Writing Diversity

One of the challenges I face in re-creating a city from 1942 is trying to be true to the era without being disrespectful to diversity. The Big Inch pipeline was built during a time when immigrants were flooding into East Texas in droves (jobs, oil-related business opportunities, easy money from gambling, etc.) The Texas city that this story centers around, Longview, dates back to a post-Civil War era and the city fathers/mothers built monuments to Confederate war heroes. Those attitudes hadn’t dissipated much by 1942. With my 21-st century mindset altered from those who fought the Civil War for States Rights (and a lot of those rights included slavery) it’s a bit off-putting to write historical characters of color (african and middle-eastern) and be authentic to the sensibilities entrenched in 1942. Particularly, as I feel different about people of color (all colors) than these predecessors. So, how to do this and not re-write a time or culture? It was hard. I can’t promise I got this right, either. But I did put thought into not repeating traditional, Southern stereotypes. As a daughter of the south, I’m well aware of where the lines were drawn, what I had no experience to speak of, was what was life like on the other side of the line.

I’d asked friends of color to talk to me about this 1940s culture, but most said they didn’t know or they weren’t from here. I think they know, they just didn’t want to talk about it. So I took what I knew, and I put myself in shoes that didn’t fit. I tried to walk a mile or so through my mental re-creations of Longview and I tried to imagine what it would have been like for folks who were seemingly invisible to the majority. I believe that regardless of the color of a person’s skin, there’s still character, dignity, and grit. I used that as a leaping off point. I’ll know how that translates when I hear what readers think.