Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Colour My World

Grandmother's Helper,
Harry Roseland,
oil on canvas, 1899.

I like this painting for nostalgic reasons. I remember holding a skein of yarn thus for my mother to wind.

In celebration of Black History Month, Tyhitia features a favourite and beautiful poem each week on her blog.

The first time I ever saw a "person of colour" I was about eight and at a county fair.

In an elegant perambulator, pushed through the crowd by proud parents, sat a milk chocolate child, dressed in strawberry pink ruffles and gravely absorbed in a matching cone of strawberry ice cream.

I though she was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen.

Of course, I tugged at my mother, who promptly reminded me it was not polite to stare and gawk and block people's passage, and dragged my resisting body out of the way.

She later explained my beautiful baby was a descendant of people who came north as Loyalists after the Revolution; and just like my kittens, people weren't all born the same colour.

My mother may well have had the usual prejudices and insular attitudes of her generation, but if so, she never imposed them on me.

And I think writers, in particular, should never have any use for stereotypes.


lindadreiling said...

Totally agree. What a gorgeous image of childhood. I can see your fascination—what child would not stare at a beautiful baby with pink ruffles and ice cream dripping down her arm? Aren't you glad that your mom dealt with it in such a way?

Happy day, Linda

writtenwyrdd said...

I can see using stereotypes to point out their flaws, but otherwise I think you are right, especially for my style of genre fiction.

What's noteworthy to me is how few people of color are in speculative fiction. Or maybe it is my tendency to think the world looks like me when I picture the characters?

I have a black man as a main character in one of the stalled book projects. My biggest concern with him is that I don't know African American culture. My decision was to make this guy a yuppie type who grew up wealthy in Connecticut, a federal agent who is trying to solve a friend's murder by a racist biker gang. Unlike your average hero type, he can't go undercover in the ghetto or with the bikers.

ChristineEldin said...

Beautiful painting and beautiful memory.

Demon Hunter said...

Awww, Bernita, I am truly honored. Thank you so much for this post! :*) I just love that painting. I'll definitely have to buy a print of it. Thanks for sharing this with you readers. :*)

Demon Hunter said...

As far as my characters go, I can truly write anyone. Where I grew up, I was friends with rich kids, poor kids, Black, White, Indian, Asian, and African.

I always asked questions about their cultures, but never knew at the time that I'd become a writer. My experiences have been invaluable to me, and not just for writing purposes.

If you have questions about African-American culture, I'd be glad to assist, since I am African-American and

Carla said...

What a beautiful description of the child.

Erica Orloff said...

Beautiful post . . . a freeze-frame moment of childhood.

My kids' world (I have four kids) is full of all sorts of people--mostly gay, for whatever reason, all different races and religions (even some really obscure religions). I love that they seem to never "see" race or gender issues.

That said, my children are Mexican-Americans, and the immigration wars have hit them hard--they encounter prejudice. It sickens me, because I wish this country was past it. But it's not.

My significant other (Mexican) was forced to attend a lecture on "identity theft" at the country club where he works. The so-called "security experts" giving it said, and I quote, "Your identities are in danger from all the illegal Mexicans coming across our borders, trying to get identification." To which--the staff being 25% Mexican, my guy said (he speaks perfect English, so tends to lead the pack), "You'll have to repeat that in Spanish for us, since most of the hires here don't speak English."

He can stick up for himself. My kids . . . it's harder sometimes. My little 4th grader has a "boyfriend." He is Puerto Rican, and I am so happy because her last little friend was white and told her one day that Mexicans are dirty, therefore she wasn't a "real" Mexican. She is not friends with him anymore. But it made me sad. She was 9.


SzélsőFa said...

I'm sure that was a cool vision: pink plus pink on dark brown. Yum.
Of course you're right about racial prejudices, Bernita.

I think it gets more difficult for the writer when the MC is a bad person in this context.
Neither the writer, nor the reader is allowed to love him. It must be frustrating.

Sid Leavitt said...

A lovely post, but it reminded me how we're all hamstrung by what I consider an odious expression -- 'people of color.'

For God's sake, we're all people of color. I'm not white, and I've never met anybody who was. I'm various shades of pink. And I've never met anybody black, just some beautiful shades of brown.

I'm shamelessly quoting my own writing here, but you know, any junior high school science student knows the optics of color -- white is all colors, black is no color. And yet we go out into a society where we are expected to see no color in white and the deepest of color in black.

