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Maze Runner
02-05-2013, 09:39 PM
...do you offend anyone?

In a story set in the US in the 1940's, in a neighborhood of blacks, Arabs, Italians, and Jews living on top of each other, fighting for their piece of pie, BUT written, published and read in the politically correct, socially sensitive 21st century, how do we reconcile the two?

Truth, realism, accuracy in language and behavior for the time and place, no one is spared. But would you be offended if you heard your particular ethnic group referred to in terms that are now taboo?

I guess I'm concerned, maybe even a little embarrassed, but I told the truth, channeled the language, and tried not to balk or sensationalize.

Writelock
02-05-2013, 10:15 PM
If it is hate speech for the sake of reality and true to the characters, then by all means. If it is for pure shock value, let it go. Ultimately, the reader will know.

Maze Runner
02-05-2013, 10:17 PM
Definitely not for shock value. Just wanted to be true to the time and place. I obviously have no firsthand knowledge, but I have a connection to the place and the people who inhabited it then. Thanks for responding.

Maze Runner
02-05-2013, 10:38 PM
Just wanted to add for clarity, that I think what I'm most concerned about is the MC's nickname. It is an ethnic slur in itself. But the story is based on a true story and that's what his nickname was. To complicate it more, he was well known at the time as was his nickname.

ETA: Kind of funny, but I have old newspaper articles headlined using this nickname. Something that you'd never see today.

Writelock
02-05-2013, 10:53 PM
Dude, PM me the name. I'm curious.

Maze Runner
02-05-2013, 11:14 PM
You know, the more I think about this and judging by the lack of responses, I'd say I was needlessly concerned. Thanks.

fadeaccompli
02-06-2013, 01:18 AM
I will be blunt, because a few hours passing between the original post and right now is apparently being taken as some sort of silent agreement from the lurkers.

Your premise is broken.

You think that you will "offend everyone" and somehow this all cancels out. No. Racial slurs against different groups will have different weight, because of the different power differentials.

You think that people will be offended because of the slurs, even though it's in a historical context. No. People are likely to be offended if you come across as trying to shock, as having a shaky grasp of the actual realities, as trying to use "historical" as an excuse. Most people are not stupid, and are quite able to tell the difference between "writing about historical events" and "endorsing that situation."

Which is the crux of the matter. You're showing no respect for your audience, if you think they can't tell the difference between those two points. You're showing no awareness of modern culture, if you believe this era is "politically correct." And if you think that racial slurs are a thing of the past, and that people will be offended by factual reporting of historical events because of those things being said, then, no. I don't think you're in a position where you should be writing this.

Ken
02-06-2013, 01:28 AM
... as a reader, I honestly don't mind revisionism. Realism is fine, but it doesn't have to be so exacting that every slur that someone might use is included. I honestly prefer very little of that myself. Just as much as is necessary and essential and no more. And by handling things that way, readers sense what you're not including and are aware of your game rules. So long as your story is fine, no one is going to care. So why put off some readers by using the n-word and whatnot? Just my two cents. You've gotta decide for yourself what's best. G'luck.

Maze Runner
02-06-2013, 01:32 AM
I will be blunt, because a few hours passing between the original post and right now is apparently being taken as some sort of silent agreement from the lurkers.

Your premise is broken.

You think that you will "offend everyone" and somehow this all cancels out. No. Racial slurs against different groups will have different weight, because of the different power differentials.

You think that people will be offended because of the slurs, even though it's in a historical context. No. People are likely to be offended if you come across as trying to shock, as having a shaky grasp of the actual realities, as trying to use "historical" as an excuse. Most people are not stupid, and are quite able to tell the difference between "writing about historical events" and "endorsing that situation."

Which is the crux of the matter. You're showing no respect for your audience, if you think they can't tell the difference between those two points. You're showing no awareness of modern culture, if you believe this era is "politically correct." And if you think that racial slurs are a thing of the past, and that people will be offended by factual reporting of historical events because of those things being said, then, no. I don't think you're in a position where you should be writing this.

