The epigram on this subject is that you should write the other only when it ceases to be the other. This is both glib, true and, on its own, not very helpful. Over the next few weeks(1) I will be looking at how I approach writing the other in the hope that it might prove useful to other writers. Later blogs will look at what we mean by ‘the other’ and what actions we can take to make the other not the other. So to start off we’ll ask the question – why should you care?
Once when I was young, stupid and not enjoying myself at a party (2) a white art school student was enthusiastically telling me about the influences on his film project. ‘I’m really into pimp culture,’ he shouted over the music, ‘I want to start this film with this guy in the suit and the hat and he turns round to the camera and says “Get down you ho”.’ He didn’t specify that the guy in the suit and the hat were black (3) but I think it’s a fair assumption that he probably was. I remember staring at him and thinking ‘what the fuck?’ but being too drunk and stupid to say anything coherent in reply.
Now that I’m older and wiser and have had things carefully explained to me(4) I can articulate what was bothering me(5). This young man, who would have been mortified to have been described as racist, had not only drawn his information entirely from film and TV(6) but planned to use the caricature without any thought to the political and cultural context that had created it in the first place. In other words he thought it was up for grabs to use as he saw fit(8) he thought he knew what he was talking about..
Anyway, moving on, if you want to write about the other with confidence then the other must become so familiar to you that it ceases to be the other.
Which leads to the question – what is the other? And that is the subject of the next blog.
(1) Unless I wander off and lose interest.
(2) The bulk of early 1980s.
(3) Or even African-American.
(4) Often in a loud voice.
(5) Apart from the staggeringly ignorant racism obviously.
(6) I will be discussing why film and TV constitute the least useful source of information about the lives of anyone other than rich white media professionals in a future blog, or possibly several future blogs depending on how worked up I get(7).
(7) See footnote (1)
(8) There’s probably a sociological term for this.
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