Posts Tagged ‘race’

Recently, the United States celebrated the first occurrence of Juneteenth as a federal holiday. For those unaware, Juneteenth commemorates when General Gordon Granger of the Union Army entered Galveston, Texas on June 19th, 1865 and announced the end of slavery there. This was two-and-a-half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, though often emancipation had to be enforced by Union soldiers. Nevertheless, many African Americans count June 19th, known as Juneteenth, Jubilee Day, Black Independence Day, and Emancipation Day, as the day slavery ended and for celebrating African American culture.

President Biden signing the holiday into law makes Juneteenth the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. And hopefully, both holidays will now serve as opportunities to educate the masses on the history of African Americans in the United States and what they’ve gone through. It could even make for an interesting discussion when we contrast it with July 4th, Independence Day, which will be in just a few days.

That is, if teachers in certain states aren’t kept from talking about the stories behind Juneteenth and MLK Jr. Day by law.

If you’re from outside the United States or just haven’t heard, many state legislatures are enacting laws to try and keep teachers in those states from teaching Critical Race Theory, or any form of in-depth discussion of race’s effect on the history and culture of the United States. Opponents say that CRT or any other form of in-depth discussion as “left-wing propaganda” or “trying to shame white people for actions of the past.” Some of these bills have been passed into law, which might technically make discussion of why we have these holidays technically illegal.

Which worries me, because as we’ve seen, ignorance isn’t bliss. It only furthers divisions.

You probably heard of this, but recently, a certain United States congrresswoman compared mask mandates in the US to the Yellow Star worn by Jews in Nazi Germany and Nazi-controlled areas. This same congresswoman then defended herself, saying that any rational Jewish person would agree with her.

Well, I may be eccentric, but I am Jewish and I consider myself rational. And I think there’s a huge difference between public health measures that are meant to protect people from disease–you know, like having proper sewage disposal systems rather than letting poop contaminate our drinking water and cause cholera outbreaks like what happened in 19th-century London?–and measures that were meant to isolate and stigmatize people of a minority religion, keep them from most professions and taking part in a nation’s political, economic and social circles. These same people were then forbidden to practice their religion, forced into tiny communities and concentration camps, and endured harsh slave labor and systematic murder.

Last I checked, no one is trying to do any of that with people who don’t wear masks or aren’t vaccinated. Governments and businesses just want people to continue following measures taken to keep people from getting sick. You know, like not mixing poop into your drinking water? Victorian Londoners learned that one the hard way!

Anyway, that congresswoman realized she made a mistake, went to the Holocaust Museum in DC, and publicly apologized for her comments. And I want to believe she’s at least learned some kind of lesson from this. But I know that there were plenty of people who backed up her ignorance when she was defending herself, and would have resisted any attempts for her, or for themselves, to find out that why what they said and did was wrong.

I can only chalk some of this response to blatant white supremacy and anti-Semitism. It is part of it, no doubt, but ignorance has played its part as well. Since the Civil War, many history textbooks have been written with the aim of keeping people ignorant of the actual causes of the war, the horrors of slavery, or why things are still very unequal. And while Holocaust education has made great strides since WWII, it’s not emphasized enough if the level of ignorance displayed by our elected leaders is anything to go by.

(Not to mention the number of Holocaust deniers out there.)

Look, I’m white. I may not be treated as such sometimes because of my religion (anti-Semitism is weird that way), but I am white. And I’ve never once felt ashamed of my skin color due to learning of how white people treated black people in the past. Our fifth grade history unit mainly focused on the slave trade, Underground Railroad, and the Civil War, and I feel like it allowed me to feel more empathetic to African Americans. At the same time, I wish I had learned about the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, which was basically an American pogrom, or the coup in Wilmington, North Carolina, which I’m still fuzzy on.

Both events, by the way, I only learned about in the last year! And that doesn’t sit right with me.

From the way I’ve been writing this, you would think that I’m going to conclude that a better handle on history would solve these problems. I wish it were so easy. There has to be a multi-pronged approach to fixing not just the ignorance of the past, but the divisions and pain of the present so they don’t continue into the future. But teaching a history that takes in multiple perspectives, follows more than one or a few groups, and takes a look on how those histories affect our modern day world and culture, would be one of those prongs.

Otherwise, nothing will change. No matter our background, us and our descendants will not receive a history that’ll help us deal with the modern world. We’ll just receive some stories with lies, propaganda and fairytales mixed in. And teaching fiction as truth helps no one.

General Mark Miley testifying before Congress on why critical race theory is taught at West Point.

And we also have to learn why certain circles, mainly composed of white conservatives, have come out so strong against CRT. To quote General Mark Miley, who recently testified before Congress on critical race theory being taught at West Point, “I want to understand white rage–and I’m white.” This pairs very well with what my recently retired boss, who is African-American, gave as the reason why we needed a European American group in our organization, alongside groups for African-American, Latinx, Asian Americans, Native American, LGBT, veterans, and disabled employees,* “We need to have EVERYBODY at the table.”

I completely agree. We need everybody at the table. Because all Americans are at the table. And we need to be better able to understand each other if we want this country to continue on. Otherwise, there’s a good chance that, like a table with rotten legs, it’ll simply collapse.


Thanks for reading this essay, everyone. I know this was a rather unusual sort of post for me to write, but given current events in this country, I felt it was necessary. I look forward to discussion in the comments, but I only ask that you keep things civil. After all, the only things that are supposed to intimidate or scare people on this blog are me and my stories! The comments section are neither.

