Notes on the Racists of America Story

Racists of America Club Note #13

Posted in Notes on the Racists of America Story on November 9th, 2020 by buzzing wire – Be the first to comment

One shameful moment when I was young I thought I could work into the sharing moments at one of the meetings.

I lost a coat as a kid when we were staying in a hotel in the southwest. I’d been playing with a Mexican boy also staying in the hotel for a few days at a multipurpose court that the hotel had. When the coat went missing my dad asked me where I thought it was. I told him the Mexican boy probably stole it. My dad called me on that assumption immediately and that same day he found my coat in the hotel lost in found. My dad bringing it to me mentioned it was probably the Mexican boy that took it to the lost and found.

Check out other work in the Racists of America series here.

Racists of America Club Note #12

Posted in Notes on the Racists of America Story on October 12th, 2020 by buzzing wire – Be the first to comment

(an attempt at dialogue, I’m viewing this as the founder being interviewed by a reporter)

-What you need to understand it that the club isn’t a place for racists.

-Then why is it called the Racists of America Club?

-Well. I guess it is for racists. It just that I mean. Crap. Hold on. 

-It’s like it’s a place for racists trying to escape racism. Does that make any sense?

-How do you try to “escape”?

-Mostly by just talking. We each share a little something. It could be something going on at the moment. It could be something from the past that a person is working through. The important part is that it’s not judged. Each person says what’s in their heart. They learn to trust the group. One guy has a black guy at work he’s having a problem with. One girl has a story from when she was ten years old that has shamed her to this day. 

Check out other work in the Racists of America series here.

Racists of America Club Note #11

Posted in Notes on the Racists of America Story on September 14th, 2020 by buzzing wire – Be the first to comment

Here is an attempt at dialogue. The scene is a reporter asking the founder of RAC questions

I know you are interviewing me, but can I ask you a question?

Uh, okay.

Are you a racist? 

(The reporter looks shocked.)

That wasn’t an accusation. I have no reason to think that you are.

No, of course not!

Have you ever imitated a black speech to make a joke with your white friends?

No! (defiantly)

Have you ever laughed at one of your friends who did? 

Uhm…..(hems and haws)

Have you ever looked at a name on a piece of paper and your first thought was, ‘that person must be black’?

Well, this doesn’t really seem like racism, at least not in its worst form. 

Okay, how about this, have you ever been talking with someone who said, “I’m not a racist, but….” and whatever they said after the ‘but’ sounded racist to you? 

(laughs a little) I’ve definitely heard that before.

So this is my point, there are a lot of people out there that are a little racist, but don’t think of themselves as racist. In fact, my guess is most of the racism in America is of this sort. There are very few people that even in private conceive of themselves as racists. I would also guess given that our difficult 400 years of race relations that nobody has been untouched by that history. Struggling with race is in our cultural DNA. Calling somebody a racist is basically calling them American.

Check out other work in the Racists of America series here.

Racists of America Club Note #10 (A Cry For Help)

Posted in Notes on the Racists of America Story on August 17th, 2020 by buzzing wire – Be the first to comment

Hey dog,

Hope the shingles aren’t too bad. I talked to mom last night. She’s thinking about coming up to <> and nursing you. She also convinced me to get the shingles vaccination. She’s in full mama bear mode 🙂

If you are feeling well enough, I have a question about the Racists of America Club. I’ve been working on it like I said. I seem to have gotten into it by opening it as an interview. Right now it doesn’t have the bite of a real story though. It is more akin to one of the Socratic dialogues in Plato in which the star is the idea less than the characters discussing the idea. I think one of the problems of the story for me is that I actually believe in the idea too much. It is not like a real interrogation. I’m too one sided about it. Have you ever had this problem writing a story? Maybe I should be writing an essay instead? Help!