I agree it was a stupid question. But I am by far the best person to write this book and have. A few people familiar with that time and place have read it and commented most often on its authenticity. It could be true that I have a lack of awareness of modern culture. But I think it's more a lack of awareness of the realities of the publishing industry.

Maze Runner
02-06-2013, 01:45 AM
... as a reader, I honestly don't mind revisionism. Realism is fine, but it doesn't have to be so exacting that every slur that someone might use is included. I honestly prefer very little of that myself. Just as much as is necessary and essential and no more. And by handling things that way, readers sense what you're not including and are aware of your game rules. So long as your story is fine, no one is going to care. So why put off some readers by using the n-word and whatnot? Just my two cents. You've gotta decide for yourself what's best. G'luck.

I didn't overdo it for shock value or any other reason. I just tried to stay true to these people in this place and time.

Polenth
02-06-2013, 02:36 AM
It feels like you were hoping to get the seal of approval for your book, but no one can give that. And they certainly don't give it through silence. What silence usually indicates is people aren't sure how to respond, or think if they respond honestly, the reaction will be bad. The vibe of your post is that you see offense simply as political correctness, and not as an indication that something is harmful. Offense in this context is about whether you're reinforcing systematic oppression with your work, not whether someone is a bit upset. So the whole way you've framed the question is going to make people cautious about replying.

But to answer the question more directly, the offensiveness isn't going to be because you used historically accurate terms for the groups involved. More likely you'll offend people because you handle the story in a way that reinforces stereotypes, promotes misconceptions that are harmful, and other issues of that nature. Those are the things to focus on.

slhuang
02-06-2013, 02:39 AM
...do you offend anyone?

I agree with fadeaccompli that this is the wrong question to be asking, and it worries me that this is the question you chose to ask.

The question shouldn't be whether offending everyone will somehow cancel out, but whether you *are* being offensive.

If you are being offensive, you are being offensive. Full stop. You don't become less offensive because you also offend another group.

That said, of course it is possible to write stories including language such as racial slurs without the narrative endorsing those slurs. It takes thought, but it can be and has been done quite well on many occasions. The key, in my reading experience, is having fully realized, three-dimensional, non-stereotypical main characters of color who have agancy all throughout the story. I can't say whether your story does this without seeing it, but the way you've phrased your queries here does give me pause, so I would suggest getting some betas who are sensitive to misrepresentation of POC.

And by the way, speaking of phrasing, I hate the term, "politically correct." Good representation is not about not stepping on our poor oversensitive POC toes. It's about not contributing to the crushing weight of institutional racism with misappropriation, erasure, or poor representation. If your story doesn't do any of those things, then great! It won't matter if it uses historically accurate language. If it does do any or all of those things, it will be problematic whether or not you excise the racial slurs. "Political correctness," in my experience, is a term used mostly by people trying to dismiss the very real concerns of POC (I'm not saying that's what you're doing, mind; just the fact that you're asking the question here means you're giving this thought and that's great, but that's another reason I found your phrasing a little worrisome).


You know, the more I think about this and judging by the lack of responses, I'd say I was needlessly concerned. Thanks.

If I may, an hour and a half is not a long time to wait for responses. Most of us have, you know, lives. :)

Maze Runner
02-06-2013, 03:02 AM
I have to extend an apology to those who took the time to read and/or to respond to my opening post. Chalk it up to a guy who's juggling a difficult day and was just looking for a little conversation to distract him. To those who objected to my use of the term "political correctness", I agree that it suggests a lack of sensitivity to the realities of racial prejudice, historical or otherwise. You have no way of knowing this of course, but if anything, the book errs not on the side of shock value or sensationalism, but on the side of hindsight wishful thinking and of injecting tolerance into an environment that was truly lacking in that area.

Kim Fierce
02-06-2013, 03:58 AM
There is a very cantankerous 63 year old white man I talk to from time to time who likes to stir the pot. (I'm white too and we disagree on many things, but he says I'm his favorite lesbian.) I asked him just the other day what his definition of "politically correct" is because I think some people have different definitions. He never really answered me, but I think his version is that it means you have to accept everything from murder to drug use and say it's ok, but my version is that you are supposed to accept diversity with people, not law-breaking but just different cultures and beliefs, and show respect for others.

