Tackling racism in 99 words has been the most difficult writing challenge to date at Carrot Ranch, followed by unicorns and rainbows. The task of solving racism in any word count seems of epic mythical proportions. Yet, writers tapped out stories that reveal racial chasms and responses.
These stories are meant to start at the beginning and validate that racism is real. Some scenarios might be familiar; others might shed new light. To heal, we must first recognize the disease. We need to find ways to relieve the pressure before more social earthquakes build in magnitude.
Use these stories to start conversations. And that is what literature can do–initiate the discussion with imagined stories that reflect the social issue of our times. The following stories are based on the April 29, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that tackles racism.
A Bigot by Ruchira Khanna
“I can do this. Please give me a chance” came an urgent request.
Ann scrutinized him from head to toe and stamped his papers with a wiggly nose.
He quickly scanned them and fetched his uniform.
With lots of apprehensions, entered the work scenario.
He could feel the stares and ogles of his co-workers. But with shaky hands, he adjusted his turban and pushed the long strands inside.
Just then, a few men surrounded him.
His hands gave away to the cloth; his eyes widened when he felt the pressure of their friendly grips and a unison, “Welcome!”
Ratifying Office Policies by Charli Mills
Mel grabbed Gerry’s coat sleeve as he walked out of the meeting.
“Can you tell me who’s under consideration?”
“My office. Ten minutes.”
In his office, Gerry confided the three candidates for the sales department. “Mel, management is favoring this one.” He slid a resume to her.
“Where’s the qualifications?”
“We support affirmative action and this candidate is…you know…like you…”
“A Navy vet?”
“A college graduate?”
“Mel, don’t be difficult. I thought you’d be pleased.”
“That management is hiring a person of color out of white guilt? That’s the worst kind of racism, Gerry.”
A Southern Belle Extends an Olive Branch by Paula Moyer
Jean’s grandparents had traced their genealogy. Southern to the core, they discovered wills in which their ancestors had passed on their slaves, like they were any other property.
Jean now stared at her copy of the genealogy, at one handwritten will. A “wench named Jane” would go to the ancestor’s wife.
Who was Jane? Was she the missing link for someone trying to trace his ancestors?
Jean googled Henry Louis Gates, Jr., creator of the “Finding Your Roots” series on PBS.
“Dear Mr. Gates: my grandparents’ genealogy work unearthed several wills that mentioned slaves. Could I help your project?”
Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning
The rain prattled against the metal roof of the Anderson Humane Society, where inside a very serious matter was at paw.
“Orange cats cannot be trusted. Why, they’re not even cats really.” Preston, the white Persian bellowed. “Just troublemakers.”
“They are inferior.” The Siamese hissed.
“Hey my father was orange,” said Ramona the calico, between licks of her tail.
“That’s different,” Preston conceded.
“This sounds familiar,” Ben, the black cat muttered.
Phil glanced at the jury. A Burmese, three silver tabbies. A Sphynx? He slunk down in his cage.
He’d sure hopped off the truck at the wrong town.
Declaring War by Charli Mills
Lucy parked behind Ken’s truck along the reservation river. Her Forest Service uniform was sweaty, coated with sawdust.
“Hey Little Sister!”
Lucy accepted a cold Pepsie, nodding to Ken and his companions.
“We’re doing it. Declaring war on those white bastards.” Young brown faces smirked.
“Gotta go,” she said, hearing her radio. Wildfires were closing in.
“Bah! White man’s work.”
Later, bagging bodies of nameless campers consumed by fire, she reflected how ashes concealed skin color. My war is holding back flames. We all live and die. She would live to fight for all skins. Rescue honored her ancestors.
United by Ruth Irwin
They came from all corners of the globe to a small Pacific nation. All had a common goal – to help those less fortunate than themselves.
Male and female; school leavers and middle aged; English speaking and a variety of other tongues. The differences in ages, backgrounds and languages are insignificant. In past ages these people would have been mortal enemies; now they are kindred spirits united as one.
