Posts Tagged ‘africa’

On occasion, I experience epiphanies while I am writing fiction that I realize applies equally to “real life”, and sometimes moreso.

In this case, I sat and stared inward while trying to “get into the head” of the character from whose point of view I am wanting to experience the scene unfolding. If we had an omniscient point of view, the highest level, an essential “god over the prose”, we could just tell everything that happens, describe all points of view, convey all experiences all at once. I prefer to see things through one set of eyes. Therefore, I can only describe what that particular character is seeing, observing, feeling, sensing. What he’s guessing, too. I can only describe the scene from what he actually can KNOW.

Now, in fiction, creating assumptions and then reacting on those assumptions (especially when they are incorrect, is FABULOUS for creating misunderstandings and conflicts that complicate the characters and the story). In that sense, it’s fun.

In real life? Not so much.

Take, for example, the politically-correct “Hyphenated-American”-ism we seem to be burdened with in the day and age of this country. Instead of being able to state our observations—“she was black,” or “he was white”[1], which is closer to the truth of being what we see—we have to assume, to jump to a conclusion. Often, those conclusions are quite incorrect.

If I asked you to pick out the “African-American” from the two photographs below, if you are into using the politically-correct vernacular, you’d probably pick the gentleman on the left. You would be utterly wrong. In this case, the actual African-American is the woman on the right. Yes, she’s white, but was born in Africa and holds dual-citizenship between the US and South Africa.[2]

Anderson_Silva-12578.jpgCharlizeTheronMadMaxPressConfCannes.jpg

So what about the man on the left? He happens to be Brazilian. One could also argue that he’s American because Brazil is in South America, but that’s getting ridiculously technical. He happens to be Anderson “the Spider” Silva.[3]

Another example is from personal experience. When I was in college forever ago, I met a young lady who was an exchange student from South Africa. She’d never be recognized as South African with her pale skin, freckles and red hair. Another student despised being mis-identified as “African-American” because he just happened to have a lot more melanin than some other human beings—he was African. Period. I have even met a young man who was very pale, with red hair and freckles who could easily have passed for white, except he was actually”African-American” by the presumptive standards.

The point of the exercise is that we apply assumptions in place of actual skills of observation. If we describe him as black or her as white, we’d paint an accurate picture of what we see. Police are trained to not make assumptions about ANYTHING (“a material that appeared to be blood”), as it could later taint the prosecution of the case.

It’s also ridiculous for having people jump through mental hoops having to describe someone else by guessing the “hyphen-du-jour”. Paraphrasing the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, whose wisdom practically slaps us in our faces, said it best: “Judge a man by his character and not by the color of his skin.” Skin and race, let’s face it, are just basic descriptors, because the story really IS about the individual, not their hair color, eye color, the shape of their nose or eyes.

Hyphenation doesn’t automatically attribute a culture either. Heck, Africa is a humongous continent that encapsulates thousands of specific ethnic groups and probably just as many, if not more, cultures. The Masai warriors are very different from the Bedouins but they  When we speak of Asian influences, it includes the Middle East (Southeast Asia), who are not Japanese who are not Philippines, yet they could all be called Asian… That first factor before the hyphen only identifies a (mostly guessed) genetic history, and some of us have bloodlines so intermingled that to point out one of those aspects is just stereotyping. We CAN be more than one, happily and proudly, coexisting, you know. Hyphenation dilutes that. The individual—the strong individual, anyway—creates his own story out of his own experiences, heritage and genetics, not simply by latching onto someone else’s laurels and calling it a day. Think of it like building a house. It’s wonderful to have a good foundation to build on, but why just decorate someone else’s house when the good Lord gave you the tools to construct something wonderfully unique.

When I meet someone, and want to get to know them, I want to know THEM. I don’t about their skin color to begin with, and couldn’t care less after I’ve learned who they are. That cannot be distilled into their melanin count, or even their family’s history. It is what they have done, are doing and will do that makes that individual worth knowing. Awesome people (and, let’s face it, assholes) come in all shapes, sizes and colors, so why worry about those merely physical traits?

Let’s just dispense with the hyphenation altogether—it’s divisive rather than inclusive, a lazy cop-out of slapping on a label instead of defining an individual. It would be like me describing my faith as a “German-Christian.” It’s just “Christian,”[4] please and thank you. So how about we all just call ourselves “Americans” already, and leave the hyphens out of it.

 

[1] Yes, we can quite clearly argue that “white” and “black” are inaccurate too. Technically, I am a VERY pale mottled, freckled pink. My oldest and dearest friend from my Navy days just happens to be a lovely shade of chocolate brown (you know who I’m talking about). But at least it’s not making an ridiculous assumption.

[2] That, of course, is the gorgeous Charlize Theron, who played Furiosa in Mad Max:Fury Road and makes me jealous that, not only does she look better bald than I do with hair, she also got to be in a Post-Apoc movie with Tom Hardy. Not just any PA movie, either. A Mad Max movie.

[3] And he’s an absolutely amazing mixed-martial artist who holds the record for the longest undefeated streak until he was beaten by Chris Weidman during UFC 162 (and unfortunately again in UFC 168, if memory serves). He’s a figurative-artist’s dream and sports some crazy flexibility.

[4] Which is a whole different argument, splintering down into specific aspects of beliefs. I believe in Jesus as the Son of God and my Lord and Savior. Period. Everything else is just details.