Sunday, October 09, 2016

From The E-Mail Bag - A Racist Line?

Today I received an e-mail from a woman who is a big reader of my work. She wrote to tell me how disappointed she was that I included in A BODY TO SPARE what she considered a "racist" line.

Here is an excerpt from her very polite and obviously heart-felt e-mail:

I was shocked and disappointed with what I consider a racist line in your book, A Body to Spare where Odelia is talking about people trusting a middle aged overweight woman and says, "if I was a big guy of color," it would be different. Even if in our society sometimes that's true, I found it very offensive and inappropriate - and unnecessary. I'm sorry to complain but I felt strongly enough about it to have to write to you.

Here is the part in the book, in context, that offended the reader:

“Excuse me?” she said, taking out one earbud. “Did you speak to me?” She took a trusting step closer. I’m sure if I’d been a guy, especially a big guy of color, she would not have been so curious and polite. Sometimes it pays to be a squat, white middle-aged woman. I’m surprised more crimes aren’t committed by women like me considering how harmless people consider us. If my hair had been gray, she probably would have also given me a concerned smile.

And here is my response to her:

I am very sorry you were offended by that line, but I stand by it 100% and by my decision to include it in my book. While my books are humorous, I also endeavor to include real truths about life. I am a large white woman and people just naturally assume I am not a threat, but men of color, especially young men of color, often raise red flags immediately in people, even if they are non-threatening.  We see it on the news all the time.

I am the creator of those books, and I go where the story, the characters, and my heart lead me. That comment is a part of Odelia's life in Southern California, just as much as weight prejudice and horrific traffic is, and it's something she (and I) think about. 

I do, however, thank you for voicing your opinion.

Sue Ann

Now, blog readers, pay attention. I am not writing this blog so you all can feast on the bones of this lovely woman, and some of you tend to do just that when someone disagrees with you. And you know it. I'm writing it to show a side of writing many of you might not understand.

Authors receive all kinds of e-mail, even snail-mail, voicing both disappointment and praise for their work. I get both all the time. Happily most of it is praise.  But over the years I've had my ears boxed for using the words Christ, fuck, damn, and even fat, just to name a few, and I use those words sparingly. I've also been lectured on Odelia living an "unhealthy" lifestyle and encouraging my readers to do the same.

Even my Granny Apples books are not safe. I've received comments about those novels being too silly and unrealistic, and for containing pre-marital sex. And when Emma in GEM OF A GHOST kissed Dr. Quinn, many readers went ballistic and one even called poor Emma a tramp.

I've also been dressed down soundly for things totally out of my control; things that are decided by the publisher.

I love hearing from readers, including the criticism. Really. I do.

But here's the thing. If authors sat down to write a book that they felt would not offend or upset or disappoint anyone, then NO books would ever get written. Including mine.

Good writers write from their heart. We write the stories in our heart and try our best to make them realistic. If I wrote the Granny and Odelia books without any diversity, shame on me since Southern California is totally diverse in race and culture. If someone wrote a hard-core police procedural without swearing and violence, readers would call foul.  We might consider our audiences for a particular book when it comes to some content. For example, I'm not going to put as much sex or swearing in the Odelia or Granny books as I might in my Winnie Wilde novels. Or as much violence in those books as I would in my Madison Rose novels.

A good author considers their audience but does not allow the audience to dictate the work. If an author does that, they might as well unplug their computer.

In the end, these books are my words, from my heart, and chosen carefully. I stand behind them 100%. You don't have to agree with me, but know you aren't going to change me.

Kind of like my stand on politics...


Victoria Howard said...

Well thought out argument. Wonderfully written. Don't let others dictate your work, and it was nice if that woman to voice her concern. Case closed.

Anonymous said...

I 've only read the first one in the series but keep up the great work. I'm one of those that's not fond of language or sex scenes But I also agree with you if authors wrote so there would be no one offended, there would be no books. As my mom uses to say you can't please everyone , do your job to the best of your ability and be proud of it. If others aren't that's ok it's the choice to not like it. Thanks for being the kind of person that allows others to be their own person.and thank you for being your own person. Keep on keeping on.


Gail said...

Interesting. I have written authors for errors that drive me crazy (the color of the graphics on a truck changing color from book to book or changing the name of the cemetery!). But it would never occur to me to comment on the way they write. I love that she wrote to you and got it off her chest. I hope that she accepts your response and continues to be a fan.

Jeri Westerson said...

Was she complaining because she didn't think that "big guy of color" was not a racist term? That saying a "person of color" is not the same as "colored person"?

Judi Dionne said...

You can please some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.

There was nothing racist about your line, Sue. People who have skin color of black. white, yellow, orange, green, and even purple with pink polka-dots are all HUMAN BEINGS. And each one deserves the same respect as another.

Society just needs to get over itself.

Melody C. said...

One of the things I like so much about your work is the realistic take on life. There's no hidden agenda (e.g. teaching eating habits) and that's why your characters are so relatable and feel like real people. We love them, because we feel like we know them.

NoraA said...

Hi S.A.,
You know I'm a big fan and my wife and I read every book of yours that we can get our hands on. We grew up on Brooklyn (myself in East NY) and lived among every color and ethnic group you can imagine. What you wrote is just as much said here as out where you live. You will never please all the people all the time. So just keep trudging along and please yourself and the rest of us.

Your Brooklyn Fan


Kay Bennett said...

I love your attitude and your books that I have read!

Doug Pearson said...

Thanks for showing us both your reader's comment and your response. Perhaps one day "a big guy of color" will be as non-threatening as Odelia but sadly, as you point out, that's not true today.