“No one can dubb you with dignity. That’s
yours to claim.”
Recently, a friend I’ll call Lisa related how her husband, who
is on a new job (after returning to work after a 3-year retirement),
missed out on the boss’s wife’s baby shower.
Dumfounded, her husband told Lisa, “Nobody sent out a memo about
the baby shower.”
In turn, Lisa told him, “No one’s going to tell you about
the occasions to score brownie points with the boss. You’ve got
to learn to read the memos that no one sends out.”
In other words, Lisa was talking about learning to read between the
lines—to understand all the social nuances of office politics.
I use this example to show how life is always operating on two levels.
We can all benefit from this remark.I still chuckle at this saying.
Looking back, Corporate America never sends out a memo on their jobs
saying, “We will promote the white person over the black person,”
but they do.
They never send out a memo saying, “We will lay you off first.
You’re last hired, first fired,” when it comes to Black
people, but it happens. (Within the last two weeks, I’ve gotten
six calls from people who have been laid off.)
When I worked for a social service bureaucracy, during the LA uprising
on April 29, 1992, there was an elusive memo that went out that said
in a subtle way, “For worker safety, you do not have to make home
calls.” (Of course, this was only meant for the white social workers.)
Okay, I’ll admit we saw and didn’t see the memo, and like
an urban myth, it never materialized again. As Black case workers who
were generally on the front lines in the field, we stayed so overwhelmed
with our nose to the grind, no one bothered to save this memo, and try
as we might, we couldn’t find it again.
In fictional writing, this is called subtext. The dictionary’s
definition is: the underlying or implicit meaning, as of a literary
work. If you really want to add depth to your stories, add the element
As black people, we all need to learn to read subtext in the media,
in the news, in our lives.
There’s a saying in Ebonics. “You never know about the goods
under the hood.”
This is your subtext. It is the element which adds literary value to
your story. It is what we don’t talk about and what’s beneath
the surface. This is real life. All the things we don’t say. For
example, it could be that many of us are afraid there is terrestrial
life out there that we don’t acknowledge. Even the government
doesn’t want to acknowledge it.
To quote W.E.B. Dubois, “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness,
this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others,
of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused
contempt and pity.”
The early Black writers tried to explain themselves to white America,
so they always felt self-conscious—that double-consciousness.
Since the 1960’s, Black books have been written for Black readers
to understand themselves and our place in the world.
As writers, never return to that point of explaining who you are, because
believe it or not, our writings are still universal. They show the yearning
of the human heart.
Use subtext in your writing and you will develop a way to recession-proof
So as Black people, writers, we have to love ourselves and give ourselves
our own self-respect and dignity.
Dr. Maxine E. Thompson is the owner of Black Butterfly Press,
Maxine Thompson's Literary Services and Thompson Literary
Show, and Maxine Show. In November 2006, she
joined Sheba Media Group as an independent agent. She hosts Internet radio
shows on www.artisfirst.com
and on www.maxineshow.com.
She is the author of nine titles, The Ebony Tree, No Pockets in a
Shroud, A Place Called Home, The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction
That Sells, How to Publish, Market and Promote your Book Via Ebook Publishing,
The Hush Hush Secrets of Creating a Life You Love, Anthology, SECRET LOVERS,
(with novella, Second Chances,) and Summer of Salvation. SECRET
LOVERS made the Black Expression's Book Club Bestselling list on 7-8-06
(after a 6-6-06 release date.) An anthology, All in the Family,
(her novella, “Summer of Salvation”) came out in April 2007).
Another new anthology, Never Knew Love Like This Before (her
novella, “Katrina Blues,”) was published in June 2007. It
was #13 on Amazon's top 100 bestseller's list and has been listed as a
multicultural and romance anthology many times. She has a book, Heal
Thy Soul, 365 Days of Healing for Women of Color, due out through
Urban Soul in November 2008.
You can sign up for her free newsletter at http://www.maxinethompson.com