Grouchy

I don’t need people to say only good things about my writing, but I am a little done with people saying bad things about it. The hate-mail I’ve gotten about the Isaac Franklin piece has just been so infuriating. Like, seriously, I can’t begin to tell you how much I dislike the term race-baiting, if only because the people who use the term seem to think that black people are just aimlessly and happily tooling about their days until someone comes and agitates them, like they’re just too stupid to notice that things are amiss without the race-baiters. Is there anything more infantalizing than “they wouldn’t have noticed anything was wrong if you hadn’t said anything?”

But, at heart, the hate mail I’ve gotten seems to be deeply offended and discombobulated that my writing sometimes puts the reader in the position of imagining Franklin from the perspective of his victims instead of imagining him in a more generous light than he clearly would have put himself in. That is the main thing that kills me about American history, how often people insist that we should extend to people in the past a generosity that distorts them. Like when people try to insist that the Civil War was about states rights and that claiming otherwise is dishonoring the past, when you can read the materials the states created when they talked about why they wanted to leave the union and why they were fighting and their own words are “We’re doing this because of slavery.”

Isaac Franklin didn’t see himself as a good guy. So, why can’t I take him at his word?

Also, someone is upset with me for writing fictional ghost stories. Okay, well, there’s a whole lot of really good, fun, interesting books about real Tennessee ghost stories. Those are not my book. Read any of the rest of them and be glad you didn’t buy my book. Christ.

“You got this fact wrong” or “You didn’t take into account x, y, or z” or “Is a paragraph/word/letter missing here?” or “This part didn’t work for me for these reasons” are all legitimate criticisms I know how to do something with. I might even be interested in reading something on the ethics of making up ghost stories. But “You’re not writing what I, internet stranger, want you to write” is just not something I can do anything about. Read someone who is writing what you want to read or write your own thing.

7 thoughts on “Grouchy

  1. FWIW, I loved the Isaac Franklin story. I appreciate historical writing that helps me see the perspective of the less-privileged actors, because there is already enough writing that gives the benefit of the doubt to pretty terrible people. Also, I just got my copy of The Wolf’s Bane in the mail, and it is exactly what I, internet stranger, want to read right now.

  2. Is there anything more infantalizing than “they wouldn’t have noticed anything was wrong if you hadn’t said anything?”

    Preach!

  3. As you say, Isaac Franklin did not see himself as a good guy. He knew himself to be an amoral fuck who was getting deliciously rich from catering to other people’s wicked urges. He was a pimp, a rapist, a thief, and a murderer — and that is just the abbreviated list. What was so offensive about Franklin is that he didn’t make an effort to pretend that he was good or that his customers were either. He knew what his customers wanted, he sold it to them, and they lived in fear that he would tell on them. I think (some? most? me, depending on the day?) white people find it fundamentally too painful to look at slavery’s evilness dead on because you can’t linger too long on that thought without it unlocking a whole lot of other unsavory questions about how we all got to be where we are. As OC suggests, that you’re getting this reaction means that you made people think and they do not like what they are thinking about, so they are blaming you for wrecking their construction paper hat fantasy of the American past.

  4. As disturbing as I found working on Isaac Franklin to be–and you guys read my blog, so you know how it fucked with my head–the one thing I think is the most important thing to take from it is exactly what Bridgett says here (and which I hope I made clear in my piece). Isaac Franklin did not see himself–or anyone who bought slaves from him–as good people.

    I guess that is threatening, to realize that one of the lynchpins of slavery absolutely knew it was immoral, because, if he did and talked about the immorality of it with such openness and glee, then the people he sold to must also have known that it was immoral.

    But people shouldn’t be pissed at me for ruining the illusion. Go ahead and be mad at Isaac, who ruined it two hundred years ago.

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