As a writer, I try to write truthfully. Not the Truth, but a truth. Each of us carries the Truth and a truth our entire lives. The Truth, in my mind, is something factual or scientific. A truth is the real experience of an individual. Perception plays a large part in a truth but that does not negate it. So as a writer, I research people who hate so I can write their truth. And in doing that, I discover I must look hate in the face and love that character. When I look deeper? I must look hate in the face and love. Period.
Truth or Fact
In philosophy, what I call Truth with a capital T is Fact. The use truth and fact as synonymous is misleading. Facts are inarguable. Fire is hot. It is a fact that fire is hot. My perception is also that fire is hot. But I also say my coffee is hot. This is partially fact and partially perception. If I spilled my freshly made coffee onto my hand, it would scald me. Therefore, my coffee is hot is a fact. But I like my coffee with a little cream and I wait several minutes before I taste it. I taste it and say, “ooh, that’s hot.” If you are someone who likes to drink it at nearly scalding temperatures, my coffee would not be hot to you. It’s still hot, but this is where perception comes in. (If you would like to read more about the difference between truth and fact, go here. )
Why do I bring this up? Because I’ve been researching for the next novel in my series, My Soul to Keep. I’ve been researching to create a history or backstory for some of my characters. Some of these characters have backgrounds quite different from mine. Some of these characters do hateful things. When things are outside of my experience, I research. This research is necessary because of my belief in the truth.
Since truth is partly perspective, I cannot deliver the truth in my writing if I do not understand the other person’s perspective. Or, to put it another way, the other person’s truth.
Experience Colors Perceptions
As a former nurse, I have interacted with people of all financial backgrounds, skin colors, religious beliefs, and sexual practices. Often, the people I interacted with were at their worst—they hurt because they or their loved one was sick or injured or dying. I think of myself as a tolerant person who wholeheartedly believes in equality regardless of skin color, religious beliefs, sexual practices, or any of the other nonsense that people use to divide us. However, I have observed these things as an outsider. My life experiences are pretty narrow. I’m white and female and have never been desperately poor or outrageously rich.
As I’ve done my research into the experiences of persons other than myself, I am again caught up in how much perspective influences us. On how narrowly we see the world—even when we THINK we see it truthfully.
A Different Perspective
Do you ever speak of childhood experiences fondly with someone else out in public? Or get excited about something as a child and lapse into childish or family nicknames you rarely use in public? Were you chastised or complimented for speaking English? No? This is an experience of Americans whose childhood is full of non-English memories. And it’s happened to Americans whose last names sound “foreign” or whose skin color isn’t white.
- Were you denied a home loan because your last name was an ethnic one?
- Have you been told that because of your skin color, you cannot have health insurance?
- Were you surgically sterilized because “your type” shouldn’t have babies?
- Do you look illegal? Or poor? Or UnAmerican?
- Have you been told that “your kind” don’t belong here?
A simple search will find a ton of information about racism. Here is a sample of what I’ve read lately: Hispanic Racism here and here. For more about Black Racism read this article. And for Asian Racism start here.
This list could go on and on, but I’ll stop here. Please research before you complain about “reverse racism” or say that racism isn’t that big of a deal. Look for a truth other than yours.
The questions above hurt me. It hurts that anyone has ever been so bullied and terrorized and abused. I wish I could say racism doesn’t happen anymore. But it happens ever single day. It happens not just in America, but since America is my home, it’s where it hurts me most. So I will attempt to write characters true to their perceptions. I will look hate in the face and love because the only antidote to hate is love.
I think as writers, shining a light on this truth is a powerful, necessary thing…but a scary one as well.
Lisa, a powerful and necessary thing, yes. Scary? In today’s atmosphere, yes, and because hate and the hateful things people do to each other are so-heart wrenching. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
For well or ill, those of us who visibly are members of the dominant cultural group have no choice but to benefit from white privilege. It’s given to us whether we want it or not, and it’s so ubiquitous many of us don’t even realize we receive it. But I feel that we have a particular responsibility to educate ourselves about what the rest of the population has to deal with, and to step forward as allies and advocates of change.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jan.