Irony, Street Thugs, and Unexamined Turkish Tobacco

library of congress photo

What do you mean, you can’t tell that it’s a red pen?

Currently I am in the midst of editing a short story wherein Turkish tobacco appears, associated with an elderly monster. I’m also, with another part of my brain, considering the problem of reception of Arabic literature in translation and unconscious bias in reception. So, I’m left with this: do I care enough about the antagonist’s affection for Turkish tobacco to incorporate a meaningful justification into the scene, would leaving it in place be inherently problematic and hand-wavy, regardless of justification, or should I just edit it out? It’s a rough draft, so who knows how quickly it would have disappeared anyway, but the problem is fresh in my mind this morning.

Friends, I see a red pencil in the near future. I’m a fan of reading all kinds of stories, as well as writing them, but when I encounter something that feels like a stereotype in my own work, Questions Must Be Asked. Is my black protagonist a thug because he grew up in a bad part of town with few options and ties that held him in place, or is he a thug because I have preconceived notions of what it means to be black? (Or because he bought into the thug life because he played too much GTA and listened to too much Eminem, and realized there was a gap in his perception of African American life, and then decided that in order to more fully experience it, he… Hmm. Note to self!) I’d like to think the former, but I’m self-aware enough to realize that the latter’s a possibility.

My goal is to write well-rounded stories that hold up to long-term examination. That’s true across the board, from plot to character to what-have-you, and whatever the subject matter. I was talking about this recently with a friend, and I think at the end of the day I can accept that my fiction will ultimately be dated, but I don’t want it to feel quaint, either quaint generally or quaintly prejudiced. I can’t control for what the readers of 2214 may look at askance in my work, but I certainly can keep an eye out for things that I see are problematic now, so that I’m able to commit my vision more fully to the page, free of garbage I don’t want there.


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