I want to talk about the American flag and other issues as they apply to our writing for children.
The American flag issue was about the 13 year old who wasn't allowed to display his American flag on Veteran's Day, because of the harrassment that some of the Mexican kids received for displaying their flag on Cinco de Mayo. I already said that I didn't think it was right to allow one privelege to one ethnic group, and not allow that same privilege to another...regardless of what had transpired.
Do we do things like that in our writing? I read a story a couple of weeks ago, where a group of Chinese students were allowed to prepare some Chinese food for their classmates in honor of a Chinese holiday ( the setting was the US). But as the story went on, the three Jewish kids in the class weren't allowed to bring tradition Hannakuh foods to school because school would be out for Christmas, and the teacher didn't think it was appropriate for them to bring food for a specific holiday when it wouldn't be on that holiday.
The interesting thing to me was, ethnicity and food did not play a major part in the story at all. Both were kind of stuck in there in relation to something else. Obviously, it was not a big deal to the writer.
And truthfully, I didn't pay that much attention to it at the moment, either. But then when the media made such a fuss about the 13 year old and his flag, that story came back to mind. It made me wonder: do we do things like that in our writing, and they make so little impression upon us that they are incidental to the story itself? If so, why?
It is right in "real" life for one ethnic or religious group to be allowed a certain privilege, and then another group denied that same privilege? We hear about how wrong it is in our society to openly ( or even covertly, for that matter) display sexism, or homophobia, or religious, ethnic or political bias, or any of the other very contentious and controversial emotions and opinions we all hold. Yet we write our stories from ideas, opinions, emotions, viewpoints, and situations we read or hear about, talk about, or are involved in.
What kind of message do we send in our writing if we allow one character to do something that is based upon his/her ethnic or relgious culture, and then later on, don't allow another character to do something of the same nature, based upon his/her ethnic or religious culture? Does it even matter? Or...should it matter? After all, we're writing fiction, and we are allowed to take much in the way of "literary license."
How much of real life should be in our stories? Oh, I know that we are encouraged to write about things such as drug use and abuse, anorexia, teen pregnancy, sexual and self-abuse, and so on...the dark side of life that kids, especially teens, experience every day. But what about the smaller things in life, the more seemingly inconsequential happenings...like this flag incident? Don't they teach our kids as much about life as everything I mentioned above? Is it really only the very "bad" issues that make a difference?
Personally, I disagree. I believe that children are influenced as much, if not more, by the small, everyday incidents that they have to deal with, as they are by some of the more life-changing events, such as anorexia, abuse and so on.
So...how does that play out in our writing? IF the flag incident plays an important role in the story, it should definitely stay in. However, there should be some kind of reason, resolution or even retribution for it somewhere before the story ends. I don't think that this kind of issue should be brought into a story, and then dropped, simply to take up space, rev the word count, or for some other unimportant reason. If, in our story, we give preferential treatment of some kind to either a character or group of characters, based upon their ethnic or religious culture, and we don't allow another character or group the same kind of privelege, there needs to be a specific reason for it, and the reader should be able to tell what that reason is by the end of the story.
The point is: don't be "cavalier" in writing about intolerance, or prejudice, or hostility and animosity based on a character's racial, ethnic or religious heritage. Let it be there for a purpose; allow the reader to understand the purpose, and give the reader a reason to think about how such events or attitudes may play out in his own real life.
Think about it. Until next time,
That's a wrap.