All are willing and eager to immerse themselves in a new culture; to learn, to share, to accept, to embrace, to enrich the community and take home what cannot be bought.
Dance Like Everyone’s Watching by Sarah Brentyn
“Why do you hide this?” He brushed his thumb across her cheek, lifting thick curls off her face.
“Don’t,” she slapped his hand away, pulling her hair forward.
He leaned against the lockers, watching her.
She stuffed a chemistry book into her bag. “What?”
“I’m taking you to prom,” he smirked.
“Oh, get over yourself.”
He winked at the girls strutting by. They blew kisses. “See? They love me. And I’m taking you,” he repeated. “I want them to see us together.”
She glanced over her shoulder, catching glares. “Obviously, that’s not a good idea for you.”
Third-Grade Lesson by Larry LaForge
“I’ll trade my jello for your pudding,” Ellen said to Huong. Quanesha giggled.
Ed and Edna were enjoying Grandparents’ Day at Bayview Elementary. Their granddaughter Ellen and her best friends—the three amigas—laughed and gulped their food before skipping out arm in arm.
The sudden silence was awkward as the three sets of grandparents remained at the lunchroom table. Eyes glanced upward and downward as the elderly guests seemed to be inspecting the ceiling and floor. “Nice weather,” Edna finally offered.
Mercifully, the bell relieved them.
As they left, Ed and Edna knew the kids have it right.
The Cleaner by Sherri Matthews
“What’s that man doing, standing there like that?” said Marjory, finger pointing.
Neil brought their car to a stop on the driveway. “He’s probably just the cleaner. Come on, let’s get checked in.”
“Well, I’m not staying here with that foreigner, he looks dodgy to me.”
“Mr & Mrs Phillips?” smiled the man as he greeted the couple. “Welcome to Lavender Cottage. I’m Steve Brown, the owner. We spoke earlier on the telephone?”
Marjory coughed into her balled fist as the men shook hands.
“Nice man…” said Neil at dinner, steak perfect.
The man wasn’t mentioned again.
The Last Dinner by Charli Mills
Dawn’s family disapproved of her lifestyle. She only returned to the ranch for her father’s funeral. Her aunt served a spaghetti feed. After one bite, her uncle said. “There’s a cure for that.”
“Sew your mouth shut.”
Dawn felt color rise. Her weight was not his consideration. She waited for someone to speak up.
“You can say it’s hormones, but tell ya what, those people in concentration camps claimed no problems.”
Did he just compare dieting to the Holocaust? Dawn stood. “I’d say you’re the problem, but I’d be a bigger part if I didn’t walk away.”
Flash Fiction by A. R. Amore
Gil sat in the Home Depot parking lot, drinking his coffee watching the Mexican day laborers collect by the bus stop, their foreign babble drifting through his open window. A group of kids driving by on their way to school flung oranges at the men hollering, “Go home beaners!”
Gil agreed. “Illegals,” he thought. “No one wants you here.”
The younger migrants threw oranges back. On Gil’s passenger window a woman pounded frantically, a limp child in her arms, her Spanish non-stop. “Jesus,” he spilled some coffee.
She shook. “Please,” she repeated. “Please.”
Without thought, Gil unlocked the door.
Choose Any Colour by Geoff Le Pard
‘I was researching ritual killings. I wanted to know more about the boy they found. Why..?’
‘They were having sex.’
Paul closed his eyes. ‘Yes. I’d only just clicked on the link. They were communing with the devil. They kill young boys to pacify…’
‘You didn’t have to watch. You…’
‘Christ, Mary, it’s not like I fancied any of them.’
She glared. ‘Why? Because they’re black?’
Paul gripped the table. ‘No, because they’re not you.’
Mary shuddered, sobbing. ‘I’m so sorry.’
‘Me too. He was someone’s child, someone loved him.’ He rubbed her stomach. ‘Like we will love ours.’
The Surprise by Ann Edall-Robson
“Hi Mom, just wanted to let you know I am on my way and I’m bringing a surprise for you.”
