Of Books and Racism

Last week I was busy plotting a new book. When I finished Desperate Season, the third book in the Seasons Mystery Series, I thought about making that the last book, so I tied up a few of the subplots. Well, sort of. It was more like making suggestions as to how some things would go for the characters once that story was finished.

As it turns out. Sarah and Angel weren’t done with me. My writer friends will totally get that, especially those who, like me, tend to write character-driven stories. Once we give a character the wheel, sometimes they don’t want to give it back until they’re ready.

So, I started thinking about the two things that are most on my mind of late – the pandemic and the protests happening in so many cities in the U.S. – and how I could use them in a story.

The Seasons Series has focused a lot of sub-plot time on racism, and when I did some research for the first book twenty years ago, I thought I understood the Black experience enough to write about it from the viewpoints of a white woman and a black woman forced to work together. But what I’ve learned recently through articles and speeches and interviews with black authors has made me realize just how little I really know.

So I’m learning. And some of that learning is finding it’s way into a new book, tentatively titled Brutal Season.

I’m about 3,000 words into the story. I have the major players set up, as well as the crime and tentatively who did it. That’s about all the pre-planning I put into a book, so I’m enjoying the process of following the lead of the characters.

In the meantime, I’ve been continuing my education, and want to share something I found quite enlightening.

A recent guest on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Isabel Wilkerson  had some interesting things to say about Caste and Racism, and the difference between the two.

Isabel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist has written extensively about racial issues in America, and her latest book is Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent.

During the interview she talks with Terry about the laws and practices that created a bipolar caste system in the United States and how the Nazis borrowed from it. The interview is well worth listening to.

Caste, Isabel says, “is the term that is more precise [than race]; it is more comprehensive, and it gets at the underlying infrastructure

Some other important points she makes:

Race and racism is about feelings.

Caste is about structure. Something we’ve inherited. Not personal, but the infrastructure that is the foundation of what we inherited, …”that often we cannot see, but that is there under-girding much of the inequality and injustices and disparities that we live with in this country.”

Responding to a question from Terry about what she, Isabel, would say to people who claim they have no responsibility for the current caste system or racism because they are new to the country, or they never had slaves, or any other reason, Isabel had a great response.

She talked about how if you buy an old house, you aren’t responsible for the wood and the beams and the bricks that initially went into building the structure, but now that you own that house, you’re responsible for it.

No matter how we got here, we are all now in this structure. Whatever is wrong with it is our responsibility.

That was a real eye-opener for me. We white folks can’t just sit back and pat ourselves on the back because we have a few black friends or we personally haven’t discriminated against a person of color.

Those are some of the things I’m thinking a lot about, and they are issues that Sarah is going to face in this new story. How far will she be willing to go to support Angel when Angel joins the Black Lives Matter protests in Dallas.

That’s all for me for today, folks. Stay safe. Stay healthy. And stay happy.

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