I'm Stereo Typing

Just finished the dog kennel here at the house. The fencing has been up for a year, but I've been trying to find the time to pour cement around the bottom because the dogs are notorious diggers. Matter of fact, the strip across the bottom doesn't even keep them in, they dig under that as well. So, I also had to create a border of discarded cement chunks from demolishing old things around the property along he entirety of the inner perimeter.

They're still trying to dig out. But at least they're failing now, and I was able to take them off of their runner cables and let them play together, the mamma and her two boys. It was nice to see them play, but it also made me a little sad.

Siska, the little black menace that has been banished to live in the back with my folks, would have loved to be playing too. Unfortunately, she likes to get into terribly viscous fights with the other dogs, mainly Mihka, our loyal and lovable brown lab.

Siska, like Mihka, was a stray that I took in. She's a little black runt that looks like a lab but is way too short. The vet marveled at her tongue when I took her to get shots long long ago. It has a black spot on it, which baffled him because that is supposedly a hallmark of a Chow, but she looks nothing like one. I, on the other hand, have always thought she was mixed with a Pit because of what she looks like when she gets into a fight.

Now, a couple of weeks ago we were at a friend's for dinner and he was telling me about a stray dog that he had to have put down because the shelter wouldn't take it. You see, it had a black spot on its tongue indicating that it was part Chow. Apparently, Chow's are known for being a jealous dog and become very attached to their owners.

A little bell went off in my head. “Maybe that's what's wrong with Siska.” Siska is totally loveable, she'll roll over on her back and let just about anybody rub her, but as soon as you start petting another dog or playing with another dog she turns mean. And that got me to thinking about writing. I thought about how you can do that with a lot of animals. You don't pick crows to use as homing pigeons, nor do you try and convince a poodle to be a sled dog. Certain “breeds” are wired specific ways.  

That led me to thinking about humans. If we were to say something like “blacks are better at basketball,” it would be considered extremely racist. Yet in fantasy literature we have dwarves that mine, gnomes that invent, elves that convene with nature and so on. There seems to be no thought to how that could be considered racist.

Indeed, even when we pull back and go in a SF route, we find readers going into an uproar when white authors don't portray black protagonists as “black.” Meanwhile there's a separate debate that says that defining certain things as being attributed to one race or another is actually racist. Or is it the limits that we put on people as defined by race?

I'm rather conflicted about it myself. I think that it is possible that we are all simply wired a certain way based on genetics. I believe that DNA can play a lot larger role in a person's life than we care to admit. I think that some people end up being more violent than others not simply because of how they were raised, but because of how they were bred. If breeders can pick out traits that are best suited for fighting dogs, why can't the same be said of a woman who had an abusive father going on to find an abusive husband of her own and having kids with him? Are we not taking those aggressive genes and combining them?  

The question is, where does that fit in to our writing? Do we avoid it and hope to somehow erase “stereotypes,” or do we simply accept that maybe stereotypes are more like genetic traits? After all, whether we care to admit it or not, we all stereotype. We do it all the time.

About a month after finding out the mysterious missing link in my own heritage, we took a trip up to visit my brother and sister-in-law. On our way to get a bite to eat I told him about my latest discovery about being an eighth black. He was just as dumbfounded as I was.

His wife's response? “No wonder you like girls with big butts.”

My response to her extremely insensitive, narrow-minded, racist stereotyping? “Hey, me too!”  


Les Edgerton said...

Good post, David. (The former English teacher in me says to change your spelling of "roll" to "role." Sorry!)

The thing about stereotypes is that usually, there's a grain of truth at the heart of them. But, that grain gets blown up and that's the problem. Your observation about genetics is right on the money. The thing that bothers me is this whole "PC" thing. It's the biggest threat we've ever faced to our freedom of speech. And, if one's writing doesn't offend someone, it usually isn't very good writing...

David Noceti said...

"Roll" to "role"? Pft. (makes note to do that immediately.)

At the World Fantasy Convention in San Jose this past October, one of the panels I sat in on touched on this briefly. Robert Silverberg was talking about a sci-fi short that he wrote for a Jewish collection of shorts. In the story that he wrote he explored the possibility of Jews being the only survivors in the future. The Earth explodes or something and they take to the skies (probably in U.S. paid for space craft).
They happen upon an inhabited planet and explain to the creatures there that they like them because unlike Muslims, Nazis and just about everyone else, the aliens don't seem to want to kill them. He got a very angry letter from a Palestinian woman who could not believe he compared them to the Nazis.
His response was to ask her who inhabited Palestine before the Palestinians (I forgot who it was) and where those people are now? He didn't get a response.
His story was in response to someone asking about offending readers. His point was yours, you're always going to offend someone so you might as well not tip-toe around it.

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