I’m reading the Sue Allen thing in anticipation of my second draft. I thought I would be doing more rewriting on the page, but I’m finding myself just making broad notes about where I’ll need to dig in. So far, I think the biggest issue is that I don’t have a lot of descriptions–of the city, especially, but also of the characters. I still think that I’m going to leave out racial signifiers, though. I’m hoping that it doesn’t come across as an erasure, though. But the thing is that, I realize, even in myself, this tendency to explain away a lot of what happened to enslaved people in the antebellum South with “well, they were black.” And the truth is that it functions as a shorthand for me to kind of skip over what white people were doing and just place it all under the umbrella of “Terrible Racism.”
But in rereading it, I still think that not using descriptors of skin color and only infrequently referring to someone specifically as a slave, undermines my ability to use that shortcut.
I also think that there’s a way in which that kind of sorting allows a lie about the antebellum South to creep in–that it was an okay society except for the things it did to those people. No, the whole society was set up to benefit a very small group of very powerful white men, who would have gladly done to anyone what they did to those people. Everyone’s lives had a kind of shakiness to them.
Plus, you know I think the central sickness to the U.S. practice of slavery–and the rot that still lingers in our country over it–is that this is something men did to their own children. That’s not a central story in my book, but it is a central nugget of truth that permeates–the precariousness of the lives of children to the whims of their parents and the moral rot that comes in a culture where a man can sell his own children.
It’s not in as bad a shape as I thought, though, so that’s good.