The reply…

Alright, as far as your question about RAC, yes, this is a common issue for a lot of writers, especially people newer to fiction writing, though we all face it. I see it with my students sometimes: they want to write the “Message Story” that feels like it has a thesis statement that they lead with but then remember they’re supposed to tell a story so they try to paste some one-dimensional characters and plot onto sexy their idea after the fact. I sometimes think of this as the story that knows too well where it wants to go so all the arrows point in one direction. It’s not that fiction should avoid big ideas by any means; it’s just that those ideas are always WAY more interesting when they grow out of three-dimensionally complex characters who have the real life human fears/hopes/conflict that we all do. That’s harder to do, I know, but if you don’t you run the risk of making the story about the idea and the idea only, and so the characters become cardboard cutouts spouting the author’s big idea. As a reader you feel cheated: You came looking for a story and you got a treatise, so you sort of feel like, Homie, why didn’t you just write an essay or polemic?

Actually, Pynchon of all people has one of the best lines about this. In one of the very few–perhaps only–nonfiction writings about his work (it’s the introduction to his volume of early short stories which is called Slow Learner) and in it he talks about an early short story he wrote that was titled “Entropy.” Entropy, of course, is the central Pynchonian metaphor and concern for all of his mature work, but early on he tried to write a story about it with that very fucking title and he has this great line about it: “The story is a fine example of a procedural error beginning writers are always being cautioned against. It is simply wrong to begin with a theme, symbol, or abstract unifying agent, and then try to force characters and events to conform to it.”

So you are not alone. We’ve all been there. You don’t have to take me to funky town. I already live there.

But while the diagnosis is clear, the solution is obviously much harder. I do think it all essentially comes down to character. You cannot have Socratic mouthpieces. These need to be characters that you make the reader feel like are real, that we have known or can recognize as true to our lived experience. You need to think about who these people in your story are. Sit down and think about their backstories and what has brought them to the present moment of your story. As yourself what their greatest fear or hope is. What’s their greatest shame? What’s their biggest wound in life, or their greatest joy? Where did they grow up and why is that significant? What’s the one thing they’ll be thinking about or remembering on their death bed? Not all of this will actually appear in the story, but they will help you get to know your character and you need to know it because that will help you make them three-dimensional. It will give context and complexity to the way in which you write/present them in the present narrative of your story.

The other thing about this gets back to this notion of the story knowing too well where it wants to go. I think it’s okay to have a sense of where you think the story might go, but you can’t be locked into it. I typically try to have a rough outline for a story. Very rough. I sometimes think of these as almost stage directions (By the end of this scene Character A has to wake up, go to work, and have a fight with a coworker) that mostly function as floaties that help me get into the big pool: they help me get started writing when I feel the anxiety of ‘what the hell do I do’ as the cursor blinks back at me. But I’m not beholden to an outline in any way. Because usually no matter what I think might happen in a scene or story will actually change in the act of actually writing it. And that is one of the exciting parts of writing. You have all that highly conscious forethought about your story and what you think is gonna happen, but the hope is that at some point you sort of drop into the zone/muse, that less conscious level that can’t really be planned for except by doing, that opens up new doors to and changes the way you thought the story would unfold.

I guess the last thing I’ll say is about my own personal experience with this. In <> I very much set out to write about politics in an overt way, which was risky. And obviously as a leftist/socialist I have a particular world view and belief system. One of the big tricks for me was figuring out how to not shy away from politics (which I think a lot of writers try to do to avoid charges of dogma or propaganda), but how can I write about it in a complex and interesting way. I think when people say they don’t want to read about politics in their fiction what they’re really saying is they don’t want to read bad writing, whether it’s Ayn Rand or Soviet social realism. So I wanted to write about these abstract ideas that I’m committed to, but to do so with complexity so that it didn’t just feel like characters were mouthpieces for my politics. This meant giving complex issues their due complexity, which meant I oftentimes had to undermine my own politics or point out its flaws or contradictions or limitations (even if I personally still remain committed to them). I felt like that was the only way I could write overtly about politics while still making the good kind art that strives to make the simple more complex. Thankfully I’m better at this in art than in my daily life, where too often I want to make something as complex as economics or politics overly simple.

