Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 4 – Is your character POC or POM?

My first rumination can be found at Ruminations Part I – “Your eyes are completely healed”
My second at Ruminations Part 2 – Numbers lead to informed decisions
Rumination Part 3-1 is Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 1
Rumination Part 3-2 is Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 2
Rumination Part 3-3 is Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 3 – I Take a “Writing the Other” class

One member of a writing group told me they read a story in which a Magical Voodoo person saves the day.

The class I mentioned in Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 3 – I Take a “Writing the Other” class spent time talking about Magical Negroes and specifically Stephen King’s use of a Magical Negro in The Green Mile.

Both statements were examples of ignorance at play to me.

Western Culture v Just About Anything Else
Western cultural tradition did everything it could to destroy the concept of magick in society. Anybody in the west wanting to experience anything “magical” had to look elsewhere. Consider the last half of the last century. People migrated to India, studied Hinduism, Buddhism, AnythingElseism, studied martial arts, Yoga, Zen, Ora, Kofu, Celtic mythology, Native American mythology, went on SpiritQuests, JourneyQuests, took SweatLodges, take your pick, because that’s the only place magic still existed!

Western culture worked real hard for the past 1600 years to tell us that any eurocentric magical individual was a charlatan (consider Rasputin, The Salem Witch Trials, the Malleus Malefircarum, the Inquisition, …, as examples). The only place they were allowed to exist was in myth, folklore, fable, and now-a-days, fantasy.

So what do you do when you want a relatively stable western society in need of magic?

You find a magical other, a POM, a person of magic, and western based audiences have been educated that a person of magic is most often a person of color.

Did Stephen King need a magical Negro?
Consider the period and place where the story takes place. There are several other possible “magicals” in the story but none of them would have carried the cultural overtones required to make modern readers relate to the story’s theme character, John Coffey, number one being most modern US-based readers are far more aware of black-white relations than they are of any other kind.

Is your character a POM?
I write fiction. Lately my longer work has tended toward fantasy (or is heavily imbued with fantasy elements). One work-in-progress, The Shaman, is a litany of magic people from all over the globe because the main character travels to study with people from all over the globe.

Are these people with whom the main character studies of different skin tones and languages?

Of course they are!

Are they POC (Person of Color)?

Damn right they are (many of them, anyway).

But more importantly, they are POM (Person of Magic)!

And because the book is a fantasy and the main element is learning magic and they all perform fantastic feats based on a variety of magical systems, their POCness is much less relevant to the story than their POMness.

Oh, and before you ask, I studied as a cultural anthropologist for a little over forty years.

In a variety of cultures.

In a variety of places.

(and still do)

Personally, I can’t wait to send The Shaman to reviewers and such (as mentioned in Ruminations Part 3 – Sensitivity Readers, Part 2, this is part of researching your work before publishing it).

“Sensitivity Readers” Final Thoughts

  • If people attack your work, you’ve moved them. Congrats! Use it as an equal-educational experience.
  • Specifics – ask for the specific objectionable item. If they can’t provide it, they don’t have an argument. When someone says, “Your depiction of XYZ is harmful.” ask “What specifically is harmful to XYZ?” and if they can’t provide irrefutable examples, don’t bother discussing further, they don’t have an argument, only an opinion.
  • Write for yourself first. Write well enough and someone somewhere will publish it.
  • No one person of a given minority can speak for all of a given minority. An African-American male from Harlem can’t speak for the experiences of an African-American female from northern Nebraska who’s never seen a city. A lesbian from Miami can’t speak for the experiences of a lesbian from Pittsfield, NH. To even assume such is the height of ignorance.
  • I have no problem with accuracy. In fact, I demand it. Few things throw me out of movie, show, book, or story faster than a writer who doesn’t know their subject matter. Okay, poor writing throws me out pretty quickly and usually that appears on the first page, often in the first paragraph, and usually in the first sentence.

Yes, I’m a nudge.

Perhaps you’ve noticed.