In honor of Juneteenth on Wednesday, I’m going to dedicate this post to slavery (shout out to lowkey racist Abe Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation that didn’t technically free all slaves!). So, I read a book called Island Beneath the Sea by Isabelle Allende, a slave novel written by a non-black person. This is the second time I’ve read a slave (or ex slave) novel written by a person who isn’t black (the first being Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen, by Sarah Bird).
I find this trope very fascinating. If you aren’t black, you probably won’ be able to tell that the voice of the slave isn’t written by a black person. Also, my girl Isabelle (I am definitely on first name basis with Isabelle Allende) is a wizard at character voices (from the one other book I read by her, In the Midst of Winter, and Jane from Jane the Virgin putting in a good word from her in that one episode).
Authors write in voices of people who identify different from them all the time. Well, I have mostly experienced books where people of one gender write as another gender (of course from a very binary perspective). I haven’t read very many books of people writing from the perspective of different races.
But when you identify similarly to a character, there are subtle differences you can tell. Especially when you know the author ain’t black.
I pick up on things like “my tangled hair”. Black people would say things like peasy or nappy (surprisingly the definitions on Urban Dictionary weren’t as racism a I thought they were going to be).
Or when a character says man/woman/person of color. I can practically see PCness oozing between the lines. I highly doubt they used the term people of color in slave times. I’m pretty sure we see POC because this book was actually translated by a white woman (Isabelle is Chilean).
And I can appreciate authors who aren’t black having that respect and don’t try to co-opt a culture they aren’t a part of, but does that take away from the authenticity? Is this contributing to a problem where we rely on stereotypes to define people who are different from us?
Wow. It feels like I’m saying that people should write about who they are and what they know… Part of that has some truth in it, but that world would be a boring one, right?
You can really see how much research Isabelle put into this book about the Haitian Revolution. Almost too much history and research (definitively too much for my taste). Not so much research on black slaves though and how they would feel and act.
One thing that bothered me about this book is how it glosses over and downplays the actual horrors of slavery (I couldn’t even make it 30 minutes past the Hulu Roots remake). Yeah, the slaves were unhappy, but it felt like, “See? This one slave had it pretty good besides her being raped repeatedly and her children forced from her.” It felt like history class when they talk about slavery being bad, but don’t actually get to how bad it was and how it perpetuated a system to elevate white supremacy.
Like they talk about how bad slavery is, but then slip into some “not all white people”.
Anyway, slavery books make me get all types of feelings, even the ones written by black people. How do they make you feel, whether you’re black or white?