I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. Psalm 139:14
I have been thinking a lot about stereotypes. As I begin writing a new book with six main characters, I want to avoid stereotyping them. You know, good girl, bad guy, clingy delicate flower of a woman, busy, preoccupied man. Sometimes, it is alright to use a stereotype, readers will be able to identify with a character faster, but I really want to give my characters more depth. Something that will surprise the reader about them. I remember when I wrote the scene in Caroline’s Story where elderly, dementia patient, Eliza, stands up to the doctor and tells him to look beyond her illness. That scene even surprised me as I planned for Eliza to take it, head down, with Caroline comforting her. That is not what came out when I wrote the text and I wanted to cheer, “You go girl!” I hope readers did, too. Some stereotypes perpetuate myth or slurs, and that is not okay. The black mammy “it will all be right” woman, “yessum” black man or even in today’s world, the flamboyant fashionista gay man or dictatorial gay woman. Thinking that everyone of a particular race or identity acts the same way is wrong because we are all created differently. To write about all gay man a certain way ignores the fact that there are those who could care less what they wear, who like to play football and get dirty. To imagine that all black women wear extravagant hats to church and rule their families with an iron glove is as stereotypical as portraying black men as shiftless and lazy. And yet, our world, even writers, do it all the time. Another reason I have been thinking a lot about stereotypes is because I wear the label, Southern Baptist. I am a member of a Southern Baptist church. In fact, I attended a Southern Baptist church before I was even born! But, the world’s image of a Southern Baptist is one of a racist, gay bashing bigot. Please do not assume that everyone who worships in a Southern Baptist church holds those beliefs. In the last few years, I have been embarrassed repeatedly by the language and actions of “my” denomination. I do not hold with them nor approve them. What I have been wrestling with, especially in the last few months, after the Jen Hatmaker feeding frenzy and the most recent convention debacle is does my attendance and membership in my own local Southern Baptist church mean I tolerate those views? Does it even appear that I do? Should I instead look for a denomination that more closely aligns with my beliefs? It occurs to me, that maybe, I should stay put and try to influence the denomination through my local congregation. To love the hurting and disenfranchised there. Truly, the only way I can break down stereotypes is to avoid assumptions myself. To learn who people really are beneath the surface and to let them know me as well.