So. The challenge is to look at a picture and write a scene. There are other rules, but that's the main one, right? So I requested a picture and was sent this one,
which caused me no small amount of worry.
There are at least two schools of thought that run through my mind when I'm writing characters of color, one of which is that I want to be respectful that I'm not crowding in and telling a story that might not be mine to write. Aaaaaand the other school of thought comes from Susie Bright talking about the lack of interracial porn and how its rarity almost automatically imposes a conversation of "white on top is neutral or white domination/black on top is always political" and her thought is that the way to get past this is to write a lot more interracial porn.
Taking porn out of the equation, there's something to be said about normalizing, and yay for it. Yay for celebrating differences without stopping to say, "Lady doctors? How can that be?"
So, the picture. According to a comment, this is depicting: Civil Rights Protest prep. Hair pulling and blowing smoke in her face to prepare her for the experience of sitting in restaurants that were not willing to serve people of color.
I wrote for 30 minutes, and may have gone outside the bounds of the picture (and the challenge) but what I hope is that I wrote something decent and reflective and not completely HI I AM WHITE ALLOW ME TO TELL YOUR STORY. If it is exactly that, then I guess the thing I need to do is try it again. It's the only way I'm going to figure out how to tell a story with a narrative that needs to be celebrated for the moment and the movement it is part of, and not made other
by my hamfisted approach.
Your comments are appreciated but - sigh. Again, I'm not trying to put ME into it, you know? It's not about "Denise has written about black people, let's get a dialogue because DENISE has done it and she obviously is important" and not about "Denise has written about black people and screw you if you don't like it" and just about here is a thing I wrote that I worry makes me sound like I am saying both.
“Well, you never did
have a tender scalp,” Anita said, giving a good tug to the lock she’d combed out just this morning. “You just look at my hair and I get ready to shriek.”
Sarah smiled, the pull on her hair nothing but some pressure.
“Tug harder,” she said. “Don’t do it now, though, surprise me. And you,” she said, turning to Lawrence, “I said you could help, but I didn’t say anything about those nasty Lucky Strikes!”
Lawrence’s eyes lit up the way they did when Anita came down the stairs. Predatory,
Sarah thought. Anita told Sarah it was all right for Lawrence because he was Her Man.
Most men had that look when they saw Anita, even the white men.
“Why, Miss Sarah, I never knew you didn’t like Luckies,” Lawrence said, his grin fake apologetic as he stubbed out the butt and reached in his pocket for his cigarette case. He opened it up and showed Sarah an unusual sight.
“How many kinds you got in there, baby?” Anita said, hanging on his shoulder, and Sarah might not look like her older sister most of the time, but she knew they had a similar face when wondering what in the name of Lord Jesus Christ are you doing?
Lawrence’s cigarette case wasn’t some old flat-fifty, because he wanted something that wouldn’t ruin the line of his suit, he said. It only held twenty and it did right now, too, or nineteen. There was one other Lucky Strike, and next to that were two Shermans, and two Pall Malls, and two -
“What are you doing with Noah’s Ark in your pocket?” Anita asked, and Lawrence smiled.
“Well, Baby Sister here doesn’t like Luckies,” he said, ignoring Sarah’s usual (she could admit it, she asked him a lot not to call her that) complaint, “and that means if she lets them know that, that’s all she’ll be breathing at that lunch counter.”
Anita chose that moment to tug hard, and Sarah cried out, but it was more surprise than pain. Still she looked at Lawrence.
“I hate you,” she said, and went back to reading. She wanted to read the Bible, but she couldn’t bear the thought of someone spilling a chocolate milkshake on the same book Mama gave her at her baptism. And while Reverend Colson of Upon this Rock Covenant Church was offering bibles to be used, as they might give comfort to those participating (and were older and worn, due for replacement if the spring charity drive could raise the necessary funds), Sarah just could not imagine allowing any copy of The Word to be so abused. No, she’d read this old book of stories of Washington Irving’s. She liked it well enough, but she figured those she’d be opposed by (it was still hard to think of what she’d be doing as protest, but she understood there would be those opposed) wouldn’t be so quick to do anything to a book by a white man.
Anita wanted to be one of those at the counter, but along with her tender scalp was Lawrence, who had already been inside a jail or two in his day and he didn’t intend to go back. Sarah didn’t need it spelled out: at the first sign of someone laying a hand on Anita, Lawrence would be jumping up with his fists at the ready, and there would go the idea of a peaceful protest.
Anita would meet with her party tomorrow, over coffee, at a location that was still being worked on. She was told there were to be two white people, one male and one female, somewhere around her age. Jerome she already knew, and of all her worries about Saturday, the ones she had over Jerome were the most serious. She just couldn’t help but worry, all those years he’d been nothing but a boy in her class, and now he’d be next to her at the counter and who knew what would happen to him if this turned ugly?
Anita’s hand was on her shoulder, close in on her neck, and she squeezed that hard knot Sarah suddenly realized was her own muscles.
“You’re doing fine, Baby Sister,” Anita said. Sarah took a breath in and out, and nodded.
Lawrence lit up a Pall Mall and blew it at her before setting it in a groove in the ashtray and reached for an Old Gold. Best to have a few different ones, Sarah realized, and nodded again, turning her eyes to the page and forcing herself to read about a man who lost everything by sleeping, because Sarah was doing this wide awake and aware.