I was doing some research last week and scanned Twitter to see what articles might appear under the hashtag “interracial.” Oh my lands. I am not old enough to see what I cannot now unsee. A whole stream of fetish links and images came waterfalling, and it made me so so sad. I understand that interracial marriage was once outlawed in this country. I understand that some people would still like that to be the case. But is this why the word is now in the domain of the fetishists? Because it was once a taboo relationship, it’s now relegated to X-rated content, exclusively?
Or was I too quick to accept this as a single story?
If, at any point in the late 80s or early 90s, you came home after school and switched on the TV, chances are you became acquainted with this guy:
Remember Britannica Boy? His report dilemma? How he got a B+ on his eventual report because of too much information–”overkill”? Didn’t we all just go racing to call that 1-800 number to own ourselves the greatest encyclopedia in the world? Imagine the comprehensive reports about plankton and Cherokee tribes and Papua New Guinea we could write!
I still remember a time when this was how we researched. We sought out texts, dusty old books and periodicals in archives. We skimmed microfiche, and by “we,” I most certainly include myself because tedious, arcane forms of research were my jam, man.
I am not such a reactionary that I believe old school research was just inherently better than what Google nets us, but it certainly felt to me like it was more of an investment: of time, of brain power, of a desire to really be satisfied about The Whole Story.
I’ve lost some of that. I’ve lost the Britannica Boy in me, and I suspect I’m not alone. I’m too quick to accept the single story, despite the fact that every year, I invite Chimamanda Adichie into my advanced reporting class via Ted Talk and am cautioned once again against accepting the single story. It’s the difference between knocking on someone’s door versus searching for someone. It’s the difference between accepting “Ah, nobody’s home” and going to the next door to see if the neighbors know anything. I’m a lazy researcher and what does that say about me?
I thought about the single stories that could be written about me if no one was doing comprehensive research. If someone just observed me or knew me in a certain context, they could easily observe:
1. She is a mess–look at how all her library books are overdue.
2. She is so selfish–look at how she parked like she was the only car in the lot.
3. She has ADHD — her ability to concentrate on one task is nil to none.
4. She is a health nut–look at her lunch, so healthy!
I am guilty of writing these kinds of character profiles of others in my head. I relegate people to the Minivan Mafia, to the ranks of the Holier than Thou, to the Den of Sinners. Who benefits from these single stories. Not the characters in them and least of all the author. So why do we write them and why do we accept them?
My desire is to keep knocking on doors and keep writing the story. It’s what I would want for myself, for my family, and the child of the 80s in me knows it can earn me at least a B+ on the report, right?