Writing the Other by Karen Brenchley

I’m very white. I grew up in Idaho and have lived for over thirty years in Silicon Valley, where my co-workers have been white or Asian of some variety (in all this time I’ve had maybe five Black male co-workers, but none of them software engineers). My family has deep roots in Texas, with both sides living on family farms that are still in the family. Thanks to my mother’s Fulbright Scholarship teaching at the National University of Rwanda, I’ve been to Africa and am close to several Rwandans who live in the US. Other than that, my English husband and I are mostly surrounded by a lot of very pale people. So when I set out to write a story, my main character told me he was a Black man.

I’ve certainly written male characters before, but I just couldn’t seem to get into the head of this one. I thought of my childhood, when I spent a lot of time visiting relatives, mostly in Tyler, Texas. I thought of the stories I’d heard from family about Black people they had known, mostly from school. That gave me some ideas, but it really wasn’t enough.

I decided to ask a Black man what it was like to grow up and live in the United States. I felt very nervous about this, especially since the first man I asked said he didn’t feel comfortable talking about it. The second Black man I reached out to, though, was happy to help, though as he spoke I could hear some strain in his voice. This is a big man, a strong man, a smart man — yet as a Black man he is afraid to walk by himself. He said he searches for other Black faces to stand near to. He also told me about being a boy, his relationship with his father, and how he was taught to behave, which struck me strongly as being very similar to my Tyler family. I then spoke to an intelligent Black man in his mid-twenties, who grew up in the US with Rwandan parents, and he also told me that he doesn’t like to be the only Black man around.

I then read “Between the World and Me”, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I had tried reading it when it came out, and just didn’t understand it, but after speaking with my friends it opened up a whole new world. I understood why my stepsister’s Black classmate had been given the first name “Mister” (so white people would always have to call him Mister). I understood the parallels between Black parents in the eastern US and white parents in the South. I recommend this book very much for any writer.

So I wrote my story about King Jackson, a Black man just out of the Army trying to find work as a data scientist, living in Oakland, California. His life contains pieces of my friends’ lives, my family’s lives in Texas, my life in Silicon Valley, and even something from Michele Obama’s father. You can find out what happens in his life in “A Bayesian Analysis of Wishes”, available in the November-December edition of ParSec magazine, edited by Ian Whates and available from PS Publishing.

Karen Brenchley founded the SF in SF reading series with Terry Bisson, edited her husband’s Lambda Award-winning collection “Bitter Waters”, and has had sf stories appear in various anthologies alone and with her husband, Chaz Brenchley. She is a data product manager in Silicon Valley and has been featured in an article about autonomous vehicles in “The Washing Post”. Her next story to appear will be “A Bayesian Theory of Wishes” in the November-December issue of Ian Whates’ new magazine ParSec. You can find out more about her on her website, Karen Brenchley.com.

About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (www.jaceybedford.co.uk), the secretary of Milford SF Writers (www.milfordSF.co.uk), a singer (www.artisan-harmony.com) and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers (www.jacey-bedford.com).
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