I’ve been trying to up my reading. I failed last year, but this year, even though it’s only been 2 weeks, has been pretty good. I wanted to mix some light in with the Serious Literary, so I decided to get into some mysteries. I turned to the New York Times Book Review for some recommendations — don’t want to go totally lowbrow (not to be confused with the New York Review of Books, which, I know, I know, I should be reading instead. Though, they do have an awesome tumblr).
They recommended Lisa Lutz as an original voice in mystery series. And somewhere, reading between the lines, I divined that she was a “diversity pick.” Ergo, she must be black, and her main characters, a family of private investigators, are also black.
So, I’m reading this book, The Spellman Files, the first in the series. And the first characters described are all brunettes, though one has ivory skin, which gives me pause, but there is that Jasmine Guy who is pretty fair, and have you actually seen ivory close up, before it’s been cleaned and treated? Not pure as the driven snow. But then some of the members of the family start to have freckles, also within the realm of possibility, and then a couple have out and out blond hair. So, that’s when I realize something is weird. So, I look up Lisa Lutz, who is a very pretty, brunette, white lady. And then, I realize that just because someone is original and different, doesn’t mean they’re a racial minority. I also realize just how male dominated mystery writing is that being a woman is “different.”
So for the whole middle part of the book, the pictures in my brain of a black family are fighting with the obvious descriptions of a white family. Every time an action of the protagonist is described, I automatically picture a black woman doing it (usually a Lisa Bonet-ish looking woman. No, not all my black references come from “A Different World.” But this was a book about a family who lived in a brownstone in a city, and well, a black family in a brownstone is always the Cosbys for me). But then, I would remember she was white and have to superimpose Charlize Theron (from Young Adult, of course. Perfect for the role in this book). It’s getting in the way of me following the plot. Finally I give up. I picture them as black, and gloss over all subsequent descriptions.
So, I guess I’m a closet racist. I realize that white people can write about black people, and vice versa. But, the characters really were white, and the author being white was the weird piece of evidence I needed to convince me. This reading thing is really getting me back to where I want to be. Firmly rooted in the imaginary.