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Writing About Race: J.C. Davies is a Writer with Jungle Fever

The latest New York Magazine featured an Intelligencer column called “151 minutes with J.C. Davies.” Maybe I’ve been a little tuned out from the race dialogue because I’ve been plowing full speed ahead into my novel and the startup I’ve been helping to launch, because I’ve never heard of her. But I simply had to take five minutes out of my morning to read this article on the author of a new interracial dating book called “I Got the Fever.” The spread featured a centered photo of a classy looking white lady, who is apparently an ex-Wall Street analyst. I was too curious as to what this woman had to say not to delve into the article.

For those of you who may not know, the issue of interracial dating is an on-point topic for me, and one that can sometimes be sensitive. As a mixed race person, it is virtually impossible for me to date within my “race,” unless of course I happen to stumble on another half Puerto Rican, half African American guy. I grew up in a very white town in New England, to boot, and much to my mother’s confusion, I have a tendency to date white middle-class males. Dating is hard enough, but when you add in the elements of racial identities and the potential for your attractiveness to a potential mate to be hindered by how “ethnic” you look, it boosts the difficulty level up a notch.

For me, dating really puts a spotlight on my feelings of not belonging to any one race or ethnic group and the pain that has cause me in my life. A huge part of becoming comfortable with my own “in-between”-type ethnicity can be attributed to realizing that while negative racial stereotypes exist, they are born more from a place of ignorance than maliciousness. The gift that comes with being multi-racial is being able to have insight into so many different mindsets and ways of thinking when it comes to race in America. So when I opened up this magazine and saw a white woman wrote a book about interracial dating, I wanted to hear what she had to say.

By the time I got a paragraph into the article, I was done wanting to hear what she had to say. My first impression of her was off putting. I felt as though I happened to cross paths at a writer’s networking event with a benign looking but well-dressed white lady at the hors d’oeuvres table with a well-dressed white lady, complimenting her on her expensive looking scarf, and then feeling my face melt into a puddle of horror as I try to digest her racist and classist reply. She might say something like “I wanted to wear my Hermés for this event, but my house keeper ironed the wrong one. I really have to consider hiring someone else who can habla ingles!” And then I would  try for a smile and nod and slowly slink away before I could slap her in the face.

“I love pork,” Davies says at the beginning of the article. “Every time I’m not eating with a Jew I try to get some pork in.” The author of the article, Jessica Pressler, goes on to describe Davies and her new book “Most highly educated Americans of indeterminate European origin would avoid dropping terms like ‘the Koreans’ and ‘Jew’ into a first-time conversation, never mind delineating what people of these ethnic groups do or do not do. Not Davies, a 42-year-old former Goldman Sachs analyst, whose new book on interracial dating, I Got the Fever, is a treasure trove of sweeping generalizations and alleged cultural truisms. Among them: ‘Most Latinos are undeniably great dancers’ and ‘overall, sex is one thing—apart from accounting—at which Jewish men really excel.’”

If you’re like me, you sat back in your chair and sighed along with the collective “Woah,” of everyone else reading those lines. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and read on, albeit, gritting my teeth. “Stereotypes, racist – all those words do is shut down the conversation…They make people afraid. We can never talk about race because anything to do with race is wrong.”

Ok, this is a little bit more digestible. I can see where she’s coming from. With my Bachelor’s degree in American Studies, I feel like I can say to you with a semi-professional degree of authority that race is a highly inflammatory topic in the U.S., perhaps more so than in any other country. It makes sense when you consider how many ethnic groups have had to try and coexist over a relatively short span of time in this nation of immigrants. Every time a new immigrant group has migrated to our shores, some of the people who are already living here always have something not so nice to say about the new outsiders, who they react to instinctively as a threat. Over time, when everyone has cooled their jets and realizes they have to peacefully coexist, Americans have learned that it’s just safer to avoid talking about race, ethnicity or country of origin, lest you offend someone unintentionally.

It would be really great if we could one day, as a country, all be so comfortable with our national multiracial identity that we could playfully joke around the way we do with other, less taboo, identification points. It would be nice if mentioning someone’s race could be playfully brought into the conversation, just as we might tease each other about the state we come from. “Hey, you’re from Massachusetts, you must be an awful driver,” someone might say to me in jest. “Hey, you’re one to talk, JERSEY,” I respond. Maybe one day, race won’t be such a hot button issue, and we’ll all feel comfortable joking about who we are and where we come from.

I’ve had conversations with some of my white friends about how hard it is to even bring up the issue of race when you’re white. White males have told me that they hate feeling like they are always in the wrong when they bring any kind of racial commentary to the table. I understand where Davies is coming from, and I do agree that the conversation about race in America could benefit if we all took a step back from the seriously sharp knife edge it balances on.  But I think that has to be done with a fair amount of finesse, to say the least.

It’s unwise to barrel into the racial discourse with no regard for the pain and suffering that lies on the other side of those stereotypes, erected like walls to protect one ethnic group from another and keep intact a sense of self and identity. I really have no interest in buying a book written by a person who wants to make brash accusations about the behavior of other races without first wanting to listen and observe with an open-minded curiosity, and learn something about the cultural values and nuances that lie behind actions and ways of being that may seem different or strange to you based on where, and who, you come from.