Until next time, Followers of Fear, thanks for reading, and pleasant nightmares.

*For those who don’t know, my day job is at a supply agency where I work in an office that promotes diversity and inclusion in the workforce. My main duties involve getting accommodations for disabled employees so they can do their jobs, arranging interpreting for deaf employees, and assisting with programs meant to highlight the contributions and accomplishments of the various groups above. It’s a fulfilling job in many different ways.

I only like one kind of cocktail, but I haven’t mixed it in years. Recently, I found all the ingredients at the grocery store and decided to pick them up. You mix vodka, sweet n’ sour mix, and blue curacao. I call it an Electrified Lemonade (though it may have another name I am unaware of). Why do I mention it? Because I mixed it this evening in celebration of finishing the third draft of River of Wrath. Woo-hoo!

So, if you’re unfamiliar with this novel, River of Wrath is a novel I wrote on-and-off between October 2017 and October 2018 (which is hilarious, because the main events of the novel take place during Halloween 1961). The novel follows a young couple who find themselves trapped in a small town in Mississippi when a river full of living, violent corpses floods the town. Turns out the river is actually the River Styx as described in Dante’s Inferno, the fifth circle of Hell and the punishment for the wrathful. Trapped in a church in the town, internal tensions rise as the town’s racial differences are brought to light. And believe me when I say, the danger within has an effect on the trouble within and vice versa.

So yeah, you can guess what sort of themes the novel encompasses. I started coming up with the story back in 2017 after reading the book The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy Tyson, about the infamous murder of a young African-American boy from Chicago in the Mississippi Delta, and the trial of his murderers (spoiler alert, they got off and then admitted they murdered him). I had just learned about Dante’s Inferno and was thinking of where various people and groups in the book might have ended up in Hell according to Dante. That was the impetus for the novel, which originally I didn’t think would be more than twenty-thousand words. A year later, and it was over sixty-thousand words, and I was like, “I gotta stop turning short stories and novelettes into novels.”

Yeah, I have not kept that promise to myself at all.

The Fifth Circle of Hell, as illustrated by Stradanus.

Anywho, I usually try to shop my novels around after three drafts (the third draft of Rose was the one that was accepted for publication, after all). And since this is the third draft, I’ve already sent it off to a publisher. I’ll hopefully get an acceptance somewhere, but we’ll see what happens. It’s not perfect, but I’ve gotten a lot of kinks out of the book and I think it’s a good story. Should be enough to interest someone.

If it does get accepted, however, I’m going to ask for a sensitivity reader. Let’s face it, I’m white, and given the subject matter, I don’t want to accidentally cause offense.

Well, River of Wrath is off. What’s next for me? Well, tomorrow I’ll be getting my second COVID-19 shot, so I might not do anything, creative or otherwise, depending on whether or not I suffer any side effects. That being said, my next project will be the third draft of The Pure World Comes, my Victorian horror novel. After that, I’ll try submitting that for publication. And then…well, who knows? Maybe I’ll work on a new story, or I’ll be editing older stories. We’ll see what happens.

Well, that’s all for now. I’m off to bed, because I have a big day tomorrow. Until next time, goodnight and pleasant nightmares.

Well, I didn’t think I would get it done, and especially not today. But get it done, I did, and now it’s time for a blog post.

As you well know, earlier this month I started working on the second draft of River of Wrath, a novel about a small town in 1960s Mississippi whose dark history is dredged up when one of the circles of Hell described in Dante’s Inferno appears in the town. I’ve been meaning to get to this draft for forever, but the deaths of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbury, among so many others, forced me to pull this one off the flash drive and get to work on it again. One of this story’s main themes is racism and racial violence, after all, so I can’t think of a better time to work on this story.

And I’m honestly amazed I got this story finished. For one thing, I didn’t think I’d get to keep to that goal of getting one story done a month, but I guess I did, after a fashion. And I didn’t think I’d finish it today. After all, I had about 75 pages left to edit when I got up this morning. However, a lot of work and I just kept going. Before I knew it, I only had 30 left, and I just couldn’t stop. Now it’s a bit after midnight and I’m done with the second draft. Imagine that.

On another note, this draft is now longer than the first draft! When I finished the story the first time around in October 2018, the novel was 192 pages (8.5 x 11 inches on MS Word, double-spaced, 12-point Times New Roman font) and 60,059 words. The second draft…is 204 pages and 63,843 words! I added twelve pages and nearly four-thousand words! I’m not sure if most of those words came from adding more in-depth explanations about Dante’s Inferno, as one of my beta readers advised, but it’s quite an addition. One, hopefully, that’s well worth the work.

So what’s next, both for River of Wrath and for myself? Well, before I start a third draft of River, I’d like to get it looked at by some sensitivity readers. As I said, this story deals with racism, and I want to make sure it’s not accidentally hurtful to African-Americans despite my best intentions. Hopefully, they’ll give me some insight to improve the novel and make it so that the only people who find it offensive are people whose offense I don’t care about, aka white supremacists.

As for me, I’m going to take a break for a short while. You know, watch some movies, read some books, prepare for my upcoming trip to Iowa and South Carolina. However, I’m sure I’ll get in front of the keyboard and start banging out a new story soon enough. I have an idea that’s been rattling in my head for awhile now that I think I can do a lot with, so I’m looking forward to working on it.

But for now, it’s late and I need to sleep. Good night, my Followers of Fear. And until next time, stay safe, be kind, and pleasant nightmares!

I found this on Netflix, and after I saw it got good reviews online, I decided to check it out. And I think I got what I asked for with a series called Slasher.

