, it could signal, or be mistaken for, author intrusion.

I think however one is planning to use an "ism" in their story, especially the uglier ones, it is important to have a clear understanding of your themes and what your're trying to say. It's easy to make a bad guy evil without using racism, but racist attitudes have become a cliche to signal evil. I think one should always ask yourself, when introducing anything horrific like this: Why is this in my story? What purpose does it serve? Why is this bad guy like this? Why is this society like this?

I'm not encouraging self-censorship or saying we shouldn't tackle the tough stuff, (how else would we move forward?), but I am saying: be respectful of your subject matter. Words have power. Maybe respect them too.
« Last Edit: August 16, 2017, 08:09:50 PM by P.J. Post »

Offline UK1783

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Re: Racism In Your Literature?
« Reply #57 on: August 16, 2017, 11:14:19 PM »
I would say most of the characters in my writing are racist. They may not agree that they are, but I would say they are. They all use racist terms, some in a very casual way, but more often in a direct, intentional way.

It suits who the characters are as most of them are [expletive]s.

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Re: Racism In Your Literature?
« Reply #58 on: August 16, 2017, 11:42:21 PM »
I agree. I minored in anthropology myself. I argue that racism is an inherent natural condition of humans, and is why multiculturalism is a doomed idea. There is natural backlash to outsiders when those outsiders begin to be noticeable in any significant numbers. Almost looked at as invaders. History proves this over and over.

That's actually not true. Most of it today is learned behavior from a lifetime if nationalism and social othering.
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Re: Racism In Your Literature?
« Reply #59 on: August 17, 2017, 12:04:44 AM »
As a child I remember asking my mom why a woman's skin was so dark. It was the first time I'd seen a black person and I remember feeling curious, not afraid or feeling some inherent natural racism switch flipping on. Even in grade school, I remained curious about the differences - hair especially. Learning to fear difference came from my parents and relatives and other adults in my life. It wasn't an innate instinct.
As a lot of people here know, my son is what they call today, special needs. He went to a special school with others like himself or worse off. When he started there at the age of seven, he made himself a lot of friends, one of which he talked about a lot, a little girl called Melanie. Speech has always been a major problem for Ian, so I asked him to take his time and tell me what Melanie looked like.

He said she had hair the same colour as the tv (he couldn't name colours at that point), she was a bit shorter than him, she had eyes the same colour as mine (brown) and a few other things. He never once mentioned that she was black, yet she was probably the first black person he had ever had close contact with. He had not even noticed.


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Offline WHDean

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Re: Racism In Your Literature?
« Reply #60 on: August 17, 2017, 06:27:22 AM »
I agree. I minored in anthropology myself. I argue that racism is an inherent natural condition of humans, and is why multiculturalism is a doomed idea. There is natural backlash to outsiders when those outsiders begin to be noticeable in any significant numbers. Almost looked at as invaders. History proves this over and over.

I'm not sure we do agree. I said biological race (= observable human differences) has been around since human spread out from Africa, not that biological racism has (= hatred of different others or outsiders). The anthropological and historical evidence suggests that enmity occurs far more often between like people than between unlike ones. The Greeks and the two Iroquoian peoples, for example, warred with each more than they did with their dissimilar neighbours. Look at more recent examples. The two world wars involved multiple races on both sides. In fact, making alliances with distant and dissimilar peoples to fight closer and more similar neighbours is a universal in human conflict. Even the Greeks allied with non-Greeks against other Greeks in their never-ending wars with one another.

Of course, the ancient Greek culture itself is a counterexample to inherent racism. On the one hand, they were unashamedly self-regarding. They did consider themselves superior to everyone else, to the barbarians who didn't speak Greek. On the other hand, they actively engaged with and learned from other people, and they didn't pretend, as some people do, that they hadn't learned a lot from their neighbours (e.g., from the Egyptians and Phoenicians). On top of this, the Greeks thought they were, in some sense of the word, multi-racial. Dorians, Ionians, Pelagians, etc., were seen as something like races in the modern sense. The English long thought of themselves in this way too. It may sound strange for us to think of Anglo-Saxons, Britons, Danes, etc., as races because they're all Europeans. But that's not as important as how they thought of themselves.

Anyway, it's easy to say things like "racism defines human relations" if you restrict yourself to certain sections of, and events in, comparatively recent history. But it's a lot harder to generalize to everywhere, at all times, and in all things.     



