“He looked like a demon”: the distorting mirror of racism

When I was 14-15 or so, I only cared about writing. I devoured fiction in all forms, and had an attachment to the works of the Southern Gothic writers: Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Flannery O’Connor. I wrote a story in that vein, about two older women, one white, one black. The plot had the two of them remembering the reason that both became friends during segregated times. The white woman was turned out of her house for her romantic dalliance with a black boy, and her subsequent pregnancy. The boy’s family took her in, and the other woman was the boy’s sister. I don’t have a copy of the piece—the draft was done on college ruled notebook paper. I imagine that it was a jejune attempt, bit of Southern Gothic fan fiction.

I submitted the piece to the high school literary magazine, and it was accepted. And almost as soon as it was accepted, it was pulled. The school vice principal, who I’ll call Mr. D, objected to the content matter. It was immoral, and ‘ghetto.’ Mind you, I heard this second hand from the teacher who edited the literary magazine. Now, the school I attended was nominally a Christian Academy, and you were required to take religion class. Even so, the line of what was and wasn’t acceptable. For instance, we were required to read works by Wright and watch films about lynching—not exactly warm and fuzzy fare. I recall being kind of shocked that Mr. D had characterized it as ‘ghetto,’ as the story occurred in a rural small town. Then the light turned on in my head. It was ‘ghetto’ because it was about black people and I was a black person. Therefore, black = ghetto. So, the story about immoral, scary black people (and their white friends) was pulled. As a consolation, the editor/teacher published some of my poetry. (Thank God, I can’t find the literary magazine!)

I was never called a demon or a thug. You see, I was one of the ‘good ones,’ from a Talented Tenth in-tact family that lived in Washington’s Gold Coast. At five feet two inches tall, no-one is going to mistake me for a super scary black man. But even when you’re unthreateningly diminutive, and have a bonafide bourgeois pedigree, sometimes all people can see is your black skin.  Blackness that, in the white supremacist imagination, has corrosive properties.  See, racism is a funhouse mirror that distorts reality. It turns a gentle story about friendship into a lurid story about debased moral values.

That funhouse mirror turns a black boy into a demon or thug. It turns a slightly drunk young woman ringing a doorbell (because, doncha know, thieves always ring the doorbell) into a threat. A boy, carrying a toy gun in an “open-carry” state, becomes a threat. And on it goes.

Tamir Rice
Tamir Rice

Anyway, the magazine came out, and it had a story written by white girl. The story was about a young, unwed welfare mother who kills a john with lead pipe to feed her hungry son. The story begins with the words, “Momma, I be hoooongry.” The story had prostitution, murder, illegitimacy and actually was set in a ghetto. But, it was written by a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white girl; she could publish a fantasia no doubt inspired by Reagan’s mythical welfare queen. Somehow, that piece got past the moral crusader, but my piece, set in the rural South, was ‘ghetto.’

Skin Deep Magic gets a 5-Star Review!

Over at GoodReads, Skin Deep Magic has its first review, and it’s  a good one. James says,

Skin Deep Magic, the second short story collection penned by Craig Laurance Gidney, is a worthy follow-up to his first collection, 2008’s Sea, Swallow Me (Lethe Press). Once again mining his own unique vein of interstitial fiction (to use the author’s own description of his work), this collection continues his proclivity to depict stories that are simultaneously fantastic, folkloric, mythic, and sometimes horrific from the perspectives of oft marginalized social groups (in particular, LGTB people and African-Americans, or mixed variations thereof). Whereas his first collection mostly concerned itself with male protagonists, here the majority of his narrators and main characters are women, which makes for an interesting change of pace, and the fact that all of the ten stories revolves around the issue of race (and, to a somewhat lesser extent, sexuality) gives the collection a nice unity of effect.

Read the rest of the review here.

Diversity in SFF–Some Small Presses doing good work (a signal boost)

At the World Fantasy Convention, I saw two small presses in the dealer’s room that are releasing work that includes diverse voices.

Rosarium Publishing produces a wide range of titles in the SFF/graphic novel categories that put people of color at the front and center. Recent titles including Mothership: Tales From Afrofuturism and Beyond; the graphic novel Malice in Ovenland and an artbook featuring the work of black artist John Jennings.

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Valancourt Books focuses on gothic horror and gay literature, with the two interests often intersecting. They’re currently reprinting the work of the late gay horror writer Michael McDowell.

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World Fantasy, Moonbeam Awards, Birthday Book Giveaway

This past weekend, I attended and volunteered for the World Fantasy Convention, which was practically in my backyard. In addition to catching up with and meeting various writer friends, I enjoyed the panels and the readings. Congratulations to the WFA winners, especially Ellen Datlow (Lifetime Achievement) and Sofia Samatar (Best Novel).

While I was at World Fantasy, my YA novel BEREFT received the Bronze Moonbeam Award (in the Mature Issues category). Unfortunately, I could not be at the ceremony. Thanks to the Moonbeam Award Committee and to the fellow winners, which include fellow Tiny Satchel Press author Lisa R. Nelson.  More about the awards is here).

Finally, today is the last day to enter my GoodReads Book Giveaway for SKIN DEEP MAGIC. The contest ends tomorrow–my birthday! The winners will receive an autographed copy of the book in the mail.

I will be attending the World Fantasy Convention this weekend

I will be attending the 2014 World Fantasy Convention this week in DC (actually, in nearby Crystal City. I am scheduled to volunteer in the Hospitality Suite for a few hours, but I will be around the hotel and bar (though I’ll going back home during the nights). I am not on any panels. I hope to meet some fellow authors, reconnect with old friends, and maybe, gain some new readers!

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