Now, a little background. Slasher is a Canadian-American TV series partially inspired by American Horror Story (and believe me, it shows), as well as Agatha Christie novels and classic slasher movies. The production company’s plan with this show is to do it¬†anthology style¬†with a new story every year, possibly with a similar¬†cast each season (see? The AHS influence shows). The first season’s story follows Sarah Bennett (Kate McGrath), as she and her husband Dylan (Brandon Jay McLaren) move into the house where her parents were brutally murdered by a man dressed like a medieval executioner back in 1988. In traditional slasher fashion, someone copying the original killer’s MO starts killing people, and Sarah finds herself forced to work with the original killer (Patrick Garrow) to figure out who the new killer is.

So how does it stack up?

Well, the first season¬†does have a bunch of problems. The biggest problem is that it’s really derivative. Like I said, you can see the inspiration from AHS. In fact, it feels like an AHS knockoff, and not exactly a stellar one. The killer is also very derivative, his whole MO a ripoff of the movie Se7en with every victim being killed because they committed¬†one of the Seven Deadly Sins. And the killer’s¬†design? It actually reminds me of the protagonist of my novel Snake. I’m actually wondering if that’s not a coincidence! There’s also a character that I’m told is similar to one iconic character from Twin Peaks, an incompetent police department out of just about every film ever, and a few other things I can’t mention without spoiling the story.

Did anyone ever tell you that you look like a character I created this one time?

Another problem is the protagonist, and the actress who plays her. Kate McGrath’s acting in this series is wooden and emotionless, to the point where I want to pull out my phone and find something a bit more animated. Not to mention McGrath’s Irish accent breaks through her attempts at whatever the Canadian equivalent of the General American accent is. As for her character, I find it hard to sympathize or connect with her. I get that her parents were brutally murdered, and that she’s got more than a few reasons to investigate these murders, but other than that there’s not much to her character besides her ability to make and act on connections the police can’t. She feels more like a construct or an idea of what the final girl in slasher stories can be than a real person.

So with all that, is there anything positive about Slasher? Actually, quite a bit.

For one thing, it’s interesting. Fault it for how derivative it is and for the wooden lead, but the show’s writers know how to set up an interesting story. Every character has secrets, and it’s fun to watch those secrets get opened up and divulged to the other characters and the audience. You’re also kept guessing on who the killer is until the final reveal, and there are a bunch of other twists that keep the story feeling fresh and exciting. And there are scenes that are both heartwarming and heart-wrenching. There was one scene in the seventh episode that particularly got to me, and the way it was done was just so artful and well-done. So despite it’s derivative nature, it’s good to see that they can keep an audience interested in the story. Especially an audience that goes through a lot of trash trying to find gold and therefore knows all the cliches.

And while the lead isn’t that great, some of the other characters are just a lot of fun. Dylan Bennett has an interesting character arc in relation to his job as a journalist, the events unfolding around him, and their effects on his marriage. And Christopher Jacot as gay real estate agent Robin is always a blast to have on screen. I think I fell a little in love with his character. Patick Garrow’s incarcerated killer Tom Winston is surprisingly likable and sympathetic. And Dean McDermott as Police Chief Iain Vaughn is also a nasty character I¬†love to hate, and the twist¬†his character takes in the show is thrilling, to say the least.

And this is just a small thing that I really liked, but there’s an interracial couple in this story that’s actually somewhat functional and doesn’t make race the focus of their drama. Whenever I see interracial relationships¬†on American television, it’s always portrayed as something filled with drama, and the race thing comes up in a big way at least once. There’s none of that here. Even better, it’s a black man and a white woman. I’ve seen the reverse a couple of times on TV, but this might be the first time I’ve seen it in any medium. Props to the show for portraying diverse backgrounds and experiences and not making it a huge deal. That’s still something others are having trouble with, as the fact that I’m pointing it out makes evident.

So what’s my final verdict of¬†Slasher?¬†Well, I think a 3.0 out of 5 seems right. Yes, it’s not the best horror show out there, nor is it the best attempt to turn a slasher into a TV series (*cough* Scream was awesome, and I’m so excited for season 2¬†*cough*), but it keeps your attention and has more than a few things going for it. Assuming there’s a second season (no word at this time if there will be one), there’s a good chance that the people behind the show will learn from the problems of the first season and fix them for the next one.

Oh, and for those of you who’ve seen AHS: Hotel, you may notice more than a few similarities between this show and that season, enough to make you wonder if there was plagiarism involved. Turns out, both shows’ stories were conceived and filmed around the same time. It’s just that one aired after the other. It’s a weird coincidence, but a totally innocent one.

If you’ve known me for a while, I’m big on trying to correct injustices and inequalities. Racism is a big one for me, and when I hear people say “Racism’s dead” or “It’s not as big a deal as people make it out to be”, I’m among those pointing out why those folks are so wrong. In my own fiction I try to create casts that are very diverse, using characters with different¬†sexual orientations, religions, genders, gender identities, ages, and races, among others.

Which brings me to why I’m writing this post. The past couple of days I’ve been working on a new short story that will probably turn into a novelette, based on how many words I’ve written so far. In it, four of the main characters are white, while one of them is black (and in a relationship with another male character, but I digress). While writing the first scene in the story, I was trying to point out the that Fred, my black character, is black. Why? Because I¬†worry that unless I point it out, they’re going to assume he’s white.

Realizing that I was thinking this made me stop and think about my other works. Why do I take the time to point out a character’s race? Do I do the same thing for my white characters? And why do I assume that they’ll think I’m white in the first place?

