In writing Mr. Robert’s Bones, in which a racially mixed neighborhood in New Orleans struggles to find its identity, I found that the best way to deal with race was to take politics off the table. From my liberal brothers and sisters, I figured I’m damned either way. If (as a white writer) I don’t include black voices struggling with the issue, I’m marginalizing or silencing the black community. If I do include black characters who engage the issue, I’m appropriating the African-American voice. Damned either way by today’s stock liberals, I’d fare no better with a conservative politics of race, since the whole hidden strand of the novel is to find and exorcise the demonic center of the “good old days” mythology that holds up the status quo. So I figured I’d have to jettison racial politics (in all current forms) and approach the issue armed not with political weapons but with only the human heart and human imagination. Having kids play some of the protagonist parts helped, as kids have the heart and have the imagination but haven’t yet been trained into this or that posture of political belligerence.
I may or may not have failed in this regard — time will tell as readers read and weigh in — but it might be time for society at large to try some imagination-based movement outside of the normal political arena, as politics on both sides seem better equipped to draw lines in the sand than to get people of all colors, shapes, and sizes to celebrate each other without regard to those lines.