With racism still present in modern society, there will always be that one person who will use a slur without a second thought. They think that it’s right because it’s what they’ve been brought up using. But when it comes to literature, there is a distinct choice between using something derogatory and using nothing at all.
This is where my current dilemma comes into play. One of my main characters is Irish, another set of characters is German. America saw a huge influx of immigration from both these groups during the 1800s as more workers were needed to bring about the American Industrial Revolution and they were willing to do the jobs that many American citizens were not.
Racism over from the Old World – Europe, the Middle East, etc. That racism didn’t disappear overnight just by being in a new country. In fact, if anything, it got worse as they vied for jobs and land. While they were a freer people than those on plantations in the South they were still discriminated against just as they were in the British Isles. In the late 1800s there was a movement in the States against the Irish Catholic population.
Jobs for the Irish were just as hard to come by, if not harder, in the New World as in their native land. But still in numbers they came. The Great Famine pushed them out of their own country until the American Great Depression in the 1920s. Whenever they tried to get a job in places other than hard labor they were met with the “Irish Need Not Apply” sign at the door, in the ad or were flat out told no by the employer in person. It also would be historically accurate that they would constantly hear racial slurs directed towards them just for their nationality.
Which brings me to this question: How do you use something that’s historically accurate – like a certain word or words – without sacrificing the integrity of your own beliefs or story line? I have Irish blood in me and I have German blood. I’m a mutt; your typical European mix inheriting the identities of multiple nationalities. I think that’s why I wanted to write something from this time period – we all come from somewhere. We all should learn history. But how much history is to much history?
How do you use something that’s historically accurate – like a certain word or words – without sacrificing the integrity of your own beliefs or story line?
Do I conduct a poll? Do I try to figure out which name is “less bad” and only use that? Do I write several versions of the same scene to figure out the best route? Do I not use it at all? As someone who has experienced zero discrimination, all opportunities have been what I created for myself. I’ve never felt uncomfortable because of my gender, my religion or my nationality; I don’t know what the flip side feels like. And this is why I’m questioning rather than moving ahead with the word choice.
I’ve never felt uncomfortable because of my gender, my religion or my nationality; I don’t know what the flip side feels like. And this is why I’m questioning rather than moving ahead with the word choice.
The word is only one small part of the overall story but the themes are still there. The character grows immensely as an individual and that one incident is one of the catalysts for that change. They overcome it and eventually find love. Still, my nerves are coming into play with that one particular scene; while I do use light language throughout the stories I’m not as worried about that as I am with this. I would rather question it now than get my novel black listed before it gets any further and I have to scrap it.
So I’m open to suggestions. If you want to know the scenario a bit more to be able to further advise or give more input, message me. I’m an open book. I’m legitimately both curious and cautious…