On that last question, my roommate here in Germany, who has a background in psychology, was able to provide the answer to this question of mine one¬†morning while waiting for the bus: “Most people tend to transfer their own qualities to others, including characters in stories.” That makes sense to me, and I’ve got a personal anecdote to back it up (I know anecdotes don’t count as scientific data, but bear with me): when I was 17 I spent five weeks in Israel and at one point we passed by a bookstore with some books in English. Having already read through the two books I’d brought with me (no surprise there), I went in, browsed the titles, and bought I, Alex Cross by James Patterson. This was my first Alex Cross book, but sixteenth in the series overall, and at first I didn’t find any indications to clue me into the fact that the protagonist was black. It wasn’t till midway through the book that I realized from the conversation between Cross and his grandma that they were black! Had to really adjust my image of the guy in my head right there, as well as several other characters.

Funny what reading out of order and a few misconceptions can do.

But in this line of thinking, wouldn’t this mean I assume all my readers are white? Well, I know for a fact that’s not the case: while I still have a relatively small readership (both in terms of books and blogging), they come from a variety of backgrounds. Some I know personally and off the Internet, and can attest is that they’re not white. What I worry about is that they’re going to transfer my race, which is white, to my characters. And it’s not a crazy concept: if you had never read or seen Harry Potter and heard about it and then saw a picture of JK Rowling, what would you assume the protagonist’s race was? I’d say you’d guess white.

And in a strange way, I’m helping my readers come to these assumptions. Unless I’m noting how pale a characters’s skin is, I generally don’t do anything to indicate a character is white. In Snake, where a majority of the characters were white, I did very little in terms of description when it came to skin color, and yet I’m pretty sure everyone who read the book was able to figure out my characters’ races just fine. The same in Reborn City: except for noting that Ilse has very pale skin, my white characters didn’t get any indications to clue the readers into their whiteness, while every character of another race did get indicators.

So why is there this collaboration between my readers and I? And do other authors do this?

For the second question, I’d say yes. I’ve seen¬†plenty of other authors do this, including idols of mine like JK Rowling and Stephen King. And for the first, I think it might have something to do not just with the transference thing my roommate mentioned, but also with the society I live in. Think about it: while America may have a black president now and there are more people-of-color in the media than ever before, it’s still a very white-centric society. Because of this, I think that means, along with transference, I don’t feel the need to give indicators for white characters because in America, whiteness is still considered “the norm”, and my readers won’t imagine my characters a different color unless told otherwise because they’ve been conditioned to feel that whiteness is still “the norm.”

And I’m sure that if I were of a different race in a different country or culture, the same concept would apply. If I were Middle Eastern writing in Israel, probably all my characters would be Israeli Jews or Palestinians and I’d give indicators for tourists or Ethiopian or Russian Jews. If I lived in China and was Chinese, I’d probably only give indicators for non-Chinese Asians or Americans or something along those lines.

So to wrap this whole post up, the way my mind works, plus the way my readers’ minds work and the society we were raised in all collaborate¬†in this strange need I have to mark my characters so as not to give my readers a false impression. Funny how that works. Even weirder that it makes sense to me as I write about it, and that I’m not sure whether or not I feel anything about it other than it being strange. Maybe that’s just how one should feel about something like this. Not liking or disliking it, but accepting it as one of those weird facts of life.

Well, I’ve gone on and on about this subject for a while now. Now I’d like your opinion on it. Do you think what I’m doing with non-white characters here is strange? Why or why not? And do you ever do the same thing in your writing? Why? Let me know, I’d love to hear your thoughts, Followers of Fear.

[Writer’s Note: The following post does contain some slight spoilers about the new Avengers movie, but it’s all very minor stuff, nothing that would ruin your viewing of the film if you plan to go and see it. Just wanted to let you know.]

So last night I went with a friend of mine to catch Avengers: Age of Ultron. It was fantastic, great action scenes, some really dark moments of character development, and plenty of that humor we’ve come to enjoy from the MCU films. If I were to give this film a rating, I’d probably put it between a 4 and a 5.

However, there were some things that bothered me, and I want to talk about them here. One of those things, as said by Maria Hill during that party (which we’ve known about for months, so it’s not a spoiler): “Where are all the women?” Yes indeed, where all the women? If you think about it, while there are plenty of women in these movies who hold their own against the men, the women are still underrepresented in the MCU. Black Widow has shown up in four films so far and set to appear in the next Captain America film, but a solo film isn’t even in the works (though a treatment apparently has been written) and she’s only got 24 action figures compared to over a hundred various Iron Man toys.

It’s even more sad when you consider how she’s such a great, well-rounded character who can be a great role model for girls, and Scarlett Joahnnson’s costars make fun of her and call the character “a slut” and “a whore”. Yeah, they did that. Women are so much more than their sexuality and gender, and yet these guys reduce a character to being sexually promiscuous just because she’s comfortable around a bunch of testosterone-high males. Seriously, half or more of the audiences of these films happen to be female, as I understand. At least half the people in the theater with me last night were women, and I don’t think they were there just for Captain America and Thor’s good looks. You’d think the people making these films would remember that more often before saying something so hurtful and wrong.

Seriously, where’s her time? Where’s her solo film?

