This week I’m tackling a hard subject. In the novel I’m writing, one character is biologically immortal. He’s 251. He’s been in the US Marines for nearly his entire life. Humans have not always done what modern people consider right. Racial and ethnic groups have been, and continue to be, considered inferior, enslaved, persecuted, warred against unjustifiably, and subject to genocide.
Another character has developed into am Alaska Native. How should those characters interact? Will they feel awkward, ashamed, furious? Will they be unable to speak to one another? I don’t know yet.
I’m surprised this conflict did not occur to me sooner. I’m reminded of that old question. If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would you choose? If you are privileged, most of the recent historical figures would accept your invitation. If the person you chose was infamous, like Hitler, you’d ask him questions, like “how could you do that to those other people?”
The invitations of less privileged people might be rejected altogether if the historical figure was homophobic, sexist, or racist. If you are less privileged, you might ask, “why did you do that to my people?”
And I’m not talking about someone with ancestors from England inviting a viking to dinner and and saying, “you probably did something bad to one of my ancestors.” I’m talking about recent history.
Further, I recognize there are people with a family member at Pearl Harbor who could yell at a Japanese general, but that was a politically motivated atrocity aimed at a military target (though many civilians were killed). It’s not quite the same in my mind.
It’s said that privilege is almost invisible to the privileged themselves. I hope this hypothetical situation can help people start thinking or talking about it.