As a writer, I often consider how much I need to insert my racial identity into my art and my work. I have to be extra careful when I create a character who identifies as one or more races, aware of how that is going to change the scope of the story and the perception of my message to my reader. It’s frustrating to me that I can’t just write, “See Jane, see Jane run, oh and by the way Jane is African American, but that’s just a detail I’m including to give you a visual and it really doesn’t have a lot to do with the story I’m trying to tell so please don’t assume you can or can’t relate to my main character based on your own race.” It’s a delicate line to navigate, but I’d rather navigate it delicately, and thoughtfully. I really have a hard time sympathizing with anyone who wants to write about interracial relationships just as a means to siphon the attention of the public towards them, whether they turn your way in sympathy or disgust. I would much rather read a  heartfelt narrative about the adventures of interracial dating by someone who I trust is open to empathizing with people who have suffered from the racial attitudes that continue to permeate through and pollute our culture.

Click here to read: “151 Minutes with J.C. Davies

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4 responses »

  1. Excuse my language, but she sounds like an asshole. Kudos to you for getting past the cover. I would have rolled my eyes at the unnecessarily pornographic photograph and blatantly offensive title and been done with it.

    But you provide a fresh and discerning perspective. Great commentary, Kerry!

    Reply
  2. It may be “safer” to just not talk about race or culture, but that is where the problem lies. We don’t talk about it because we are afraid and that creates a separation between people of different races that’s what allows racism to grow again. PC does not eliminate racism, it just takes it underground. The only way to become “comfortable” with our multicultural identity is to talk about it. I tend to use humor because that makes talk about race more palatable for people. That also means that sometime people take offense, but that’s okay too because at least it restarts the dialogue about race. The problem is that, like with yourself, many people don’t bother to read the book or bother to read my background, instead they just make up their minds from a couple of media misquotes and comments taken out of context.

    I guess from you the comments seemed the most disappointing as I have found Biracials to be ahead of the curve as far a race relations go, more able to empathize and hear the variety voices and opinions of people of other races. You have “no interesting in buy a book written by a person who wants to make brash accusations,” yet here you go making them. I spent 20 years of my life dating people of different races and more than two years interviewing people of different races and cultures for my book. I think that is the “obverse with open-minding curiosity” you were speaking of? As far as “public attention” I wouldn’t wish it on my worse enemy. For every good thing that happens there are 1,000 people condemning you without even taking a second to learn about you. I did this book to start a dialogue, reduce the “fear” factor around interracial dating, and help women to broaden their horizons. That is it.

    I really wish you the best on your novel. I think the world needs to hear more from women of color. Please fell free reach out to me if there is anything I can do to help I will. And please give my blog a look (http://feverbook.com/). I think it speaks for itself. You write about me and my book with great conviction, but remember, “only a close mind is certain.”

    JC Davies aka Racy JC
    jc@jcdaviesauthor.com
    http://feverbook.com/

    Commenter – Dropping the “A” bomb is not an analysis. Remember the comments you make about someone tell more about you then the person you are speaking about.

    Reply
  3. Dear Ms. Davies –
    Firstly , thank you for responding to my blog post on your book. I want to earnestly express my gratitude for taking time out of your day to write a message regarding my first impressions of your book. It really means a lot to me to have another writer open up a direct dialogue regarding their work. Your response was thoughtful and humble, and I really do respect that. It gave me pause, as well. It reminded me that it is easy to open up a magazine and judge a person based on a press article in which they are featured, but behind that black and white print there is a flesh and blood human being with both good intentions and flaws.

    You are right—this blog post was a response to a press article about you. I did not read your book and am not responding to your work, but am rather responding to someone else’s opinion and analysis of you. This post was not intended to be a critique of your book. I am not a critic or a reviewer, and my writings here do not reflect any kind of assessment of your work as an author. They are my own personal opinions, coming from the perspective of someone who is hoping to make herself into a writer and would like to share her thoughts along the way.

    As this is my personal website, I have no qualms about dropping the “A” bomb, however, after re-reading my own post, I have yet to find that I used any pejorative term that begins with the letter “A.” You, however are quoted in the article as referring to people as “Jews” and “Koreans, which, I believe, most people would find offensive. In your own words, “the comments you make about someone tell more about you then the person you are speaking about.” I believe referring to a group of people their ethnicity can also be considered a “comment you make about someone.” I hope you keep that in mind the next time your words will appear in print.

    You’re right, I did make a lot of brash accusations in this blog post, none of which were based on fact, but all of which reflected my response to you in the article itself. I apologize if this is hurtful to you. I want to commend you for trying to accomplish a genuinely good thing; to add humor to the discussion on race in order to break down barriers. Humor is a great tool, but I think it can be easily misconstrued, especially when it is used as commentary on very painful subjects like racism. Most of the accusations I made came from your representation in the media thus far, which is a few scathing articles, the description of your book’s subject, and the jpeg image of your cover, which I find distasteful. Based on those factors alone, there is no way I would spend twenty-something dollars on a book that, at first appearance, might make me more angry than inspired, and might actually make me relive painful experiences of racial marginalization from my own life. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and if you had not directly responded to my blog post, there is no way I would buy your book and pay good money to potentially be offended and hurt.

    However, I am encouraged by your thoughtful response. If you would like me to read your book and write a review of it from a mixed race perspective, I would be more than happy to. I cannot promise it will be kind-hearted, but I can promise it will be fair and honest. I do appreciate your offer to assist me and offer advice. That was kind, and reflects your true nature. In the meantime, I wish you the best, and encourage you to rely on your formidable strength of character, which is clear in your thoughtful response, to whether the storm of judgment from the public media attention.

    Best,
    Kerina Pharr

    Reply
  4. Anytime someone says “based on my experience” it means it’s based on no analytical or empirical research at all.

    Reply

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