Rainbows aren’t cheap

Charli Mills has prompted us once again with a compelling tale.

April 29, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that tackles racism. Think about common ground, about the things that rip us apart as humans. How we can recover our identities in a way that honors the identities of all individuals? What breaks the barrier of other-ness? Imagine a better tomorrow that doesn’t need expression in riots or taking sides on social media. As writers, think about genres, characters, tension and twists. We can rebuild.

Racism is a corrosive state of mind. It is all too easy to link obvious differences in skin tone, cultural background, nationality and language to behaviour. Sanitising the language, as our politically correct society seeks to do can cause ridicule, undermining what is otherwise a sound premise. After all it is attitude not language that is the issue; the language is but a manifestation of the underlying problem.

When I was enjoying my pre teen and teenaged years in South Hampshire in the 1970s we never saw any face, any dress that wasn’t very traditionally English. When we did, heads turned and people paused, waiting to see what differences would emerge. I was just as likely to stare as any. And use thoughtless, inappropriate language.  Even at University the  predominant colour was white – a reflection of educational opportunities and cultural aspirations as anything. But I lived in a city – Bristol – with a large, febrile Afro-Caribbean community based close to the plethora of student houses and flats. There were problems, frictions and countless misunderstandings. But these opportunities to see people close up and personnel had a slow, often glacial impact on my thinking, my tolerance, my understanding and through it my language. I could see for myself that this wide range of people – a veritable melange of races and cultures – had the same basic mix – of attitudes, of intolerances, of appetites and expectations. It was the unforced, unfocused integration – in shops, and job centres and doctor’s surgeries, at work and at rest – that lifted and freed the mind from the homogenisation of narrow-mindedness that prevails when groups form and keep separate.

I walk today around East London, near where the Textiliste goes to University. The population is some wards (small electoral areas) is often in the region of 75-90% Bangladeshi origin. The Mayor of Tower Hamlets has just had his election overturned for intimidation and corruption, part of the complaint being that anyone who criticised him was accused of racism and Islamaphobia, thus neutering criticism. In Rotherham (and elsewhere), gangs abused and sexually assaulted children between 1997 and 2013; the authorities knew but did nothing because the girls (conservatively 1400 of them) were almost exclusively white and the attackers of British Pakistani origin.  A surfeit of political correctness, of minding our Ps and Qs has led us to some dark, unacceptable places.

It is understandable that people want to congregate with like-minded people but not at the expense of proper integration. That must be the aim. The trouble with such statements is that they are easy to make but not so easy to implement. So instead we turn on slips of the tongue like that of Benedict Cumberbatch and excoriate him. That is easy. That is cheap and that is not the problem. We need to focus on the real issues; that they are difficult, however, is no reason for us not to keep trying.

And so to the flash. For new and newish readers who don’t have the time to plough through the past chapters to Mary and Paul’s story, a summary is set out after this week’s flash. if you do want to read the detail then click here.

Choose any colour 

‘I was researching ritual killings. I wanted to know more about the boy they found. Why..?’

‘They were having sex.’

Paul closed his eyes. ‘Yes. I’d only just clicked on the link. They were communing with the devil. They kill young boys to pacify…’

‘You didn’t have to watch. You…’

‘Christ, Mary, it’s not like I fancied any of them.’

She glared. ‘Why? Because they’re black?’

Paul gripped the table. ‘No, because they’re not you.’

Mary shuddered, sobbing. ‘I’m so sorry.’

‘Me too. He was someone’s child, someone loved him.’ He rubbed her stomach. ‘Like we will love ours.’

The story so far

After her father, Peter, dies, Mary North discovers she has a half-brother, Rupert. Her father’s affair with Angela wasn’t known to Mary’s mother (who is already dead).

When Rupert begins to contest Peter’s will, Mary’s discomfort becomes active dislike. Then Angela dies and Rupert withdraws the action, causing Mary to question her feelings. 

In Peter’s papers Mary finds she was adopted. Rupert tells her Peter was her father and her mother, Mandy (Amanda) Johns died giving birth to her and a twin. Mandy was Angela’s cousin.

Penny, Mary’ daughter likes Rupert and, despite Mary’s agonising wants him to be an active family member. Mary however despises him. Paul, Mary’s husband tries to act as peacemaker. Penny has a dog, called Peter after her grandfather.

