1. C. W. Evon
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    C. W. Evon Member

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    Afraid of not being politically correct

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by C. W. Evon, Jul 25, 2015.

    Since my genre is historical fiction, I have a constant struggle with the question, when is political correctness more important than historical accuracy?

    In a few matters this is obvious. I would never use the "n" word, even in a context where it would have been accurate.

    But I'm struggling a lot in this novel. It's set in 1865--so not long after The Civil War. There's one sentence in particular that's troubling me--well, actually the whole concept surrounding it.

    There's a scene early on where Miles, my protag, is on a train, headed west. Here, he meets my other viewpoint character, Bridie (short for Bridget). She's very high-spirited and genuine in a way that none of the daughters of his mother's friends (upper middle class), are. And there's something else he can't put his finger on.

    Well, it turns out she's Irish. And I'm having trouble because Bridie fakes an American accent in an attempt to fit in, to try to rise above being a mill girl living in a miserable tenement, raising her younger siblings. She thinks that if she could "at least talk like they do" she could start working her way up the social ladder. Now, maybe I'm being absolutely silly, but is it offensive that she fakes an American accent to fit in? I don't know why it would be, these things just terrify me to death. The fact that she has a pretty convincing (I say pretty convincing, because some of her sentence constructions seem a little "off" to the average American ear) is a detail that will be pretty important to the plot later in the novel. But I'm just afraid of offending someone (I'm not nearly this overly sensitive in real life, but with written word it feels different).

    And then the sentence that comes immediately after she admits to Miles that she's Irish (even though Miles actually didn't suspect a thing) is worrisome as well. Miles is reflecting on why Bridie would fake an accent. And there's this sentence: "He knew a lot of people didn't like the Irish, but they weren't like Negroes. He'd heard of successful Irishmen."

    Now, I resisted my initial urge to put "African Americans," because I think this is a matter in which historical accuracy trumps political correctness, which would feel jarring and unrealistic coming from a 19th century white male. Yes, even in the North. The bit that troubles me is, does this seem to imply that African Americans couldn't be successful (untrue even in the 19th century, though it was rare)? What Miles is thinking is that people aren't as prejudiced against Irish (by this point in history, that is) as they were against blacks. So there wouldn't be as many social obstacles in their way. Would it be misconstrued, and even in a historical context, offensive? Or would the reader know that these thoughts are the thoughts of the protag, not of the author? Would it make the protag sound like a racist jerk? (He isn't, by the way. This is apparent within the context of the scene. He is, however, a product of the biases of his times).

    Is this okay? Am I over-thinking this? Or should I burn my manuscript and run for my life at risk of being chased down by a righteously indignant mob because I'm coming across as an insensitive and prejudiced writer? Does anyone relate to this struggle?
     
  2. No-Name Slob
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    No-Name Slob Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think you're over-thinking it. It would make absolutely no sense if you used the term "African American."
     
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  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    If it is historical fiction, the dialogue the characters use should be appropriate to the times and character. Narration has a little more leeway, but shouldn't employ clear anachronisms.

    As for faking an American accent, I don't know why that would offend. Immigrants did all kinds of things to try to fit in.
     
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  4. PrincessSofia
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    PrincessSofia Active Member

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    Haha it reminds me of my US history classes of last semester, it seems like all I studied was about irish and african americans :). Well I think you should be more worried about being historically accurate than politically correct, because at that time people were really not lol, so if you wrote to stay politically correct towards people of the 21 st century, I think your story would not look " authentic".
     
  5. AgentBen
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    AgentBen Member

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    You can use the N word if you want, Of Mice and Men is set earlier than your book and is also used in school classrooms, so I don't think you should worry about that.

    As for your actual question, I agree with the above comments.
     
  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that you're unnecessarily worried.

    A nitpick: Americans wouldn't see it as faking an American accent, but as trying to eliminate her Irish accent. Everybody thinks their own speech is "right" and that it's everybody else who has an accent.
     
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  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Those terrible accents everyone else has!

    "You'll get much further with the Lord if you learn not to offend his ears." -Henry Higgins
     
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  8. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    it is okay to write stories in which people are treated poorly. it is not okay to treat people poorly. if people perceive your story as you apologizing for the poor treatment of people, they will probably be angry because that is not okay. but it is unlikely that your story will be so popular that a mob will come after you. it's probably better you just write it and workshop it around and get feedback. if you sound bigoted and your prejudices are coming through, people will tell you. you may actually have prejudices you want to explore and correct. we all do.
     
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  9. C. W. Evon
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    C. W. Evon Member

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    Thanks for the advise! Although I was speaking from Bridie's point of view. You're certainly right, and Miles doesn't see it as faking.
     
  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    @C. W. Evon I also think your work will suffer from not being honest. If you know in your gut that it should be one way, but you're worried about a mob of pitchfork-wielding cretins coming unglued, stick with your gut. Most readers are smart and will appreciate it.
     
