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Why Black Fiction?
Ethan Wants To Know Why the Crackpot Practices Cultural Appropriation
“James, I am really digging Flood. This is excellent straight fiction. But why have you chosen to do a biographical novel of a black man? The fact that you are not black means that you will never get this optioned for a script. Also, your readership, based on the comments, is distinctly Caucasian.”
-Ethan Allen

Ethan, the subject chose me, is the short answer.
I have written numerous fictions from an African American perspective: A White Christmas, Poet, Hurt Stoker, A Hoodrat Halloween, Buzz Bunny, Drink Deep of Night and a novelette about a black werewolf named Luther Watts, featured in the collection Riding the Nightmare sold on this site’s e-book store. The Sunset Saga has a cast of about 40 of various races.
The real question, is how come I write black characters with just as much empathy and more realism than black authors?
-1. Experience. As numerous Myth 20 listeners and a handful of my bosses and ex-girlfriends will attest, I am a Negro. I just look white. I spent 38 years living and working in Baltimore City as a pedestrian and mostly at night, giving me the same circadian, mobility and vulnerability profiles of the typical urban man of color. My life was spent being preyed upon by kangs and cops and flirted with by queans. I get it.
-2. The Violence Project. I always wanted to write fiction but lacked the skill. So I wrote information dependent self-help and did four years of interviews of violence survivors. A third of these folk were black. And, for the most part, the oral history habits of that subculture made interviews with such men as Flood, Hines, Sleepy and my Hero Mister Kenny a joy to transcribe. In large measure I learned narrative skill from older black men from the South, who had moved to Baltimore before I was born.
-3. The Tragedy of Delusion and Erasure. Having read fiction written by people of the Master Race, I have ever detected the hand of their pale priests, the editors and publishers, who seem to insist that the reality of being black be cast in unreal and politically useful light. For instance, a black man who has been attacked dozens of times by his own kind will be encouraged to focus on the one time he was threatened by a pale policeman or insulted by a redneck, causing gross distortion of context. The conceit that whites know how blacks should be portrayed is ridiculous. I once received a complaint from a gay, white reader, that I presented a stereotypical character in the Sunset Saga by the name of Ike Coletrain. Well, the character was a direct portrayal of Steven Hines and I knew a black fella named Ike and another with the last name Coletrain, and thought it fit Hines, and hence violated the liberal precept that reality should not form the basis for character creation. I also had a complaint about the Luther Watts character, that his diction was not consistent and slipped from standard English to ebonics. Well, I can name—okay, I will: Ty, Jerry Rahim, Earl, Hines, Carbon Mike, Oliver, Tai, George [R.I.P.], Poet [yes, a real dude] and many other black friends and coworkers whose diction fluctuated from standard to slang based on their level of excitement, anger, narrative cadence and drunkenness. So, this complaint by a better novelist than I, was based in ignorance. Now, that person was “white.”
-4. Many black writers, coming up the social ladder, are understandably aspirational and want to practice edification, and not just to impress pale editors and screenwriters, but to maintain middleclass black readership. For instance, the lead character in Hurt Stoker is a direct copy of my youngest son’s best friend, a mixed race black man. He is the son and grandson of professional, medical women of solid middleclass background. His grandmother was horrified at A Hoodrat Halloween, which was the most accurate depiction of homeless black men ever written and accurately conveyed three distinct dialects, to the point that Oliver wants to do the audio book because he can speak all 3 dialects of ebonics. She said about Hurt Stoker, “I hope there is less “hood” in this story,” because she has solidly Anglo-Saxon, liberal, middleclass sensibilities commiserate with her social class and her utopian hopes and beliefs, which she shares with most of the “normie” “white” people that you and most of our readers know offline. The driver in unrealistic martyr fiction focused on the so-called ‘black experience” is hopelessly tied up in the utopian dreamland within which the majority of the reading public reside. This is not a majority of Flood’s people, most of whom do not read. So, despite the fact that few if any of his co-ethnics will ever read his story, I still want to practice realism in fiction, because it is the craft I wish to excel at, a craft which, properly done, conveys more reality about the human experience than history, journalism or anthropology.
Most of my fiction is from the vantage of men who look like me, but a significant portion is from the vantage of men whose plight I largely shared as one of the descendent cautionary examples of my kind.
I have also written as much as possible from the female perspective, which is also not supposed to be possible. I do this, again, by drawing on 22-year-old Violence Project interviews.
Flood is a man I worked with for 7 years. I know the man, despite only knowing a fraction about his life. Hence his story is episodic with great gaps. I did tape a 30 minute interview with him for a housing inspector’s memoir project, since Flood became a slum lord. I don’t even know if he ever got married. We didn’t talk about women unless we were looking at the same girl and assessing her utility in potential service to our masculinity.
I hope that helps, Ethan.
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Add a new comment below:
Dr. DreadDecember 8, 2020 12:32 PM UTC

Cultural appropriation?

Dr. Dread says that's a BS term. I have culturally appropriated much throughout my years and have been "appropriated" in return. WTF people don't want to share?

Furthermore, you mean to tell me you are white. When were you going to tell me. All this time I thought you were black, I mean, brown. I mean yellow... wait, aren't you just a hippie from the 60's? As already stated, you write what you know. Which makes perfectly good culturally appropriated sense.

Onward thieves and thugs and other dregs of society. Let the carnage and appropriation continue.
responds:December 8, 2020 3:46 PM UTC

Doc, I am currently appropriating canine behavior in the rain soaked mountains.

Thanks for your encouragement.

the bad behavior will continue until the beating improve.
Bryce SharperDecember 7, 2020 1:03 PM UTC

In short, you write what you know.
responds:December 7, 2020 1:51 PM UTC

Can't see the sense in writing any other way.