SBHM Feature: Patricia Sargeant

My friends! Can you believe it’s February?! You know what that means? Black History Month has begun! To kick it all off we have the lovely and wonderful Patricia Sargeant! I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her a few times and I always wish we could chat longer. I asked Patricia to participate in my ALBTALBS Smithsonian Heritage Month celebration, and this is what she wrote.

The title of this musing could be My Reality, which apparently is very different from those around me. Shocker.

You Belong To MeMy first published novels were romantic suspense, written as Patricia Sargeant and released in 2006 and 2007, respectively: You Belong to Me and On Fire. In those books, the villains were people in a position of power. In my reality – my experiences – the people in positions of power are always white men. (Anyone take a snapshot of Congress lately?) In fairness to me, I have several white characters in those two books. They aren’t all villains. However, after reading those two books – just two examples, mind you – a friend who is a white woman asked why my villains were always white. When she asked that, I wondered whether, when watching the evening news, she ever asked herself whether any white people ever committed crimes. Although we know there are white criminals, we can’t tell that by watching the evening news.

Fast forward four years. On one of my writers loops, a white writer said the only black character in her latest release was the villain. Her critique partner suggested she add a positive black character to keep people from being offended. The author decided not to do this. She said her villain was awesome and it felt like an insult to write a positive black character to balance out the villain.

This discussion resurrected my annoyance over my friend’s comment. In my first two books, the villains were both white. However, there were other positve white characters those books. My friend honed in on the one villainous white character and asked why my villains were always white. Now this white author says the only black character in her book was the villain and everyone seemed fine with that. Shocker.

On FireOn another note, and under the heading, We’re Not All Alike, a friend recommended You Belong to Me to her book club. All of the book club members are black women. She sent me an email with their feedback. They all enjoyed the book, for which I was very grateful. But they didn’t think the book was black enough. As an example, she said it was unrealistic the heroine would talk to her plants. That’s not something black people do. Shocker.

I talk to my plants. My mother and my aunts talk to their plants. The last time I checked, we were all black. Since we’re all black and we all talk to our plants, apparently, talking to plants is something at least some black people do. I wrote my friend a detailed – and I thought diplomatic – response to her feedback. In it, I urged her not to classify “all black people” together. We’re all different people and we should celebrate the diversity within our demographic. We each read different types of books, listen to different types of music, watch different types of TV shows and movies. For us to make a blanket statement like, “Black people don’t talk to plants,” encourages other groups to think all black people are the same. We’re not. And we should celebrate our diversity.

She never responded to my email.

Thank you so much for your post, Patricia. I think it’s really important to see just how … common things like this are. From friends. “Friends.” You’re so right – we should celebrate our diversity, and I really appreciate you being here to do that today.

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