  11. C. W. Evon
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    C. W. Evon Member

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    Thank you! Being honest/authentic to my characters and time period is really important to me. I try not to censor that, but I'm the kind of person to over think things. It feels good to have some reassurance. Thank you.
     
  12. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    In today's environment you will wind up offending someone, irregardless :p
     
  13. C. W. Evon
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    C. W. Evon Member

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    Isn't it true? Sometimes I see people getting riled up about something and think, "Really?" But then sometimes I see something and think, "Why aren't people offended by this?" Can't please everyone.
     
  14. Aaron Smith
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    Aaron Smith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Anyone who is struggling with political correctness in their writing should read To Kill a Mockingbird.
     
  15. C. W. Evon
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    C. W. Evon Member

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    It's one of my favourite books. But I certainly don't pretend to be the kind of writer that Harper Lee was, and I think that does factor in to what one may "get away with." So it's still a concern for me, at least. But based on the responses I'm getting, I'm not all that concerned now.
     
  16. Aaron Smith
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    Aaron Smith Contributing Member Contributor

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    It just shows that even though nigger and negro is said eighty times during the book, she can get away with it. Not because it was written in the fifties, but because she did it right.
     
  17. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Like people who are offended by "irregardless."
     
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  18. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree sometimes people get so offended for no good reason. On the other hand I think it's very justified sometimes. We know that historical and inter-generational trauma is a real, not imagined, thing that people experience. When you're black and it's 2015 and your grandma told you stories about her dad being lynched and whatnot, you pair that story with your own identity. I am, as a black person today, part of a legacy wherein white people were assumed to be superior to me. They enslaved people who looked like me, they didn't let us vote, they forced us to be separate. You look around and you see remnants of this legacy today sometimes very obvious other times subtle. And then people say "why do you whine about political correctness? that was in the past," and it feels like they're shutting you down. It's like people think you're crazy for these things being an issue for you, so you don't know if you should remain silent about it, maybe see a counselor because it's just you not society, or if you should run around screaming about it in people's faces. I would imagine that as a black person in 2015 reading a book set in 1865, that some stuff in there would be pretty sensitive. I would also imagine that a very thorough researcher writing about that time would read slave narratives to understand the first person experience of people then. That kind of research would bring about better historical accuracy as well as make them feel more empathy for their black characters. They might learn a thing or two, even change their present day perspective on race relations.
     
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  19. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    "Irregardless is a word commonly used in place of regardless or irrespective, which has caused controversy since the early twentieth century, though the word appeared in print as early as 1795."- Wikipedia
     
  20. Kingtype
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    Kingtype Always writing or thinking things XD Staff Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    Right under your nose!
    Aint no big deal. If it fits the time period, people will get offended by anything either way but hell if it fits the time and or character then go all out and dont worry.

    Also its more accurate the honest way
     
  21. Kingtype
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    Kingtype Always writing or thinking things XD Staff Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    And honest is not always pretty or politically correct XD most of all back in the day
     
  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The word cet as an alternative to cat also appeared in print in 1795, when Jedediah Thompson first attempted to piece together the name of the beast in a letter to his wife in January of that year.
     
  23. C. W. Evon
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    C. W. Evon Member

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    *whispers a thank you* I wanted to say that, but I didn't want to be mean!
     
  24. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I thought we were trying to be offensive...?
     
  25. C. W. Evon
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    C. W. Evon Member

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    I am very sorry for sounding insensitive; I truly did not mean to be. I didn't mean to imply that in any way political correctness doesn't matter. I'm very worried about the issue of political correctness vs. historical accuracy, which was why I started this thread.

    Part of my concern is I have a dearly loved aunt who is black. I have two beautiful, wonderful mixed-race cousins. Even though it's the twenty first century, when she and my uncle and their kids go somewhere, they get dirty looks. It makes me exceedingly angry that this still goes on. It makes me angry that my cousins (currently 6 and 4) are having to grow up with that. Like interracial families are not okay--in 2015. Like their family is not okay. As angry as I am about this, I don't pretend to come close to imagining what it must be like to face that first-hand, on a regular basis. That shouldn't be part of anyone's life.

    My book does not deal directly with slavery; it's about the wave of people who moved west after the war. Obviously, having just been through a war over the issue, my characters have strong opinions on this (well, Miles isn't emotionally mature enough to really have a strong opinion on it, but he definitely wasn't pro-slavery). Other than the fact that there is some subtle animosity between his best friend, who fought for the Union, and a nearby family who was on the Confederate side, however, these opinions aren't really mentioned.

    I'm not writing a novel about slavery. Nor would I even presume to try. That story is not mine to tell.

    Again, I am so sorry that I was offensive and hope you will forgive me. I'm not very good at conveying my thoughts to others.
     
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