The Stories We Want to Hear
I wrote a piece for The Curator this week on some ethics we may want to consider when writing non-fiction. It sort of processed a few of my thoughts from the War Photographers series, and I got to name-drop my favorite authors (Rakoff, Foster-Wallace, Boo) and talk about being a Christian and writing about others. You know, my jam.
Here's the intro:
The past year, my toddler and I started attending a mommy-and-me class. We deliberately picked one that focused on a diverse group of people—indeed, we found ourselves to be the only native English speakers in our class, save for the teachers. As an ESL teacher, this was perfect—hanging out with a bunch of women from all over East Africa (the cohort we ended up in) was the only way I would have been motivated to get my two-year-old and me out the door every week. Interesting, hilarious, devastating—the stories and discussions we had in our little group had me glued to my chair, every time.
One day the head teacher pulled me aside and asked me how I thought the class was going. I told her truthfully that I loved it, especially since we always veered somewhat off-topic (we were an opinionated, non-linear bunch). She cocked her head and looked at me, trying to size me up. “You know,” she said, “our program gets a lot of heat for not being diverse enough.” I knew that we were a blip on the radar, one class out of hundreds full of people who all looked like me. “But after teaching these classes for over thirty years, let me tell you something—people always say they want to be in a diverse class. But what they really mean is that they would like to look around the room and see people who look different from them, but who act exactly like them.” She sighed, and shook her head. “They say it, but they don’t actually ever want it.” She patted my arm, and wandered off to stop Mohammed from flinging himself off the plastic slide. And as she said it, I knew she was right. She was talking about me.
(PS: I really like the Curator. They are the only site I could think of that would let me talk about all those aforementioned authors AND what a Christian ethic of non-ficiton would look like. They have inspired me to seek and pursue after beauty, everywhere. They are currently holding a indigogo campaign that you might want to think about checking out).
(PSS: Just yesterday the great Rachel Pieh Jones published a bunch of amazing resources for those of us who are interested in the ethics of non-fiction. I want to read all the books! Go check that out here.)