Yeah, I’ll admit that there are times in my blogs where I sound like a racial determinist (someone who thinks that everything in America boils down to issues of race). A good portion of my published writing is devoted to issues of race, ethnicity, identity or identity politics. But I’m not a racial determinist per se. A colleague of mine got into a heated discussion with me fifteen years ago because of my views regarding race in America. I was a grad student then, ready to take on anyone and everyone whose views weren’t in the same paragraph as mine. So I often defended positions not because I necessarily believed in them, but more because I knew I could get other people off balance with a vigorous counterargument attack.
15 Monday Sep 2008
I’ve made a point in my more recent writings to not make race the central end-all and be-all theme. This includes my Boy At The Window manuscript. Issues of my identity formation were about a lot more than being Black. Being and becoming a man, my height and stature, my athletic and academic talents (and their limits), my family instability, our income and social status, my spiritual beliefs and political leanings, my loves, lusts, and obsessions regarding music, sports and women are all a part of my “coming of age” story. Coming of age. When I hear others describe Boy At The Window that way, it reminds me too much of movies like Stand By Me and About A Boy, and not enough of stories like my own. The kids in those movies wouldn’t have made it past seventh grade. I digress. The main point is that race is embedded in my story–I am African American, after all–but not the core focus of it. Money, religion, family and privilege, the psychological and the social, are the front-and-center focuses of the manuscript.
Unfortunately, the publishing world isn’t as colorblind as conservative media pundits like Joe Scarborough and Bill O’Reilly claim they are. As much as my story (as unique as it is) is a human story of overcoming fear, abuse and poverty, I know that most agents and editors automatically think “Black” the moment they read my query letter. As if Whites or Latinos have never experienced abuse or lived in poverty or had parents who forced them into a strange cult or belief system. As if White and Latino and Asian tweeners haven’t experienced a sense of un-belonging even among their nerdy peers or in their own families. As if the discovery of trust in the midst of a homelessness crisis is unique to Black males like me.
I don’t expect to change the system. I do expect an agent or editor to finally give me my “Yes” sooner rather than later. I only comment on this reality because of all the talk about how Obama’s nomination as President by the Democrats is a sign that we now live in a colorblind society. It’s beyond annoying. It’s disingenuous beyond belief. It makes me cringe every time I hear someone like Scarborough or O’Reilly say this on the air. Because I know that unless they are genetically colorblind, they see race and color all the time. Between the Black guy who delivers the mail and the young Black males hanging out in places their limos whiz by. Between all of the people of various background who provide services from cleaning windows and washing cars to mopping floors and delivering dinner. They may not see Obama’s color–although I find that hard to believe, as transcending race, as some say, doesn’t eliminate one’s preconceptions around race. Yet they do understand that what Obama represents is more than just another White male who normally runs for the presidency. It’s poppycock and balderdash, as folks in the previous generations would say.
It brings me back to what I like to say. That is if someone’s say they’re “colorblind,” what they really mean to say is that they’re blinded by color. In Obama’s case, it’s the color(s) of his supporters, the mass mobilization effort that has him on the cusp of history. It’s his biracialness and simultaneous embracing of being seen as Black that confounds as much as it brings acceptance. It’s all of his experience, talents and skills that enables Obama to be qualified and a so-called “political neophyte” at the same time. As someone who’s eight-and-a-half years younger than Obama, it makes me realize that colorblindness is a loaded term outside the confines of rods, cones and optical genetics. Especially for those conservatives born in the same decade as Obama and me.
As for Boy At The Window, I do hope that whomever eventually represents the book is someone who sees potential for it beyond a Black audience (that may require them to read the book and the proposal for it, though). They should from a money-making perspective if nothing else. After all, I wrote the manuscript for anyone who could relate to my story and in some cases be helped by it. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe agents and editors are colorblind. The color of immediate and easy greenbacks might be the overarching driving force here. Of course, that would make make a market determinist now.