 

Now, there is a Ms. Marvel film in the works, Agent Carter was a real hit when it came out as a TV miniseries earlier this year and AKA Jessica Jones is being made into a series on Netflix, but the Ms. Marvel film isn’t due out until late 2018, a full year after DC plans to release a Wonder Woman film. Really Marvel? You’ve been doing this for way longer than the other studios, and you’re going to let DC get a superheroine flick out before you? I’m ashamed. You could’ve at least put more priority on getting more female characters out¬†there.

Another thing that gets my goat (and again, this won’t ruin your experience of the movie, so don’t bite my head off), is that while Nick Fury, James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine and Sam Wilson/Falcon make appearances, the latter two’s involvement in this film is minimal at best. War Machine shows up near the very end but ends up contributing very little. And Falcon is maybe in the film for a little over forty seconds, making me wonder why he was in the film at all if they weren’t going to really use him.

Really? Look, by 2050 minorities are going to be the majority in this country, and shows like Scandal or How To Get Away With Murder and movies like the Fast & Furious franchise are popular partially because of their extremely diverse casting. People like seeing characters like them that they can look up to in these stories, and these franchises and shows give that to so many people who have been shut out of the entertainment industry for years. Yet the most diverse casting so far in these films is the group from Guardians of the Galaxy. And I think with so many different non-white heroes in the Marvel universe, the filmmakers are making a big mistake by not trying to have more diverse casts in their movies.

Then again, there is room for hope. A Black Panther film is in the works with Chadwick Boseman as the character, there are rumors that the new Spider-Man might be black or Latino*, and hints from Age of Ultron that the next couple of movies will feature more diverse casts, which I can only say is a good thing. And with Marvel planning on putting out more of these films at least through 2028 as long as people are still willing to see them (my God, this franchise will never end!), so there’s still opportunity to make sure the women of the MCU get their chance in the spotlight as well.

They’ve got plenty of time, so I hope thy use that to put out a few films with more diverse casts.

 

We just have to hope that Kevin Feige and the folks producing these films take the hints their audiences are sending them.

What’s your take on this? Is it a big problem, or are critics taking this issue way too seriously?

Which character would you like to see given a solo film?

*I’m sorry, I’m going to take the end of this post to rant a little and blow some steam. I kind of liked the Marc Webb Spider-Man films with Andrew Garfield. He was funny, they were clearly setting up a cinematic universe of their own, and I liked the characters very much. But Rise of Electro makes less than $750 million at the box office and what does Sony¬†do? Cancel all immediate plans for a sequel and sell out to Marvel so that Spidey can join the Avengers! I mean really! Why even bother making the films in the first place? I just hope Spidey 3.0 is funny and engaging, otherwise one of my childhood heroes is going to be ruined for me.

About a week and a half ago, Variety reported that the Ghost in the Shell live-action film, which had been in development hell for years, was underway and had Scarlett Johanssen in the lead after Margot Robbie turned it down. Not only did this impress upon me to actually read the manga, but it excited and angered GitS fans across the world. The former is understandable, but the latter is a bit more complex. Why? Well, the main character of GitS is named Major Motoko Kusanagi, and she’s Japanese. Johanssen, while a great actress, is white. Why didn’t Touchstone Pictures ask any Japanese actresses?

And this isn’t the only live-action adaptation based on a Japanese franchise where Hollywood has looked at only white actors. The Akira film, which once again is in development after many years in and out of development hell, has been notorious for its producers trying to get white actors in the roles of Japanese characters. Justin Timberlake, Robert Pattinson, and Andrew Garfield are the latest names to come up. George Takei has been vocal about this, warning producers they will upset fans and have a repeat of The Last Airbender (an adaptation of the American anime Avatar: The Last Airbender) if they don’t cast Asian actors. Remember the latter film had a mostly white cast, and, although the film was problematic on a number of levels, the fact that the very diverse characters were all played by white actors upset many fans.

And it’s not just films based on anime that has had this problem. Biblical films such as Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings have received a lot of criticism not just for the liberties taken with their stories, but the fact that while the characters being portrayed would have most likely have been from the Middle East and Africa, the principle actors were all white. And in Pan, an upcoming movie based on Peter Pan, Tiger Lily is played by Rooney Mara, who is white while her character is Native American. Surprisingly, the Peter Pan live musical on NBC last month actually had a Native American actress and tried not to be so stereotypical with their portrayal of Native Americans, which was one of the few good things about that disaster. The 2003 Peter Pan film also cast a Native American actress in the role of Tiger Lily, and that film rocked! Why can’t Pan do the same thing?

And here’s something interesting I’m not sure if other people have noticed: when the Harry Potter films were still being made, the first couple of films had two different actresses, both black, playing Lavender Brown. At that point she was a background character for the films, but once the sixth book came out she had a much bigger role. When we see her in the sixth movie, she’s played by Jessie Cave, who was white. I mean really. The HP universe has already shown that the main basis for discrimination is¬†how pure your blood is. JK Rowling has already stated that gender isn’t a big deal in the Wizarding world, and I don’t think¬†race would be a big deal either. What’s wrong with Ron dating a black girl, even if the relationship doesn’t work out in the end? Heck, Fred went to the Yule Ball with¬†Angelina Johnson, who in the books was black, and after the series she married and had kids with George Weasley.

And why the heck wasn’t Selma in the Oscars this year? I mean, I don’t really care about the Oscars, but apparently this year has only white nominees, and of those most are male. I don’t know why. I saw Selma, and it was powerful and beautiful. Why can’t it get a nomination or two?