We’ve got a lot of problems in this world, and many of them begin with the fact that we colored people consider some of us black and some of us white.

Sorry, but that's just the way I've felt about it for a long time.

Demon Hunter said...

Brilliant, Sid. I agree. I remember meeting one of my Dad's coworker's (total redneck) as a teenager who referred to Black folks as colored.

I told him what you said, that "All people are colored, and if they weren't, they'd be transparent. You do know what that means. That means that I could see through you." He never used the word colored again. I never forgot what I told him or the look on his face or the color his face

Bernita, no more hijacking your blog, I swear! :*)

writtenwyrdd said...

Moving from San Francisco to Maine (the most caucasian state in the nation) was reall wierd for me. And seeing how people act around differences up here is eye opening. I doubt anyone can be completely free of prejudices, but I notice that in the social structure here, people don't seem to even know they should try! A black coworker told me that in the local Big Chain Warehouse Store, some staff followed him around the store, apparently waiting for him to steal stuff.

And thanks for the offer, Tyhitia. I have had black friends and coworkers, and I lived in Oakland, which is predominantly African American; but that doesn't give me an insider's view. Not really. I think my character solution works as a plot complication, but I would definitely want to make his home and family life real.

Bernita said...

Linda, she was exquisite, with the most beautiful eyes.

Maybe it's a stretch, Written, but I see stereotypes as having the same roots as prejudice and bigotry.
I'm not so sure they are rare, but perhaps SpecFic is more concerned with exotic types.
"Stone Child" probably isn't considered SpecFic but Will is brown/black.

Thank you, Chris.

My Demon, the only thing that bothers me about that painting is what appears to be a tear in Granmother's apron. She would never wear an apron with a rip without mending it first.
Thank you, and thank you for posting those poems.Some of the lines will always stay with me.

Carla, thank you.

Thank you, Erica.
That is so sad.

The writer can always change the MC's mind, Szelsofa.

Sid, I used that expression, please note the quotes, because it is consistent with the period described.
Actually, I have seen a person whose skin was truly black, the colour of charcoal briquettes - an African exchange student at university. We used to hang out in the Student's Center together.

Bernita said...

My Demon, you may comment as often and as extensively as you wish.
You should know that.

Sid Leavitt said...

Oh, I have no complaint about the context in which you used the expression, Bernita. I was just trying to make the point that 'color' is an illogical way to describe differences among people.

Frankly, if differences have to be drawn, I've always felt geographical and-or cultural heritage would be better -- African-American, Asian American, Euro-American, Hispanic American, Native American, etc.

Billy said...

My parents had some typical southern prejudices--mild in degree--but they overcame them in later years as the times moved on (and never forced them on me). I can only echo the others--lovely post.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

My first love was a "boy of color" in the first grade. I remember how beautiful I thought he was, giant brown eyes and black curly hair. I also was jealous because his "tan" didn't fade.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Also, I've tried hard to integrate other races into my series, but it's hard when they're actually not human. To them mixed-race means human blood.

raine said...

...some staff followed him around the store, apparently waiting for him to steal stuff.

Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon experience, Written.

And you're quite right about Grandmother's apron, Bernita. It simply wouldn't be allowed. But a beautiful painting. ;)

Stereotypes in writing are particularly odious, yes. People of different races are simply people, with cultural differences (and even that depends on their background). As one who, in her time, has been "colored", "a person of color", "African-American", "Black", and far more unsavory terms, the names don't mean much to me personally. The attitudes of the speaker/writer are what's important.

Would that everyone had the untainted vision of a child.
Thanks for this post, Bernita.

BernardL said...

I love the picture, and it reminded me of sitting in the kitchen doing the same thing for my Mom... and hating every second. I was a boy. What can I say, but I do remember. :)

Gabriele C. said...

On a totally unrelated note: do you only post three times a week now?

Bernita said...

It's probably persistent, Sid, because we're a visual people.
I think culture accounts for most differences between people.
Just look at the cultural prejudices that exist between writers and publishers!

Thank you, Billy.
There may always exist, I think, a mild bias between peoples, based on a defensive, tribal, be wary of strangers instinct.
Fortunately, individuals are free to cast it aside.

SS, I think that SF has done a lot to illustrate the effects of prejudice.

Raine,I was forever imprinted by that lovely child. Even if my mother had been a rampant racist, which she certainly was not, I don't think it would have had much effect.