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Re: Racism In Your Literature?
« Reply #61 on: August 17, 2017, 07:01:21 AM »
I'm not sure we do agree. I said biological race (= observable human differences) has been around since human spread out from Africa, not that biological racism has (= hatred of different others or outsiders). The anthropological and historical evidence suggests that enmity occurs far more often between like people than between unlike ones. The Greeks and the two Iroquoian peoples, for example, warred with each more than they did with their dissimilar neighbours. Look at more recent examples. The two world wars involved multiple races on both sides. In fact, making alliances with distant and dissimilar peoples to fight closer and more similar neighbours is a universal in human conflict. Even the Greeks allied with non-Greeks against other Greeks in their never-ending wars with one another.

Of course, the ancient Greek culture itself is a counterexample to inherent racism. On the one hand, they were unashamedly self-regarding. They did consider themselves superior to everyone else, to the barbarians who didn't speak Greek. On the other hand, they actively engaged with and learned from other people, and they didn't pretend, as some people do, that they hadn't learned a lot from their neighbours (e.g., from the Egyptians and Phoenicians). On top of this, the Greeks thought they were, in some sense of the word, multi-racial. Dorians, Ionians, Pelagians, etc., were seen as something like races in the modern sense. The English long thought of themselves in this way too. It may sound strange for us to think of Anglo-Saxons, Britons, Danes, etc., as races because they're all Europeans. But that's not as important as how they thought of themselves.

Anyway, it's easy to say things like "racism defines human relations" if you restrict yourself to certain sections of, and events in, comparatively recent history. But it's a lot harder to generalize to everywhere, at all times, and in all things.   

I don't think those examples are necessarily accurate to this discussion or are reflective of human interaction in general. Even up to present day, just about any group with ANY differences whatsoever be them color, religion, political ideals, economic status, etc. engage in wide-scale conflict.

Just the very notion of being outside the "tribe" is enough the cast someone as the villian. Which we see time and time again. And sure, as I just mentioned, in more recent times people have even fought more amongst themselves but that's more confined to recent "settled" states. In the 50,000+ years humans lived in small bands there was unlikely to be much serious in-fighting. It was only when groups became so large that it was hard to know everyone well that more serious in-fighting would have become common.

The faceless stranger was much easier to "wrong" than your family or the guy in the next hut ...so to speak.
« Last Edit: August 17, 2017, 07:03:11 AM by Herefortheride »
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Offline Al Stevens

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Re: Racism In Your Literature?
« Reply #62 on: August 17, 2017, 07:42:03 AM »
I would say most of the characters in my writing are racist. They may not agree that they are, but I would say they are. They all use racist terms, some in a very casual way, but more often in a direct, intentional way.
This raises an issue that have often given thought to. Some of my characters are as you describe yours. Not to define them as bad people, not to deliver a message, nor to define my own attitudes as the writer, but simply to define the characters. I grew up with them. Real people act and speak that way. I write about--I hope--real people.

We as writers may assume that some of our readers are so inclined and others are not. Depending on the bent of the reader, those characters are either good or bad people and not necessarily [expetive]s as you put it.

It's a challenge. Write a character who is okay with some readers and not okay with others and yet contributes to the story and helps move it along.

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Re: Racism In Your Literature?
« Reply #63 on: August 17, 2017, 09:07:01 AM »
I don't think those examples are necessarily accurate to this discussion or are reflective of human interaction in general. Even up to present day, just about any group with ANY differences whatsoever be them color, religion, political ideals, economic status, etc. engage in wide-scale conflict.

First, my examples were representative. You can't get much more representative of "human interaction in general" than two world wars that involved virtually all humans. Second, part of my point is that conflicts over religion, politics, and economic status can't be attributed to or called racism unless racism just means conflict.

Third, as I pointed out, your abstract conflict over differences in race breaks down when you look at the facts in the real world. Asian Japan and South Korea are allied with the multi-racial, mixed-racial West against Asian North Korea. That's a political conflict defying racial lines. And this is but one case of many that have happened and are happening right now that encompass large swaths of the world. The truer generalization is that human groups choose allies and make enemies according to their interests, which are, to judge by the allies and enemies, rarely related to race.

Quote
Just the very notion of being outside the "tribe" is enough the cast someone as the villian. Which we see time and time again. And sure, as I just mentioned, in more recent times people have even fought more amongst themselves but that's more confined to recent "settled" states. In the 50,000+ years humans lived in small bands there was unlikely to be much serious in-fighting. It was only when groups became so large that it was hard to know everyone well that more serious in-fighting would have become common.

The faceless stranger was much easier to "wrong" than your family or the guy in the next hut ...so to speak.

First, tribes or kinship-groups are not races and, as far as anyone can tell, they didn't fight other groups because they didn't like the colour of their skins, if only because, as I pointed out, most fighting would have taken place between similar-looking people. Second, tribes have to cooperate with other tribes, at least some of the time, to obtain needs from beyond their territory (e.g., salt) and to avoid in-breeding. No one who despises all outsiders lives very long.

