some followup to the horn book podcast

I’ve been on vacation and starting new jobs and working on trying to meet lots of writing deadlines, hence not blogging. Vacation was incredibly restorative and amazing, physically and emotionally. I didn’t do as much of the stuff I intended to do, but I had some time off of work, and even though I meant to take advantage of trendy gyms in New York and Boston while I was there, I ended up not exercising for 10 days, which was probably a really big gift to my body with the overtraining I do.

Anyway, when I was in Boston I got to spend the day at the Horn Book offices, generally bothering everyone but also doing the podcast! You should listen to it, because I’m great. And also because Siân is a friend from grad school who is wonderful, and Roger is actually great to hang out with. It’s definitely a podcast I’m subscribing to, even if I am terrible at podcasts.

One thing, though, is that I don’t do well at talking – which is funny, because I do lots of conference presentations and used to do a lot of booktalks. If I don’t prepare for a booktalk, I am off-the-cuff and fun and engaging, apparently, but then I also get asked to clarify quotes for articles and literally have no memory of saying them. On the other hand, if I prepare, apparently I’m boring, but also I’m prepared.

I was somewhat prepared for the podcast, but I didn’t have a good way of answering Roger’s question about why whiteness is the default, because it’s been so long since I’ve had to explain it. It is common fact to me, as unconscious and a part of my being as driving, you know?

But here’s the thing, the real answer as to why everyone is white unless you explicitly say (and even then you still have imbeciles like the folks who failed to remember that Rue was always black):

White people are the only people in our society who get to go entire days not remembering that they have a race. White people might go a day without thinking about their appearance – I mean, it’s not likely, especially for women, but it’s a possibility. White people do not have to agonize about what they wear to the grocery store to make sure they project the Right Kind of grocery shopping person, which is not just about what to wear when running errands, but running errands while black and running errands at Trader Joe’s versus Safeway versus the dollar store, and running errands for tampons versus for organic blackberries. Yes, all people *might* think about this. But not all people *must* think about it. That’s the difference.

Whatever else – literally, WHATEVER ELSE is going on in a story, human characters have to do human things and have human thoughts. Any author writing a book has to write human things.

Have you seen this meme before?

slutThat’s being a woman. But color those legs brown or black and what do you get?

Angry black woman. Oversexed Latina. Black Jehovah’s Witness. Actual whore, not the insult, and not “sex worker.” Proper and thus trying to be white. Apple bottom. Unprofessional. Trying too hard to look professional.

It’s so much. Literally every time I leave my house, not only do I have to consider all elements of woman presentation but all elements of black presentation as well. And then when I’m out in the world, I’m either talking about race because that’s my professional existence, or I’m being aware of the fact that I’m having a nice time with my friends and what do we look like (black wannabe white girl with her white friends? United Colors of Benetton? or is it the PHEW of being in a group of other black people? [this last one has happened so few times that I don’t think I need all my fingers to count it]) to outsiders? Or I’m being aware of the fact that I’m amongst strangers and I don’t know what judgments they’re making of me, but I know that they are judging in the context of my blackness and weighing their past perceptions of black people and wondering how I will change or confirm what they think.

If a character does not do this at least once a day, they are white. That is because white people don’t do this at least once a day. They do it on special days when they start a new job or go on a date. The rest of us do this multiple times per day, every day, unless we don’t leave our houses (and then only if we live alone).

That’s it. If you don’t think about the fact that you are not white regularly and consistently (I’m not saying constantly), you are white.

And that, my dear Roger, is my revised and more eloquent answer. I blame the overwhelming nature of being surrounded by microphones and things.

ETA: Oh, and if you’re a writer writing outside race, I really feel like the number one easiest (or maybe it’s difficult, but hopefully easy) way to start writing race right is to understand what microaggressions are and insert them regularly. And then consider everything in my above post.


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