You Know It’s Hard Out Here For A

So I am on the bus on my way to work this morning and I overheard this conversation between two little boys who appeared to about 11 or 12 years old and who were showing off their cell phones to each other:

Boy A: You got a text message from Michelle?

Boy B : I’m a pimp!

Wow. I realize that “pimp” has creeped into the lexicon of slang, but when did that term become a badge of honor? True, that bastion of good taste and talent Kevin Federline A.K.A Mr. Britney wore it emblazoned on the back of his track suit on his way to his wedding and it has been celebrated with an Academy Award.

I wonder if the tide began to turn back in the seventies with the character of “Sweet Daddy” on the television show “Good Times.” Certainly he was engaged in illegal activity and while he may have had to slap a ho every once in awhile just to keep her in line, deep down inside there was clearly a heart of gold. See Sweet Daddy not follow through on threats to kill J.J. Watch Sweet Daddy banter good-naturedly with Florida after storming into her apartment. What a guy!!!

The constantly evolving entity that is the English language fascinates me as does our ever growing dictionary which now includes such gems as “bootylicious.” Being African American – where slang is not only embraced, but celebrated – has given me an interesting perspective on words, both written and spoken. Friends and I have debated heatedly,sometimes for hours, on such topics as “Talking White” and “Ebonics – Who, What, Where and Who Dat Is?”

True story – A few months ago, I attended a convention for editors and writers from university and alumni publications. It turned out that I was the only black person there and a woman approached me with a question one evening as I headed out for dinner. She was from a college in the South and had been tasked with writing a newsletter for the black alumni at her school. She wondered if I had any tips as she was “worried about what type of language to use.” I toyed for about three seconds with initially responding (in my best Prissy voice): “You gots to write a newsletter for black folks? Lawd what us gonna do?!!?” but I figured that A) she wouldn’t see the humor in that and B)she wasn’t being malicious. She truly was nervous about it and worried that she would get something wrong.

I explained to her that her audience would appreciate good writing as much as anyone else would. That’s also one of the things I love about mystery fans. If your plot is good and you build a likable character, they will come.

When I first wrote “Almost Missed It By A Hair” for Baltimore Noir I worried that it was a little too “inside the African American experience” to go over well. It’s set at a black hair show which is an unrivaled spectacle not many have had the pleasure to experience. But I have been grateful for the response from people of all races and nationalities who seem to have really enjoyed it.

The universality of good storytelling is one of the reasons I want to keep doing this. It doesn’t matter if it’s black, white or whatever. It can still be read all over.