Friday, February 25, 2005

Images and Their Impact

No matter where you look or where you go images screaming sex, money, more money more sex, violence, education is not important and all of the things that we as adults and our forebearers regarded as the "lesser side of life" has become the mantle of American society. It is better to be an athlete than a doctor or a teacher. Our icons are not those who have made contributions to the larger society but rather those who play games for a living. (and that is not to denegrate their talent--of course). Our children aspire to become the next Beyonce or Michael Jordan--and maybe it's a good thing--if you have something else to fall back on.

Over the years the gradual shift in priorities and expectations, of our youth in particular, has been systematically polluted by visuals: the giant billboards of beautiful men and women half-dress, (is Calvin Klein to blame? hmmm) television commercials of beautiful cars--that you MUST have (even if you don't have the money), the sexually exploitive videos, the elevation of rap artists who croon (croak??) about bling, sex, and booty calls. Not to mention the video games that regularly require that the players blow-up, blugeon, or drop kick their opponent into oblivion. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. And what of fashion... the lower the jeans hang off your butt the cooler you must be and don't forget that the outfits should be a least a size too big, complete with a "hoody" ... and then you have the polar opposite of the barely there ensemble that leaves little to the imagination. Call me old fashion... but COME ON!!!

Literature (speaking specifically about AA lit here) has taken a turn as well. The latest craze is urban lit, hip-hop or street fiction (depending on your frame of reference). These novels tend to take the reader to the underbelly of black life. Some good, some not so good as in any other genre. Their sudden phenomenal success has caused the industry to actually sit back and examine it and even the venerable trade mag Publisher's Weekly has taken a look.

So what are we to do, grumble, grumble among ourselves that our youth are going to hell in a handbasket (I heard that somewhere) or as leaders (even in our own small kingdoms) do we make efforts to make a difference? How do you compete with the barrage of ads, commericials, videos and even laws that say "you can't put your hand on your own children or risk fines imprisonment or both!!"?

What can we bring to the table to counteract what is being spoon fed, force fed and submliminally fed to our youth??

One thing I've always been proud of is that in the novels that I write and the characters that I create, they are all folks that, "hey, I wouldn't mind being her and I'd like my daughter to be a lot like that and I sure hope she finds a guy just like him--or a resonable facsimile!"

That is one of the major contributions of romance writers (using them as an example). They create HEROES and HEROINES. That means something. They show through the written word that success is achieved through hard work, they show what it means to be treated decently and that the rainbow may be a little bit off in the distance but the journey is worth it.

Sure, romances have been joked about, dismissed, considered fodder for water fountain chit chat when all else fails. But they cannot and will not be ignored as shown by the staggering dollars that are plopped down for them daily and the organizations that have been established to support them. They have stood the test of time for a reason, they have infiltrated the hearts and minds of millions for a reason. They provide escape, yes, but they also provide hope and a sense of empowerment--something that is terribly lacking in so many of our youth.

My solution: create positive images by giving every kid you know a romance novel! I'm not kidding. I can't tell you the number of opinions and lives that have been changed with one good read. Hey... it may be a slow process, but change is child at a time.

Hmmm. Something to think about.

In closing my questions to you are: Are there solutions? Where will we all be in another ten years? What do you do to combat "the elements" in your family and life?

Love to hear from ya.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Segregation in Literature and in Life

It has been a minute since I last posted on my very on own blog. How pitiful is that? A good friend of mine Monica Jackson who actually turned me on to the whole "blog thing" has been nudging and hounding me to post something.

One thing I 've noticed about some blogs are the rants, the getting wound up and pitching those thoughts out there and the hell with what anyone thinks. That's a good thing. A great thing. It gets the juices and the adrenaline flowing. Most important it gets people thinking and talking... hopefully making some changes if only in a small way.

When I finally took all the nudging I could stand I figured if I was going to rant it needed to be worthy. So I'm going to talk about a very dirty word--SEGREGATION. Ooooh, yes.. the "S" word, the word that society would love to believe has been relegaterd to the sixties, buried forever, America disavowing itself of any connection with .... we've come a long way baby. On some fronts... maybe.

But the front that I want to talk about is the literary front.. the segregation in bookstores, in book placement, in contests, in literary categories... yes, segregation... specifically the segregation of African American books from the rest of the literary world. Why the hell is that?
But even more curious, some of the very people who are being segregated against believe "it's a good thing." Hmmmm.

I've had the opportunity to travel to a great many places in the country doing book tours, speaking engagements etc. (calendar)And one visual that is repeated no matter where I go is "The African American Section." I thought it odd, that an entire race of people and its writers needed to be sectioned off. Why? Were the buyers... who are primarily African Americans going to be unable to find a book if they couldn't find the section? How do readers of other cultures and nationalities find books when they go to a bookstore?? They browse, they ask, they come in with an idea of what they want to read. Are African Americans incapable of those same basic browsing skills? Or is the work by African American so specifically unrelated to the rest of society that there is no need to bring it to the attention of a reading public that is not African American?

And what about African American covers? Do they simply scream I AM A BLACK BOOK HEAR ME ROAR!!! Why? Will African Americans be unable to locate a "black book" if there are not black cartoon characters on the covers or bright colors... and of course so that you don't get sidetracked and wander into the wrong part of the store--they will be in the "AFRICAN AMERICAN INTEREST SECTION."

I suppose what makes this such a glaring insult (at least to me in my little world) is that it is insulting to my intelligence, it is insulting to my sensibilities and it is insulting to the rest of the reading populace.

And what it does to the African American reader (in my opinion) is marginalize them. It promotes tunnel vision, limits or curtails the African American's interest in books written by anyone but themselves. Thus, narrowing their view of a world beyond their own.

Granted, for decades there were no books that talked about black life, glorified black successes, showed blacks in a positive light with good stories to tell. There were no books with characters on the covers that looked like us. And so of course, what black readers have longed for for so long is now available in droves. Unfortunately, the surge in black books for black readers has in many cases made the black reader oblivious to anything else and simply gobbling up any and everything that is black because we have for so long been dying of literary thirst.

So as we robotically march to the black section of the bookstore we don't see anything else, and others in turn--don't see us. This "black literary world" instead of opening doors to give the rest of the world a view of who we are in all our beauty and ugliness has been systematically excluded... simply by being categorized as "NOT FOR YOU IF YOU AIN'T BLACK SECTION."

This is a topic I will revisit. I for one want to go down in the literary history books as a damned good writer, a versatile writer with a great story to tell. Not a "damned good black writer" that someone stumbled upon in the "black section" of the bookstore.

Sigh... that's it for today. Love to hear your thoughts. Is this the reason why whites, hispanics, asians are not interested in black books? or is it something even deeper than placement and packaging???