On Black and White Thinking and Ferguson

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Mississippi River in Missouri

Last week, I wrote a blog on my thoughts on the protests in Ferguson, Missouri. I grew up in the state and my first novel EARTH (due out in 2015) is set there.

I keep coming back to the level of  “black and white” thinking that goes on in my birth state. It isn’t my intention to make a racial statement with the phrase, although somehow metaphorically this may apply.

Missouri is a hot-bed of black and white thinking. The prevailing attitude seems to be: There is one way, the right way and you’d damn well better do it that way. Men are men and women are women and races are races and you’d better stay within the lines drawn for you, or there will be hell to pay. I do not pretend to be an expert on race relations; all I can do is equate the Ferguson situation to what it was like to be a woman in Missouri, a woman who didn’t want the traditional life of marriage and kids, a woman with a brain and ambitions.In rural Missouri, there was hell to pay for such women. I think for people of color living in Missouri, the same restrictions apply. This is your place and you’d damned well better stay there if you know what’s good for you!

What creates such black and white thinking? What makes the state of Missouri different from say nearby Illinois? What is it about the deeply traditional culture, the bible belt mentality, the state’s isolation (Missouri is very close to the geographic center of the US…it takes days of driving to reach either coast) that creates this hot-bed of militancy?  I’m not sure of the core reasons for Missouri’s rigid ways, but I do hope that at the very least, current events in Ferguson will begin to air things out and soften the experience for everyone. I am so pulled by the earth in Missouri, so magnetized to the landscape, the wildness of it all, how raw and filthy it is. My anger at the place has its roots in love.

On September 14, 2014, I will be part of a public fiction reading in Seattle. I’ll be reading an essay called Little Woman, which was fictionalized in my novel EARTH. The story is about the first book I was given at age 11, Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. Here’s an excerpt:

The book was a blue, glossy, hardback. I put the binding up to my nose and breathed it in. It smelled like glue. I worried the texture of a single page between my fingertips. I turned it over in my hands and put my hand flat on the glossy cover. I rubbed my hand over and over that book – for minutes, for days, for years, reading it through my palm.

 “I’d better not think I was too smart with all that book larnin. Real larnin’ happened when you used your hands for labor. You cain’t eat no books. You cain’t live on no books.” Real larnin meant knowing how to shoot a beast through the eyes, tear off their fur, and yank out their guts.

 Sometimes my older sister would bring home tattered searing saga bodice rippers. I’d rip at the paperbacks with my teeth, voracious like an animal. I’d salivate as I tore through the story, devouring 300 pages in one sitting.

 Growing up, there were only two books in the house — a King James Bible and the farmer’s almanac. When I was 9, I locked myself in the upstairs bathroom every night and read the bible page for page, just for something to read. One of my older brothers caught me coming out with the good book under my arm. He lifted his fist. “You think you’re real smart, don’t you.” He punched a bruise into my forearm. “You think you’re something special.”

Please join me for Seattle’s public reading and read more about my novels: EARTH, AIR, FIRE, WATER on my website, http://www.carolineallen.com. Here are the details of the reading:

What: StringTown Reading. Editor and Writer Polly Buckingham will be hosting the event.

When: Sunday, September 14th, 2014, 7-9pm

Where: Naked City Brewery and Taphouse, 8564 Greenwood Ave N , Seattle, WA 98103, nakedcitybrewing.com

The Art of Storytelling is a coaching service for book and script writers. Contact us for a free initial consultation.

 

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