West Point from Phillipstown–engraving by W. J. Bennet
One of the many reasons I gave up TV, most modern movies and modern fiction is because I was so utterly bored by the “white man as the ultimate scum” story-lines. Even if the story wasn’t directly about the scum, it was implied that for the most part white men were stupid, greedy, evil and did I mention stupid? I don’t mind writing about the occasional white dumb scum when the situation arises, but I hate jumping on bandwagons and my real experience doesn’t fit that mold anyway. Okay, all judges are now black or hispanic and all women are expert fighters. Ho hum.
Confession: I refuse to make any minority group look perfect. Perfect people are boring and unbelievable. Buck is by no means perfect. He beats up and throws a black cadet at West Point over the Palisades (well, sort of and the guy survives because it’s a small fall), but then the black cadet (Milford Streeter) is a selfish and conniving young man who uses his race to guilt Buck into doing foolish things that, let’s just say, have a negative effect on Buck’s ill-fated academy years. Neither of them are complete scum (though some say all men are scum). They are both flawed. When Buck comes down with the catarrh (a cold) Streeter gives him a home remedy his grandmother used to use–the secret ingredient being pulverized peanuts. Buck’s adverse reaction leads to a whole lot of drama for the already hated Streeter. Buck is not a racist. He comes to hate Streeter on his own terms and with some good reason (if you knew Streeter you’d understand how annoying he can be).
Then there’s a missionary later in book two who happens to be a non-practicing homosexual. (When I write I don’t censor myself) I have no idea why he had to be gay with a pretty messed up past, but there he was befriending Buck and William and causing all sorts of commotion with conversions and such. His bad past comes to light, but so does his extremely positive affects on the people around him.
And that’s the way it goes. The stupidity and selfishness of humanity comes out in different shades across the cultures, genders and sexual orientations, but in the end the flaws, the love, the generosity and the humor in all their forms are a lot more interesting than trying to force new stereotypes down people’s throats.