Bernard, my brother felt the same way!
I thought I was "helping Mummie" - only later did I realize she could have used the back of a kitchen chair, much like the one in the picture, just as well.

Yes, Gabriele. I gave notice a few weeks ago. My WIP needs me.

Charles Gramlich said...

There was a black family that went to our church, but it was actually many years before I recognized that they considered by many to be "different." They were a farm family and I never though of them as any different from us growing up.

Gabriele C. said...

That notice probably fell in the time when I had no internet. But posting daily or five days a week is a lot of work.

Except if you get as lazy as I and just slap some picture up. :)

Scott from Oregon said...

Our family is biracial by marriage, and when my father's mother came out to see my brother get married, she learned that the wedding would be, uhh... mixed colors.

She was a deep southern Baptist bigot and we had all become West coast liberals. Pops was strict with her and told her she was allowed to come to the wedding and reception "if she behaved".

It all finally got to her though, later in the day, as she could no longer bite her own tongue.

When asked if she would like some fruit salad by my sister, she declared (loudly)-

"I'll have some fruit salad. But I sure 'nuff ain't gonna eat any WATERMELON!"

The Anti-Wife said...

What a lovely picture and post. I think using stereotypes is often a sign of laziness on the part of the writer. There are so many more descriptive ways to create them.

Bernita said...

Charles, probably because they were the same in the things that count.

I ran off at the mouth daily for about two years, Gabriele.

Not only a bigot, but a rude bigot, Scott.I hope your sister laughed at her.

Thank you, AW.I think a lot of bigotry is the result of mental laziness as well.

Lana Gramlich said...

Although my father always encouraged me to do whatever made me happy, once he passed away mom's evil, nasty, racist personality took charge. The change was dramatic & too cruel for a 9 year old, really. From her hatred & intolerance I learned the opposite, fortunately.

writtenwyrdd said...

Mental laziness is a good way to put it, bernita. I think I recall reading that our mind naturally makes shortcuts for us regarding thought processes, and I can see how it might work to make stereotyping, bigotry and racial profiling easier to get to. But as humans we are supposed to be bigger than our instincts, so it's no kind of excuse.

Julie at Virtual Voyage said...

Identified with the skein of yarn winding - do you recall cat's cradle?

Bernita said...

Lana, an independent mind is a saving grace.

"so it's no kind of excuse."
Written, I didn't mean to suggest that ot was -
least of all for writers.

Used to play it, Julie!

Chumplet said...

I moved around so much I had no time to think about how others were different. I was the outsider.

My mother was 'reverse prejudiced.' She went out of her way to point out the qualities of people who were of a different race, while still emphasizing their differences.

Bernita, even though you are already excellent, I left you a little souvenir at my blog.

ORION said...

Living in Hawaii I am the minority- We have representations of a variety of cultures yet we are no without our biases and prejudices.
"You have to be carefully taught to hate..."
I LOVE "South Pacific"

writtenwyrdd said...

I had no intention of implying that you were trying to excuse it, bernita. Just saying a possible physiological tendency doesn't give an excuse to offenders to just go on thinking that way.

Demon Hunter said...


I think the tear in the apron is purposeful. It could mean the grandmother cares more about spending time with her grandchild than mending her apron, or that she cares more about the child's clothes being mended before hers. Or, it could mean something else entirely. The painter put it there for a reason. I'm hoping a decent one...

spyscribbler said...

I, too, have given up on labels. First, you never get the right one. Even when I was one of the only white people in a black church, a third of the congregants were "people of color," another third "black," and the rest "African-Americans."

I hardly knew what to say for the longest time. And then I realized, it doesn't matter. "Person" seems to work just fine.

Bernita said...

Sandra, thank you. You honour me.

Pat, people always look for excuses to play superior.Race seems to be the most convenient.

It certainly doesn't, Written.

I was pleased to see a book on the floor in the painting, my Demon.

I think so, Natasha, or " a girl" or "that guy, the mother," etc.

James Goodman-Horror Writer said...

And I think writers, in particular, should never have any use for stereotypes

I couldn't agree more. The only hope future generations have of overcoming racial intolerance is if society as a whole makes a conscious effort to remove the fuel for the fire.

Oh, and Happy Valentine's Day! :D

Ello said...

THat was a lovely memory. I really enjoy when you share with us!

Bernita said...

Happy Valentines to you, Dear Guy, and to your own Valentine.

Thank you, Ello. Am a little shy about it.