Mary begins the process of selling her father’s house. A vision of him takes her to the rockery where human bones are uncovered. The police begin tests. Mary is convinced it is her dead twin.

When the results come in,  the body is shown to be of African origin, a mutilated corpse of a young boy. The police dig the whole garden and find no more. 

The twin, who Mary thinks of as Sharon, comes to Mary in a dream confirming she is dead and promising to be with Mary. However Mary’s aunt Gloria, her mum’s sister, senses Mary perturbation pointing out Sharon was the name Mary gave to an imaginary friend when a child. Mary does not know if her twin is dead or alive. Her half brother has her father’s old diaries which reveal Mary’s mother (as she thinks of her) did not know who her real mother was nor that her father was her father.

During her depression while  finding out these family secrets Mary learns she is pregnant.

She catches her husband, Paul looking at pornographic images on the computer and begins to doubt whether there is anyone, especially any man, who she can trust.


About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published three anthologies of short stories and a memoir of my mother. More will appear soon. I will try and continue to blog regularly at geofflepard.com about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
This entry was posted in creative writing, flash fiction, writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Rainbows aren’t cheap

  1. Ula says:

    This post proves that the British are a little too nice sometimes. I’d fit right in. 😉
    Well, things are taking an interesting turn for Mary. I have to wonder how many curve balls you’ve still got.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      we certainy risk not challenging behaviours because of misplaced sensitivity. Part of our colonial heritage and mind-set – national guilt is as corrosive as anything. And the Poles I know are anything but mealy-mouthed!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ula says:

        Maybe the Poles in England are more straightforward. I’ve found Polish to be a language of intricacies and layers of meaning, so my impression is quite the opposite. Although I guess it varies from person to person; no need to make up stereotypes.

        Liked by 2 people

      • TanGental says:

        No I think perhaps it is when people express themselves in a second language they don’t have the nuances they have in their first. There’s no stereotype in any nation would be my experience – happily we are all our crazy selves! And while I don’t knw Polish I’m happy to believe it is a sophisticated and deep language capable of expressing every emotion and condition – though to be honest if it has as many bloody adjectives and adverbs as English I pity you! That is more a burden than a benefit often, especially for the young

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ula says:

        I love adjectives and adverbs, so they don’t bother me in English. I think Polish has less of them. I know I am always looking for good adjectives in Polish and can’t seem to find them, but maybe that is my problem. The most frustrating thing between Polish and English is placement. In English, adjectives have a very specific place in the sentence, usually. In Polish, they can travel a bit and are usually found some place that doesn’t seem logical, at least to an English speaker.

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        I do too but we have solo many ways to say the same thing. I mean is there any other language where you can have a complete scene (the Wire, episode 2 http://youtu.be/XdfwFDZGnUk) where they only use one word or its derivatives?


  2. willowdot21 says:

    Well done that was a hard one. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Charli Mills says:

    Integration can happen organically when we find areas of common ground — like neighborhoods and issues. I liked that the conference I went to was targeted at women because in the US the media and publishing industries remain male-dominated. Because we had our gender in common (with gender non-conformists welcome, too), it was interesting to see the gatherings of “like minds.” The group I hung out with was colorful but we gravitated to one another not on skin tone but based on our interest in talking shop about writing, creating stories and pitching. I think women can help overcome many racist issues and I’d love to see men finding such common ground, too. Thank you for your thoughtful post on this topic and your broader, global views.

    A summary! You have amazed us with the unfolding of a novel 99 words at a time! I’m glad Paul could explain his online wanderings because he is a pillar for Mary to lean upon. And I like his answer to her, “because they are not you.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. trifflepudling says:

    Thought-provoking, thanks! I have a friend from Romania who finds the woolly-minded Liberal Britishness attitude far less preferable in principle to, say, UKIP, because it’s so non-committal and too eager to please, and he can’t respect it. I see his point sometimes! Poor old Benedict – it is confusing because sometimes black people refer to themselves as ‘people of colour’, and I suspect he was only trying to be polite, not because he notices any difference in somebody’s skin colour himself but because he knew he was just trying to say the right thing in public and probably made it worse.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jeanne229 says:

    Must go see what Mr. Cumberbatch said…missed that one but can so relate to the white predicament! We’ve all become so very careful in what we say…even people of color have to watch out, as evidenced in the recent situation where the black, female mayor of Baltimore had to apologize for calling rioters and looters “thugs.” I had never ever associated the word “thug” with black people, but that’s how the black citizens of her city interpreted her comment. At any rate, great reflection here. I love the angle you took on it, the insidiousness of political correctness. England of course has its own very difficult task with integration. Such a color and class-conscious society (despite old John Major’s protestations regarding class!) My children have Indian and Maltese blood on their British father’s side, and French and Swedish on mine. In the 90s my oh-so-vedy-English friends in London called them “mongrels” to my face without the least bit of embarrassment. As it is, even here in the States my daughter has recently come to consider herself as “passing” for white. My god! What a color obsessed world we live in!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Very well put; yes we have so many inhibitions; a large part I think stems form institutional guilt over Empire and our days of sticking our size 9 boots all over the world map, drawing boundaries and other’s resources with equal vigour. Now, wherever we look there’s a conflagration or confrontation ta has, at least in part, its roots in some Imperial power broking in which we had a finger, or hand or the whole cat and caboodle. The Middle East, taking one region, would not be in the state it is without our interference and political machinations. And with such unadmitted responsibilities comes suppressed guilt. Admit we were wrong and begin to move on and treat all people regardless of colour class or cash with equal respect – will we do it? Yes, through the distance that our children will bring to the view of our national history – there’s nothing more difficult to analyse than recent history: my generation are to close to it, even if it ended as I was being born

      Liked by 1 person

      • It is a vexed question, but I still think it’s time we stopped apologising for things which other people did centuries ago and in a time of very different cultural attitudes from ours of the present day. After a certain length of time, it’s a counter-productive attitude because everyone just gets bogged down by the influence of the past, a past about which many people have mostly incomplete and incorrect knowledge (I’m sure I do anyway!). Not having any kids, I’m not quite sure how much today’s young people are taught about Empire but I know they mostly don’t pay much attention because they think History’s boring.
        Just when you think things are evening out a bit, you get something like those poor migrants in their flimsy boats in the Med, and then it starts all over again.

        Liked by 2 people

      • TanGental says:

        So true. I’m never sure we can totally put these things behind us – not long ago you may recall some old men and women, tortured in the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya won a court victory against the British government when certain records, thought lost, were curiously found in a closed foreign office facility in the countryside. But for that they would not have proved their case. I suppose, while I don’t feel personally responsible, I do accept we need to clear up our Augean stables before we can truly expect to be allowed to put things behind us.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: These Racial Earthquakes « Carrot Ranch Communications

  7. Yvonne says:

    Good to get the background to your story, thanks. It all makes sense now!
    I found what you wrote about racism interesting too. I’ve read quite a bit lately about The Left’s inability to tackle issues like Rotherham for fear of being called racist, and about how this fear of being politically incorrect is also partly responsible for the way Islamic fundamentalism has been able to grow in Britain. There is an issue for sure, and I guess, like most things the answer is to have more connection and dialogue between communities. Which is what you’re saying I think.
    In a way, your example from Tower Hamlets is similar to our situation in Scotland, where criticism of a certain party is seen as being “anti-Scottish.” I guess the difficulty arises when people identify too closely with their beliefs, and so can’t see that this is not who they are.

    Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      I understand the issue from what I see on the T V. it is so easy to create cartoon villains, isn’t it. And to lump everyone together. I was reading an essay the other day about how the French laws on secularism and from this the requirement to have no religious symbols on view in a public setting have led to court action by Muslim women wanting to wear the niqab etc complaining that the courts reasoning they are being oppressed is not for the court to decide. It is a very interesting debate and one that will run and run. Hope Scotland enjoys going yellow tomorrow!!! Sorry today!


  8. Annecdotist says:

    Sorry I’m late (I thought I’d already commented) – yes it’s sad that there are worse things than (adult) porn on the Internet. And that lovely line in your flash “because they’re not you”.
    Personally, I think it is worth trying to take care that our language doesn’t cause offence, especially to those with less power to whom it’s especially damaging, but agree that we can sometimes get so caught up in that that we lose our common sense. Evil deeds are always worse than evil language.

    Liked by 2 people

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