Monday, November 16, 2009


I've been a George Pelecanos fan for a few years now. After reading exclusively "literary" fiction as a graduate student, it was reading crime novels that first reintroduced me to the genres. Very glad it did, of course, since sff wasn't far behind.

Writers like George Pelecanos helped me make the transition. His novels are always set in and around Washington DC, featuring black characters. He's got quite a few novels to his name now, most recently The Way Home, The Turnaround, The Night Gardener, and Drama City. He's also one of the cats behind the HBO series The Wire, which I enjoyed each and every season of. I met him a couple months ago, and was pleased to hear he's working on a new TV series. I forget what it's called, but I'll keep an eye out for it.

Anyway, that's all part of my introduction to talking about a scene from The Night Gardener. The other part is... Remember that panel from hell I was on back at Worldcon? One of the many unfortunate aspects of that panel included a woman from the audience who - after claiming that she didn't "see" race - then goes on to talk about what she does when she sees a thug-looking kid "jive walking" (I can't swear she said that, but her body language at that moment came pretty close). What she does is to cross the street.

Now, part of what I wanted to say in response is that I don't believe she does see body language and reacts to it, but somehow doesn't see or react to a person's color. What I did manage to say on the spot was that I thought she was making some huge assumptions there. For one, she was assuming that a ghetto walk indicates a predilection to crime. Two is that such a walk is at all intended to send signals to her. I'd argue that a young man's walk - and his hair and his clothes and his music - is part of a survival dialogue between him and other young men. It can all mean a lot of things, but none of it means you can know (or should assume) what's going on in that young man's head.

That's why I was so pleased when I read this scene from The Night Gardener. The book is full of scenes in which Ramone, a white cop, worries about his teenage son - who is mixed race. We see them at home, with mother and father offering all the love and support they can, but we also get glimpses of the son, Diego, having to survive among his peers on the street and in school. Give this a read. Ramone has just stopped off to talk to his son briefly at a basketball court, where Diego was playing with his friends...

Ramone put his arm around Diego's shoulders and the two of them drifted down to the street. Diego returned to the court a few minutes later, and Ramone got in the Tahoe and drove off.

"Detective Ramone," said Shaka. "Man looked serious today."

"Thought he was gonna take you down to the station, something," said Ronald Spriggs.

"What he want?" said Richard.

He told me to get home before dark. He asked me how school went today. He told me he loves me. The same way my mom always does before she hangs up the phone.

"Nothing much," said Diego to Richard. "He just told me to beat you Bamas to within an inch of your lives."

"You mother's a Bama," said Ronald.

Diego said, "Lemme see that rock."

And then the play ball again. It's characteristically brief, straightforward, and more insightful than it may seem. Blink and you'll miss how much Pelecanos is really delving into.

See why this scene means so much to me? It's exactly the kind of thing I was talking about, wishing that person at Worldcon would consider. Diego may have a family and inner life that's about love and support, but outside of his home he needs to act, talk, move in a certain way, with body language and attitude that's likely to look aggressive. You can't glance at him on the street and know what his inner life is like. You can't know if he's thinking about crime and drugs, or about how much he loves his parents, or about being late for band practice...

That's all, but I think it's a lot.

Labels: ,


Anonymous Josiah Cadicamo said...


10:25 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


10:48 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home