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.