I do not believe a writer ever stops learning. If we stop learning, we become stagnate and die. Like something caught in the old pool in the back yard, you can swim around in the sludge for a while a little slimy but happy enough. After a while, the things that begin to grow on the bottom of the pool start to choke out the cool water and oxygen turning it into a hot soup of old gross things. No one wants to be a part of some old gross thing.
There are somethings that should never go out of style: good manners, good grammar, and good food. Everything else is subject to change. When I think of the writer I was twenty, thirty years ago, I can feel myself blushing and ducking my head. It is one of those times when I’m actually glad none of my old stuff survived our house fire. As a person I’ve changed a lot over the years. When my husband, David and I married, we talked often of racial differences and how we were raised. Though my parents were not racists, they weren’t inclusive either, part of growing up in a rural southern community. My husband’s mother was raised a lot like my parents, the only other races she knew before adulthood were Native American, Black and Dutch, and that was from working on a farm out in eastern North Carolina.
Our parents were taught that the races were separate but equal but as they became adults in the sixties, they began to see things weren’t quite the way they believed. A conversation with my mother after watching the movie “Hidden Figures,” made me realize just how little the white community really knew of what was going on historically right outside their front door. We lived in Hampton, Virginia from 1967-1973. The last year we were in Virginia, I was bussed across town to Bassett Elementary School. I loved the school and the principal, a black man with a gentle baritone. Yet until that movie, my mother and I (I was only 9 at the time) were unaware of the racial problems and Virginia’s refusal to integrate. As a nine-year-old black child I would have known.
After marrying my father-in-law, a marine who grew up in upstate New York, my mother-in-law became exposed to many more races: Puerto Rican, German, Italian, Dominican, Chinese, Caribbean and West Indian when she visited his family in Amsterdam, but in the marine corps she learned that there was only one race, olive drab. She raised her children with no color barriers.
My husband and I often discussed whether I’d have been brave enough to take a chance on loving him had he been of a different race or religion. Honestly, I’m not sure I would have been thirty years ago. He is part of what has made me stronger, braver, he’s expanded my world and given me the courage to take chances, even disagree with him.
As children our worlds are often small. They include family and friends, maybe a few neighbors, church members. When we venture off to school we are exposed to more people, teachers, faculty and students from places just a little out of your neighborhood, maybe people who have moved from other places. If you are lucky enough to travel, you might be exposed to other races, religions and cultures but most of us grow up knowing only what is in our own backyards.
The Romance Writers of America (RWA) and writers in general have been fighting a battle of inclusivity and diversity for several years. Romance and especially love, should not come with qualifiers. Everyone deserves to be loved. Reading authors who are different from us, about heroes and heroines of other races and religions, writing about characters who are unique with an educated and respectful attitude, that is allows us to live in another’s skin and share their experiences. Not all rednecks are racists, not all blacks are thugs and not all Asians are submissives. We need to stop typecasting and start doing our homework. We need to keep learning. Will we make mistakes and say something or do something that comes across as prejudiced or unenlightened? Probably. We are human and we make mistakes in everything else we do, but if we are truly trying to learn and be different than the person we were before, then we need to open the dialogue and ask the intelligent questions. We need to look further than our own backyards, heck, maybe we need to add a few more people to our invitation lists. Learn about real people of color, real people with physical and mental challenges, people with other lifestyles and from different cultures, take time to read, listen, and discover more information. No one says you have to join a movement, but if you plan to write about someone diverse characters then learn about them first.
I like to people my stories with characters who represent my friends and neighbors. In “Titanium Blue” my hero lost a leg in Afghanistan. My son, a former soldier with two tours in Afghanistan answered questions for me. Two of my friends have prosthetic legs. One lost his leg in a farming accident as a child, the other a car accident as an adult. Both men were willing to answer my questions about their prosthesis.
Firsthand information, books and the internet offer readers a realistic experience. Modern technology has allowed writers something they’ve never had before, a chance to go places without ever leaving their chairs. We no longer have the excuse of ignorance for the information is too easily available. We, as writers, owe it to our readers to do our best to portray diverse characters with honesty and respect.
I’m looking for sources to add to my list. If you have any suggestions, I’d appreciate your input.
This is a new source I cannot wait to learn more about, UNCTV/PBS Learning Ken Burns Classroom https://unctv.pbslearningmedia.org/collection/kenburnsclassroom/home/
For many cultures from African American to Ukrainian American can be found at the Library of Congress https://blogs.loc.gov/folklife/. It lists many sources both historical and current.
Poli-Sci Course on “Who is American” https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-politicalscience/chapter/who-is-american/
100 Most Significant Americans of All Time https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonianmag/meet-100-most-significant-americans-all-time-180953341/
100 Most Influential Figures in American History https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2006/12/the-100-most-influential-figures-in-american-history/305384/
Gay Rights/Culture https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/researchers-recover-early-copy-19th-century-gay-rights-essay-180973895/
Black/African American: https://www.healthnetworksolutions.net/index.php/understanding-different-cultures
Latino/Hispanic American: https://www.infoplease.com/notable-hispanic-americans-z
2 thoughts on “Stagnate We Die”
Sherri, I am from Stowe, Pennsylvania, but I feel like we were raised in the same way. We never spoke about race and there was never any anti anything being taught, but we were rather limited with contact to other races. I like to think I raised my kids differently. I encouraged friendships based on shared interests. We also moved around in the military sharing apartment buildings with many different people from all walks of life. Yet, I am woefully ignorant of cultures other than my German heritage. Thank you for sharing all these wonderful resources. I am sure they will help me with my writing and hopefully be useful to others as well.
Thanks Sonja, I think most of us have our bubble. My house was filled with kids of all races and religions. I learned so much from my children and their friends, being involved in sports and Scouts. I’m thankful for our larger view of the world.
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