I have a historical fiction on the backburner set during the Civil War era. I considered using some terminology from that time period and have discovered that I just can't do it. It depends on the writer. If you can do it with accuracy and not for shock value, as others have said, then by all means, go for it. My book is going to be for young adult though if I ever write it, so I thought that was just unnecessary. But I though I might include a foreword or afterword or some sort of historical lesson in there apart from the story to talk about common words used.

Maybe if you post a section somewhere, readers would get a more accurate idea of what your story is all about!

Kylabelle
02-06-2013, 04:04 AM
I have those kinds of days a lot.

I agree with what I gather is the gist of consensus here, that what matters is the honesty with which characters are presented and not whether the language is adhering to some standard of some kind that is external to the story. I am not offended by language at all if it tells me a true story, only if it fails to be honest to its purpose.

This reminds me of a poem that was shared in the poetry critique forum a little while ago. The subject matter was a controversial one. The poem was very powerful. On the first read one could get the impression that an unpopular view was being promoted. On a second read through it became apparent that that was only the viewpoint of the narrator, that the poet was simply depicting something, and had an entirely different point of view, one which shone through because of the skill and heart with which the narrator was portrayed honestly.

It was a very moving piece and the poet acknowledged having been nervous about posting it for the very reasons discussed here. Would readers take it as the poet's point of view? Or would the poem be excellent enough to show something entirely other than what the narrator believed himself?

I hope that makes sense! and that those of us having a head/desk day of it have a better day tomorrow. :)

calieber
02-06-2013, 09:14 PM
You think that people will be offended because of the slurs, even though it's in a historical context. No. People are likely to be offended if you come across as trying to shock, as having a shaky grasp of the actual realities, as trying to use "historical" as an excuse.

This (especially the bolded part) is what I was thinking. There's a difference -- which at least sometimes is going to come through in the writing -- between using slurs because it's true to the character and creating the character as an excuse to use slurs. If your first reaction (and I'm not solely or specifically addressing the OP here) to "don't use racial epithets" is to look for loopholes, that's the problem, and what particular loophole you've found is secondary.

Lavern08
02-06-2013, 10:03 PM
I agree it was a stupid question...

Ehhh, I don't think it was a "stupid question."

As long as you weren't going for "shock value" and as someone else said:

More likely you'll offend people because you handle the story in a way that reinforces stereotypes, promotes misconceptions that are harmful, and other issues of that nature...

Let the chips fall where they may.

Hopefully, you'll learn something from the experience that will make you a better writer - And isn't that what we all want? :Shrug:

Maze Runner
02-07-2013, 04:00 AM
Ehhh, I don't think it was a "stupid question."

As long as you weren't going for "shock value" and as someone else said:

More likely you'll offend people because you handle the story in a way that reinforces stereotypes, promotes misconceptions that are harmful, and other issues of that nature...

Let the chips fall where they may.

Hopefully, you'll learn something from the experience that will make you a better writer - And isn't that what we all want? :Shrug:

Just stupid in the sense that I may have been underselling the millions and millions of people who will read it. If it is in a historical context, if it was not done for shock value, if I am not reinforcing negative stereotypes while at the same time not balking at what I perceive to be a true slice of life in the particular era in question, then I have nothing to worry about and truly, I know I don't.

My main concern, if I have one, is not the racial epithets; they are minimal, mostly in languages other than English, and are often used not with hate but with familiarity and fondness was, as I mentioned earlier, the MC's nickname; but the discussion never got that far. I will just say this to those who felt it necessary to respond with both guns blazing- we should be able to talk about these things. Not just here but anywhere, and without people who dare to ask an honest question feeling like their under attack. We can all cop the heat. I try to avoid that in life though I have it in me, because I know that all logic goes out the window. This thread, which I've already admitted was ill advised and mostly unnecessary, could have found fertile ground. But for me at least, it's too late. Anyone who wants to take up the discussion in my absence, is welcome to do so. To those who responded by giving me the benefit of the doubt, I thank you.

Kitty Pryde
02-07-2013, 06:24 AM
Given that the OP has no desire to continue receiving feedback, I'm closing this one.