I’ve been vocal about how, almost 47 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, this nation is still full of racial inequality, most illustrated this past year in the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and quite a few others, the trials that seem to have lead to nowhere, and the protests that have followed them. The many roles where white actors have played characters of non-white nationalities may seem like a small thing, but it’s actually pretty big. The media has a great power to influence millions and millions of people. What does it say when the people who go to movies don’t see themselves in the movies that they go to see? Even in roles where they should be seeing themselves?

I’m not sure what Hollywood’s reasoning for doing all this white-washing. Maybe they like to bank on star power or something. But I think that studio execs are making a big mistake by not including more diverse casts in their films. ¬†TV execs are catching on much faster: TV shows like Sleepy Hollow, ¬†Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, which pride themselves on their diversity, are tearing up the prime time landscape, Black-ish¬†and Jane the Virgin,¬†which feature mostly black or Hispanic casts,¬†are some of the year’s best new comedies, and SNL has made it a point to diversify their cast members.

And while I’m still working on getting that sort of reach with my books, I like to use diverse casts in my stories when I can, and I think that that’s some of the best parts of my books. In my thesis novel Rose, half the main cast, including antagonist Akira, are Japanese. In Laura Horn, many of the characters are black or Hispanic, and I plan to keep that in the rewrite. And in the Reborn City series, most of my characters aren’t white. In fact, Zahara Bakur, my protagonist, is an Arab Muslim. And if in an adaptation of any of my works, the white-washing I’ve described above was used in the casting process, I’d be very, very upset.

Because that’s not how the characters should be. We want to see characters who look like us. I’m lucky that I see a lot of white characters. Occasionally I see a Jewish character, though they’re either secular or ultra-Orthodox Jews. But what about others? There have only been two black superheroes in the movies these past couple of years, and they’ve been sidekicks to the white superhero. And what about Hispanic or Asian heroes? Where are the Native American characters?

I think Hollywood is making a great mistake in not diversifying their casts and insisting on the big actors. I’m not saying that white actors no longer have roles in movies. But I do think that there needs to be more roles for blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, and other groups and ethnicities in Hollywood movies. It’s not a moral thing. It’s because the world is becoming more diverse every day. The media we consume should reflect that. After all, the media reflects the world, doesn’t it? So reflect the world as it is, Hollywood. And that’s a beautifully diverse landscape of many different groups and peoples with a thousand different stories to tell.

It’s expected in the coming weeks that the grand jury will hand down a decision on whether or not to indict Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown. Protesters have threatened to riot if Wilson isn’t indicted, the governor has declared a state of emergency, and police are getting ready for what many see as a second, bigger powder keg after the first one went off back in August. And around the country, in living rooms and coffee shops, in workplaces and on news talk shows, people are asking what caused this and what will happen next.

I’ll keep my own personal views on what should happen to Wilson to myself, lest everything else I try to say in this piece gets forgotten because of one opinion. I will state that I think it’s tragic that a young man who had his whole life ahead of him and was planning to go college and maybe own his own business someday was taken too soon, and that his legacy has to be another awful¬†bullet point in the United States’ long, troubled history with race.

And make no mistake, there is a racial element to this. I know some will say that we shouldn’t be talking about race, that we’re living in a post-racial society, that race is a sociological construct of the mind rather than a biological certainty, and that therefore race should not be brought up. I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll keep saying it: social construct or not, many people treat race as a biological reality, and racism is still a pervasive problem in the United States. In fact, I’ve often compared racism to cancer, and the way you deal with cancer isn’t to avoid it or pretend it doesn’t exist. The way you deal with cancer is to take a multi-pronged approach to cure it, and one of those approaches is to talk about racism.

And for those who continue to insist that race shouldn’t be part of the discussion because we live in a so-called “post-racial” society, here are some facts:

  • In November 2012, students of the University of Mississippi rioted upon learning that Barack Obama was reelected. Several racial slurs were heard shouted out during the riot.
  • In February 2012, a young man in Florida was profiled by a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, who then followed the young man despite being told by police not to pursue, and engaged the young man in a scuffle that ultimately ended with the young man’s life being taken. The young man, Trayvon Martin, was black.
  • There are over 900 documented hate groups in the United States according to a report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center last year. Most of them are primarily focused on race and racial differences.

Still want to argue that racism doesn’t exist? Racism is still very prevalent in the United States, and the fact that so many want to deny its existence or say that discussing race and racism in America makes you racist really disturb me. (The latter claim actually is the most ridiculous, especially since it goes against the very definition of racism, and real racists wouldn’t benefit from discussions on race as a societal problem unless it involved doing horrible things to other races. In fact, when economist Ben Stein went on Fox News the other day and called Obama the “most racist president” ever, I wanted to throw a dictionary and a history book at the guy. If you’re going to call a President racist, it’d be better to refer to possibly Andrew Johnson, Woodrow Wilson, or Franklin Roosevelt for starters.)

I think we owe today’s racism to some of the things that happened during Reconstruction, in part. Slavery itself definitely plays a role, but I want to focus on Reconstruction because during this time, President Andrew Johnson encouraged the return of defeated Confederate states to self-rule and to take part in federal government. The people who ended up seizing control were mostly plantation owners and businessmen, some of whom had been involved in the Confederate government, and had benefited from slavery. They used their power to pass sweeping legislation depriving freed slaves of rights, and used terror in the form of the KKK to prevent push back. There was also some propaganda directed to poorer whites who were told that giving freed slaves power was bad for them. The federal government, including¬†Johnson, didn’t do much to prevent this (Johnson also didn’t support the Civil Rights Bill or the 13th Amendment, which is why I mentioned him above in my examples of racist presidents).

