Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Writing a Racist Character

I have this character in my book known as "The Village Racist." Her name is actually Mrs. Hamilton and for a white person in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, her attitudes are perfectly acceptable.

Yeah, she's a racist, and she's probably the closest thing this story has to an antagonist. 

But how do you write a racist? Beyond portraying a bigoted attitude, snide remarks, inappropriate and lengthy glaring, and a sketch of her particular beliefs, how else can I show her exhibiting her particular ideas? Part of the work I have to put in on this third draft is making Mrs. Hamilton's role bigger, rounding her out. She's not a viewpoint character, so that's an added challenge to getting her across the page.


I know I didn't do a great job with this character in the past two drafts.

I'm not going for a raging racist. She's not militant. I think she's a supremacist, really. She is disturbed by my MC's family moving into the neighborhood and is the most vocal about it as time moves on. Most of the other villagers may or may not be perturbed by the new family, but they move on and mind their business.

I'm having trouble tapping into her mindset, which is probably a failing on my part, as part of a historical fiction writer's job is to tap into the mindset of the time. I'm a little uncertain as to how blatant I want her to be.

I'm not sure how to get into her thoughts.

I think most of the racism I've experienced/seen/heard in my life is aversive racism--that is, when people say they don't discriminate and of course, everyone's equal...but they judge and stereotype different races, ethnicities, and religions anyway, usually unconsciously. You can read more about the differences between aversive and overt racism here.

Obviously, in a book set in 1800, Mrs. Hamilton's problems with the new family in the neighborhood is going to be beyond an ugly reaction to a family of a different race or religion moving into the house down the street in a homogenous area (like, you know, a great deal of suburbs are). Her portrayal will have to include subtle as well as overt examples of her beliefs.

Plus, Mrs. Hamilton is also a social climber. So while in actuality, she's from a middle class family, she feels that she's equal to my MC, who is younger son of a viscount, because he's in trade now.

But then, when I think about it, the reason why I decided to move these characters and this story into a historical fiction direction rather than keeping them in the historical romance vein was so I could write about more hard-hitting, realistic issues. This is one of them.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you so much for your comments and thoughts. Check back soon. I reply to all comments. Happy reading!