Third, and here's where you need to revisit your anthropology textbooks: Compare homicide rates within hunter-gather societies to deaths from external wars and you will see that the idea of "blaming outsiders/ the other" is an invention of very recent times. Every hunter-gather society I've ever read about blames disease, food shortages, pests, and sudden deaths on in-group members (usually through witchcraft), not out-group members. So that villain of yours is actually always the guy in the next hut.


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Re: Racism In Your Literature?
« Reply #64 on: August 17, 2017, 09:21:15 AM »
First, my examples were representative. You can't get much more representative of "human interaction in general" than two world wars that involved virtually all humans. Second, part of my point is that conflicts over religion, politics, and economic status can't be attributed to or called racism unless racism just means conflict.

Third, as I pointed out, your abstract conflict over differences in race breaks down when you look at the facts in the real world. Asian Japan and South Korea are allied with the multi-racial, mixed-racial West against Asian North Korea. That's a political conflict defying racial lines. And this is but one case of many that have happened and are happening right now that encompass large swaths of the world. The truer generalization is that human groups choose allies and make enemies according to their interests, which are, to judge by the allies and enemies, rarely related to race.

First, tribes or kinship-groups are not races and, as far as anyone can tell, they didn't fight other groups because they didn't like the colour of their skins, if only because, as I pointed out, most fighting would have taken place between similar-looking people. Second, tribes have to cooperate with other tribes, at least some of the time, to obtain needs from beyond their territory (e.g., salt) and to avoid in-breeding. No one who despises all outsiders lives very long.

Third, and here's where you need to revisit your anthropology textbooks: Compare homicide rates within hunter-gather societies to deaths from external wars and you will see that the idea of "blaming outsiders/ the other" is an invention of very recent times. Every hunter-gather society I've ever read about blames disease, food shortages, pests, and sudden deaths on in-group members (usually through witchcraft), not out-group members. So that villain of yours is actually always the guy in the next hut.

Just about everything you wrote is completely false. Have you ever been to Japan and South Korea? Or Asia in general? It doesn't sound like you have much grasp on the ideals of race in Asia. And the alliance you are refering to between the US and Japan was forced upon Japan after WW2. We helped rewrite their constitution and said we'd be keeping bases in their territories, etc, etc. The reasons for invasion by the Japanese (and Germans) were largely based on RACE (or perceptions of race).

I'm not going to break down the other examples as you have a lot of research to learn about and places to visit before you dispute people with years of in the field research and degrees in the subject. But I do hope you try to become better informed on these issues as they are important and not anything like you have painted them.
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Offline This_Way_Down

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Re: Racism In Your Literature?
« Reply #65 on: August 17, 2017, 10:08:43 AM »
Racism and bigotry are great literary devices. It enables you to show the very worst and very best of human nature. And the reference sources are, needless to say...abundant.

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Re: Racism In Your Literature?
« Reply #66 on: August 17, 2017, 10:16:04 AM »
While not a major theme, I touch on it from time to time.

In my novel Crow Vector, my white protagonist has a discussion with a black colleague who asks him directly if he's been chosen to do something because he is black and the agency (the CDC) wants a black public face (because of accusations on the news that whites are getting better anti-virals during the pandemic they are dealing with, which is a false accusation because no antivirals work and everybody of whatever skin color is dying in shocking numbers.) My protag is uncomfortable with this discussion. The black scientist, who has just come back from investigating a MERS outbreak in S. Korea, sighs and says something like, "Well, if I can be black in Korea, I can be black in Washington DC, I suppose." My protagonist has a thought about how he doesn't know diddly about the experience of either and figures anything he says at that point will come out wrong. He is thrilled when they move away from the topic. He of course is aware of the history of infecting black people in the US to research various diseases, and he knows how awful that was.

In my volcano novel, a white family hosts a Japanese-American scientist for dinner and their 12 year old kid says something about Japanese monster movies, and the mother is embarrassed/horrified and shushes the kid, but the borderline autistic Japanese-American scientist says it's okay and actually enjoys talking about Japanese monster movies (Jet Jaguar is mentioned, as is Gamera, as I'm an MST3K fan)--it's his deepest human connection in the novel. And at another point, a Hmong teen protagonist and his buddies are at the school bus stop and say something about the cluelessness of white people.

All of this comes from experience or discussions with friends or, when I taught, overhearing students talk about race among themselves.