This set a painful pattern in motion that would last for nearly 100 years. The legislatures continued to have people in it who would keep up the status quo, African Americans and whites who sympathized with them were kept in place through lynching, the KKK, and other forms of terror, and efforts on state and federal levels to stop it faced uphill battles. It wasn’t until WWII, when African-Americans were determined to achieve victory at home and abroad after their rough treatment during WWI, that things began to change for the better.

Why do I go into all this, and at the risk of getting a bunch of people shouting at me in the comments about how I know nothing or I’m oversimplifying it or something along those lines? Because there are a lot of painful episodes, going back further than I have covered, that have happened and continue to happen long after MLK and the Civil Rights Acts, and we need to examine the whole picture in order to understand what is happening now. Racism existed then, and although they’re in new forms, racism exists today. So we need to confront the past and examine the present if we’re to better the future.

And now that I’ve led you through this long, somewhat rambling post, I have to ask: how do you think racism can be combated? What approaches should we take to stop racism and make it less prevalent in future generations?

*By the way, I know that some of the arguments here can also be applied to other forms of prejudice and discrimination towards other minorities, women, religions, ethnic groups, socioeconomic levels, and sexual orientations. For simplicity’s sake, I’ve only focused on race here, but I do cover other problems in other posts and in some of my fiction as well.

You know, I think it is appalling when that there is such a huge gap between the wealthy and the poor in this country. And depending on which side you find yourself on, you can find that your treatment varies considerably. And you know what? It sucks.

Just today, I found this article about a man who molested his children and was convicted of it. How much jail time is he serving? None, actually. Why, you may be screaming at your computer? Look:

A Delaware man convicted of raping his three-year-old daughter only faced probation after a state Superior Court judge ruled he “will not fare well” in prison.

In her decision, Judge Jan Jurden suggested Robert H. Richards IV would benefit more from treatment. Richards, who was charged with fourth-degree rape in 2009, is an unemployed heir living off his trust fund. The light sentence has only became public as the result of a subsequent lawsuit filed by his ex-wife, which charges that he penetrated his daughter with his fingers while masturbating, and subsequently assaulted his son as well.

Richards is the great grandson of du Pont family patriarch Irenee du Pont, a chemical baron.

Okay, first off, nobody is supposed to fare well in jail. It’s meant to be miserable on purpose. The whole point is that people will be persuaded not to commit crimes after serving a prison sentence. And sending this guy to a sex offenders rehab program isn’t going to change him or protect his and other people’s children, which is what child molestation laws are for. Instead, Mr. Richards has been taught that with money and a high-powered legal team, you can get away with the worst and get a slap on the wrist. And I wonder, would the judge give this same sort of sentence to another man? One that might be middle class or lower? Maybe even had a public defense lawyer? I seriously doubt it.

This comes only a few months after the case of the “affluenza teenager”, a teenager named Ethan Couch who was driving drunk and killed four people. Normally you’d expect jail time for this example of vehicular manslaughter, but the psychologist called by the defense said that Couch had been so coddled and¬†spoiled¬†by his parents that it had led to irresponsibility, a pseud0-condition of pop psychology known as affluenza. Couch is being ordered to go to a $450K/year rehab facility to attend alcohol and drug rehab and to remain on probation for the foreseeable future.

Maybe I’m no lawyer, but I know¬†there are plenty of kids who are probably just as coddled or not coddled at all and who don’t go doing what Couch did. And there are plenty of people across the nation who have been Couch’s age and in similar situations, or have been charged with crimes of greater or lesser nature. They’ve been given lengthy prison sentences. Do they get psychologists saying that they have conditions that were directly related to the actions they undertook? I don’t think so.

And you know what the biggest difference between Couch and these teens I just mentioned? The latter group are often from poorer backgrounds and are often black, which in our fractured legal system puts them at a greater disadvantage.

Now contrast this with the case of Shanesha Taylor, a homeless mother who is facing jail time for leaving her children in her car while going to a job interview:

A homeless single mother in Arizona who struggled to make ends meet is in jail after she allegedly left her children in her car while she went on a job interview.

Shanesha Taylor was arrested on felony child abuse charges after Scottsdale police discovered her two kids, aged 2 years old and 6 months old, in a locked car.

Scottsdale police responded after a witness reported a child crying from inside a Dodge Durango parked at an office complex on March 20. Police said that two children were left alone in the car with the engine off and the windows slightly cracked. The car was left parked in the sun and all the doors were closed.

AZFamily reports that the kids had already been in the car for 30 minutes when police arrived. Police said 35-year-old Taylor returned from her job interview about 45 minutes after officers came to the scene. She said she didn’t have anyone else to care for the kids while she was on an interview at an insurance company.

“She was upset. This is a sad situation all around. She said she was homeless. She needed the job,” Scottsdale Police Sergeant Mark Clark told KPHO. “Obviously not getting the job. So it’s just a sad situation.”

Yes, it’s a sad situation! Our system constantly rewards the rich and punishes the poor. Ms. Taylor didn’t want to leave her kids in the car, but what choice did she have? She’s living out of her car! She can’t afford childcare. Yes, what she did put her children in danger, but I bet that if she had a choice her kids would be in a preschool watched over by licensed early childhood educators while she went to that interview. Now she’s facing jail time for wanting to provide food and maybe a better shelter for her kids.