A few years ago this website asked me to write some advice to young fiction writers. I ended up coming up with a list of 25 pieces of advice. Some of these might be silly, but I think at least a couple of them might be helpful for you in thinking about how to tell this story. Anyway, I attached a copy here if you want to take a look.

I hope I didn’t overwhelm you with all this, but it’s a big and complex issue in writing so I wanted to give you my honest thoughts.

Check out other work in the Racists of America series here.

Racists of America Club Note #9

Posted in Notes on the Racists of America Story on July 20th, 2020 by buzzing wire – Be the first to comment

The reason I can’t write the story is that I believe in the idea too much. It would be the same as writing one dimensional characters that are surrogates for pure good or evil. I don’t have the ability to interrogate the idea.

Racists of America Club Note #8

Posted in Notes on the Racists of America Story on April 20th, 2020 by buzzing wire – Be the first to comment

There was a woman at the meeting. She was older with a huge Elvis caricature on her t-shirt. I wouldn’t have noticed it but the pompadour fell right across her large breasts. Every time she moved or spoke Elvis’ coif gesticulated wildly.

Racists of America Club Note #7

Posted in Notes on the Racists of America Story on March 16th, 2020 by buzzing wire – Be the first to comment

I’m having trouble starting from the beginning. I could start in the middle at an actual meeting. Or maybe a reporter interviewing one of the founders.

Racists of America Club Note #6

Posted in Notes on the Racists of America Story on February 10th, 2020 by buzzing wire – Be the first to comment

I thought an early humorous episode by the founders would be to have them create a list of white guilt/shame provoking outings. They would call them field trips.

Racists of America Club Note #5

Posted in Notes on the Racists of America Story on January 6th, 2020 by buzzing wire – Be the first to comment

I was thinking about plot points for the story. Here are some possibilities:

-origin story

-the club’s first black member

-a visitor misunderstands the club to be a solidarity club not a recovery program

-media attention

-a pc crusader visits the meeting

-a meeting is protested

-founders brainstorm how to adapt the 12 steps

-a nationwide tragedy happens like a Charlottesville, police killing, or a black church is attacked

Racists of America Club Note #4

Posted in Notes on the Racists of America Story on December 2nd, 2019 by buzzing wire – Be the first to comment

Like AA, the Racists of America Club needs some corny slogans that the members embrace. A few ideas…. “excavate the unsaid”, “call in racism”. They could also start their meetings with something like

Honky, honky, honky

Nigger, nigger, nigger

Kike, kike, kike

Spic, spic, spic

Goomba, goomba, goomba

Mic, mic, mic

Chink, chink, chink

Racists of America Club Note #3

Posted in Notes on the Racists of America Story on October 29th, 2019 by buzzing wire – Be the first to comment

And he said to his friend, “What if there was a group that didn’t try to cure you of racism, but presumed that we’re all racists? Instead of teaching you to be “sensitive”, it went the other direction and asked you to say the stuff that you weren’t supposed to say, how you actually experienced race, when you were conscious of it. So you could say anything, like a recovery program. There isn’t a person in America that doesn’t need to recover from our racial history.”

Racists of America Club Note #2

Posted in Notes on the Racists of America Story on September 23rd, 2019 by buzzing wire – Be the first to comment

A white guy gets the idea for the Racists of America Club after a required diversity training at work. Actually he has attended the training twice due to an administrative error. The first time he is mostly silent. The second time he knows all the things you are supposed to say and not being remembered by the trainer is praised for his answers. Leaving the meeting though, he feels nothing was really accomplished by either his first training where it was too risky to say anything he really thought, or the second riskless meeting that was merely performative. He goes and talks to his buddy, one of those guys who is down for anything and pitches the idea of a club for racists.


Racists of America Club Note #1

Posted in Notes on the Racists of America Story on August 19th, 2019 by buzzing wire – Be the first to comment

The Racists of America Club is a story I have been trying to write. I envisage the club in the style of an AA meeting, confessional. The premise is that racism is in everyone in the US. It is something to be gotten over with mutual support, not something that you call out and shame. I love the way people in AA really own being an alcoholic. That admission and the shared struggle help its members recover from the trauma of addiction.