I was watching the newest episode of Justified last night, loving my Marshall in the White Hat:
I just love this show. It's got all the good stuff...good guy in a white hat, his best friend who's a bad guy, but not a BAD bad guy; lots of BAD bad guys, some romance, humor, lots of plot lines, and a setting that is a little different.
If you aren't familiar with Justified, which is on FX, it's about a US Marshall, Raylan Givens, played by my imaginary boyfriend, Timothy Olyphant. It's set in rural Kentucky, and it's full of gangsters and drug addicts and drug dealers and gangster drug-dealing addicts. And most of them are white. And they live in trailers instead of tenements. They drive trucks instead of cadillacs. Their drugs of choice are meth, oxycontin, and good old fashioned marijuana--not crack, coke, heroine, or whatever other urban drugs are popular (okay, meth seems to be ubiquitous. But you know what I mean).
I don't love that rural Kentucky is being painted with a brush that suggests that most people living in trailers in the hills are drug addicts, but it's kind of cool that this show is shining a light on some reality...drugs and crime are hardly unique to urban areas. On the other hand, I don't think it's cool that people who drive through Appalacian areas are going to be even more worried about hearing banjo music (that was a Deliverance reference, in case I was being too subtle). If we are going to be doing racial profiling, is any ethnic group immune?
I was driving to work this morning (from Kentucky to Ohio) and followed a semi that had a big sign on the back that said something along the lines of "Why should I have to press one for ENGLISH?"
I thought, "Really? I guess if you live in ENGLAND you could be bothered--maybe. But you don't, dumbass. You live in A MELTING POT!" English was NOT the original language of North America. It just happened to be the language of the guys who had the most power at one particular time in history. There are a lot of Spanish-speaking people here. We need to learn some Spanish, maybe?
At which point I started thinking about how easy it is to assume that all Spanish speaking people are illegal immigrants, in which case...and then I smacked myself in the head...I don't know what the statistics are, but I would guess that the majority of Latin American immigrants in the US are here legally. But if you watch the news, you start to think that these people have all gotten here by crawling under some barbed wire and running from border agents.
Anyway. My point is, that as a writer, how do I know when chracters become offensive stereotypes? I am working on a story set in semi-rural Kentucky, and I've got some characters who are pretty indigenous to where I live. The truth is, I do have neighbors who drive trucks with gun racks and rebel flags. But I also have neighbors who are flaming liberals and soccer moms and Baptist preachers, and Catholic mothers of 13. Yes, kids, that was not a typo. 13 kids. Many of whom are home schooled. And all well-behaved. Although maybe we need to check behind the shed for a still--there's got to be a secret to how she keeps them all in line.
So if I include the Catholic mother of 13, can I keep my dental-impaired tobacco-chewing redneck?