Luckily there are good people out there who are raising money for Ms. Taylor’s legal defense, and they’ve already received three times the original goal. But that doesn’t change the fact that Ms. Taylor is living in terrible conditions, that unless there’s some serious intervention her kids will most likely live in a similar situation and be told by others that if they actually applied themselves and tried to pull themselves up by their bootstraps instead of living lives of crime or mooching off the system they could live a way better life. I’m calling BS here, because it’s definitely not that simple. If that was the case, every person who watched me and my sisters growing up while our parents worked would be living in nice suburbs and sending their own kids to wonderful schools with college opportunities (last I checked, that wasn’t the case).

I seriously hope that one of Ms. Taylor’s supporters gives her a job after she is hopefully exonerated, because otherwise she’ll be back to where she started. And I hope the whole nation takes a look at our legal system, because as these and so many other cases have pointed out, our legal system is broken. People who should go to jail are set free or get very light sentences while those who just need a helping hand are sent to jail and vilified before they even get there.

This is what we need to do to our justice system.

This isn’t America. It shouldn’t be America. And while it is America, we can’t call this nation a true land of opportunity or equality. So what we need to do is change it. Make the laws apply to everyone, and not cut deals or give rulings that reward people who are likely to re-offend. Also, childcare should not be so expensive! There has to be options for women like Ms. Taylor, and the lack of options is disturbing, because it led directly to this situation.

And unless we act, things will never change.

Today I logged onto the Huffington Post to check the latest in the news, and I saw a story where a white supremacist found out on a talk show that he’s only 86% white. The rest is 14% sub-Saharan African, which is apparently home to some of the darkest-skinned people on the planet. If I’ve done this correctly, I’ve embedded a video from NewsBreaker onto this post. If not, here’s a link to the article itself.

Shocking, right? And kind of funny, too. According to Cobb, even one drop of black clood makes you black. So sadly, he wouldn’t be allowed in his own “enclave”, were it to actually be set up.

But as much as this Cobb¬†guy and other people who proclaim the (insert race here) race is superior, I’ve got news for them. I’ve learned something recently in my sociology class that I thought was mind-blowing. Apparently “race” as we understand it is a social construction, not a biological thing. It’s something we create in our minds to help us humans categorize, because apparently we love categorizing things.

In biology though, there’s actually little difference between humans of different races. There’s more differences between two penguins of the same species than there are between a black guy and a white guy. And the more scientists look for a biological basis about race, the more they find evidence to the contrary. Even things like melanin content, which determines skin color, and differences in susceptibility to certain diseases, something documented in the various races we’ve created, are determined by a number of traits that all humans share and could occur in people around the world at any time.

Even more mind-boggling is that definitions of race aren’t static: in Brazil, there are around 500 different races, while in the US there are about four or five. And races can changed. Someone from Mexico could be Spanish or Native American, and nobody could see the difference. President Obama could consider himself white if he wanted to, considering his parentage, but he’s black by choice. And not only are the races we define ourselves by subject to change where you go, the traits associated with races can change too:

He not only broke records, he broke down erroneous beliefs.

Before the 1936 Olympics, Americans assumed that because blacks, Native Americans, and Chinese mostly lived in poverty, they were degenerate and inferior in both mind and body (these beliefs never took into account socioeconomic situation, lack of education, or discrimination, even when statisticians published “findings” supporting these beliefs). However, after Jesse Owens took home the gold, race enthusiasts changed their beliefs in order to jibe with Owens’ success at the Olympics. They changed their attitudes to say that because African-Americans had been physically honed for strength and speed while in slavery, their physical abilities were superior, while their brains were inferior to the white man’s brain. I don’t know if Neil deGrasse Tyson plays sports, but that last part is definitely false, and it just shows how fluid beliefs about race are. And just as not all whites are smart or athletically superior, neither are all blacks, Asians, or¬†Native Americans either of those or anything else. Everybody’s different, even as we’re all the same.

And finally, even on the genetic level there’s little to differentiate us from people of different races. If I were to get my blood typed and compare it to others in a worldwide database (and I’m actually looking into doing that, by the way), statistically speaking¬†I’d be just as genetically similar to a Yoruban man as I would be to a Japanese woman or a child in the Amazonian rainforests. So on almost every level, race is not actually biological, but really just a product of our minds.

Reborn City

So why am I writing all this, besides to make fun of the Cobbs guy’s beliefs and possibly blow a few minds? Because all this relates in a strange way to my novel Reborn City. When I wrote the novel back in high school, I still thought there was at least a small basis to differences to races, and that reflects in the novel, where most of the gangs are divided up by race. I didn’t even factor in that there are different subgroups in races, like instead of just all Hispanic/Latino, there are Mexican, Cuban, Dominican, Nicaraguan, etc. I just knew I wanted to include a racially-diverse cast of characters and at the same time show how races work together would always win out over races fighting against each other.

Too bad I find out all this mind-boggling information after the book comes out, right? But now that I’m better armed, I’ll try to be a little smarter about it all. I’ll still include a racially diverse cast, but I won’t write it with the belief that races are homogenous or static or anything. I’ll just have people with very diverse backgrounds and that won’t even be a huge factor in the works I write, but instead just something interesting about my writing style.

However, that doesn’t mean one should ignore race because it doesn’t to exist, or because race shouldn’t matter. The fact is, people still see race as an actual, biological thing, and the belief is the basis of a lot of problems, controversies and discussions in the United States and the greater world. Ignoring it would be like ignoring your health in the hope you won’t get sick; it just won’t work. Instead, one should acknowledge race as a social construction, try to see through it, and if possible help others see through it.

That’s my opinion, anyway. You can agree or disagree as you like.

I’ll try and write a post tomorrow if I can. Until then, good night everybody!