It's not like the main plot or anything, though it comes closer to being a plot point in Crow Vector, but half of what I write is set in today's USA, so I try to be accurate about what normal people think/talk like.

Offline WHDean

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Re: Racism In Your Literature?
« Reply #67 on: August 17, 2017, 11:36:11 AM »
Just about everything you wrote is completely false. Have you ever been to Japan and South Korea? Or Asia in general? It doesn't sound like you have much grasp on the ideals of race in Asia. And the alliance you are refering to between the US and Japan was forced upon Japan after WW2. We helped rewrite their constitution and said we'd be keeping bases in their territories, etc, etc. The reasons for invasion by the Japanese (and Germans) were largely based on RACE (or perceptions of race).

Are you saying the Japanese feel more allied with North Korea on account of race than they do with the U.S. on account of common interest? If you have such evidence, you better inform the State Department because the foolish Yankees are under the impression that the Empire of the Sun set in 1945. And please share it with me too because I'm under the same illusion.

ETA:

I forgot to address the WW2 angle. I don't deny that German and Japanese motivations had a big racial component. But it still doesn't fit your picture. You said racial differences create the conflicts. Yet the Germans (European) and Japanese (Asian) were allied against the Allies (European, Indian, African, and non-Japanese Asians). You can argue that the Axis was an alliance of convenience and that they each planned to eliminate the other when they'd taken care of the rest. But it doesn't change the fact that, for the time being, common interest in getting rid of their mutual enemies outweighed racial membership among hard-core racists. A more plausible explanation is social and political, where race was one component in, not the cause behind, the rise of two millenarian cults that took hold of these societies and spread in them like epidemics.   

Quote
I'm not going to break down the other examples as you have a lot of research to learn about and places to visit before you dispute people with years of in the field research and degrees in the subject. But I do hope you try to become better informed on these issues as they are important and not anything like you have painted them.

Facts would impress me more than credentials and put-downs. 

I have no problem backing up my claim that homicide rates are higher in virtually all known hunter-gatherer societies than the rate of death in war between groups in those societies. It's pretty much common knowledge nowadays because Steven Pinker made lots of hay in his last book by using these figures to support his claim that the world is so much nicer now. (I don't agree with Piker's whole thesis, but he did make the research known to the public.) A few other general books have come out too, but the names and titles escape me.

Being an expert, however, you'll probably want to begin with B. M. Knauft's work on the Gebusi in New Guinea, and perhaps with his article in Current Anthropology 28, no. 4 (1987): 547-500. He (unintentionally, it seems) and others reignited interest in violence in egalitarian societies and a stream of literature has come out since. It's all there waiting on Google Scholar.   

I'll even double-down by pointing to more facts. Crime statistics show you're far more likely to be killed by someone of your own race than someone from another race. Everyone here knows the reason too. People all over the world kill other people for the same motives writers make their money on: greed, jealousy, pride--basically, the Seven Deadly Sins. Inter-racial killings make the news because of their emotional and social salience, not because of their frequency. In fact, the FBI's hate crimes report for 2015 does not show a single case of murder:

https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2015-hate-crime-statistics-released

And the agency's report on homicides in the U.S. for 2010 doesn't even have a category for racially motivated homicide:

https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/offenses-known-to-law-enforcement/expanded/expandhomicidemain

So does the FBI need more degrees and more fieldwork? Or does the fact that none of the 15,696 homicides in the U.S. in 2015 was determined to be racially motivated suggest that hating people because of their race is not a significant factor in human conflict? I'm in no way diminishing the harm and the effects of racism generally--far from it. But you're claiming it's at the root of human conflict, and I'm showing (as opposed to asserting on my own authority) that reality says otherwise.

 
« Last Edit: August 17, 2017, 12:59:52 PM by WHDean »

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Re: Racism In Your Literature?
« Reply #68 on: August 17, 2017, 01:11:09 PM »
As a child I remember asking my mom why a woman's skin was so dark. It was the first time I'd seen a black person and I remember feeling curious, not afraid or feeling some inherent natural racism switch flipping on. Even in grade school, I remained curious about the differences - hair especially. Learning to fear difference came from my parents and relatives and other adults in my life. It wasn't an innate instinct.

When I was really young, we lived on an Air Force base in the South.  The first time I remember thinking there was anything obviously different was that a little girl in line at the commissary had about 12 barrettes in her hair and I thought that was just wonderful!  I wanted to know if my mom could do that with my hair and my mom looks over (and of course, I'm loud at 4) and the other mom is just smiling and trying not to laugh.  Kids notice things, but it's often not what's different/wrong, but what's different/better! :)


Author of Romances, Mysteries, Fairytales and Historical Non-Fiction.
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