With a smile on her face Margaret hung up the phone. “A surprise? I like surprises,” she mumbled to herself.
It was almost midnight when the back door opened to the sound of giggling.
“Mom, we’re home. Come and meet my fiancee.”
Looking through to the mud room, Margaret turned white. The welcome never left her mouth. He stood with his arm around her daughter. This was surely a joke. He was a foreigner!
And then he kissed her.
All Cats Are Grey by Pat Cummings
Hearing twigs snap behind him, Henry leaned forward to feed his campfire—more warmth, but it still barely lit his fingers.
“Join me?” he called. “I have coffee.”
Three bulky shapes loomed out of the darkness. “Thanks, man.” The fire-light was insufficient to tell who spoke. “You need more firewood.”
Henry laughed. “No, I practice the old way, ‘Indian build small fire, huddle close, stay warm; White Man build big fire, stay warm chopping wood.'”
Silence from the other side of the fire, until a sap pocket flared up to gleam from three deep-brown faces and his own white one.
Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin
It was a tough assignment and only four hours to turn it around. We’d had a tipoff about an expat Texan who hung out on Freak Street. But finding him? The taxi stalled three miles out, roads churned to rubble, street signs gone. Phone lines dead. Asking around, we were met with blank stares. Kids wailing. Families sheltering under tarpaulin. Cardboard. Those with homes still standing terrified to go indoors.
We were filming a kid blubbing among the bricks that killed his parents when we found her, tears streaming prettily down pale-pink cheeks. “The holiday of a lifetime. Ruined.”
The Rules by Ula Humienik
“Remember the rules, girls. Cover your hair, cover your arms and legs.”
“Yes, Ms. Johnson,” they said in unison.
“You don’t want to offend anyone.”
“Yes, Ms. Johnson.”
“When you return, you may remove the coverings when you are inside the safe space, but remember you must be quiet and not disturb the white peace.”
“Yes, Ms. Johnson.”
One of the girls, not dressed in the coverings, raised her hand.
“Yes, Lesli, what is it?”
“I don’t want to cover my beautiful hair or my black arms or black legs. I don’t want to be quiet and not disturb.”
Our Cousins by Irene Waters
Why the hell had he come to this rally? Yves squirmed in his seat as he listen to the vitriol pour from the mouths of the speakers. They were inciting the crowd to riot, mob and maim those from the Middle East, The Sudan and other parts of Africa. He had to risk that anger being transferred to him. He stood and commanded the floor. At least they respected him. Well at least for the moment. “Brothers” he said in a loud clear voice. “Why do you wish to hurt my brothers. We share the same Granny. Mitochondrial Eve.
Overheard in Elmira by Charli Mills
Hazelnut creamer scents my hot cup of coffee. We sit in silence, savoring the morning, listening to locals chat at the Elmira Store.
“Our church sent pastors to Baltimore.”
“What happened?” The waitress pours us all another round of coffee. My bedroom is larger than the space crammed with tables and unmatched chairs.
“It calmed things.”
“Evidently you didn’t see the pictures on the front cover!”
“And they didn’t show the pictures of the line of pastors and parents who stood between the mob and the police. Angry youth wept but fists unfolded.”
“Why wouldn’t the paper show that?”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the importance of the topic (and it’s difficulty to address in 99 words) we have two additions for your reading this week. One is a short story that exceeds the constraint but captures the vitality of the prompt and the other is an important post that gives voice to those who are marginalized. Please continue to read and use the comments if you want to add to the discussion.
Janisha by Jeanne Lombardo
Janisha planted herself before my desk. A bulwark, I thought.
“I want to talk to you,” she said.
Her tone conveyed a reprimand, not a request to a supervisor.
“Alright,” I said. “Have a seat.”
She ignored me. I looked uneasily behind her at the only door to my office and the empty hallway beyond.
“You might close the door,” I said, remembering the discrimination complaint she’d filed against another manager. I’d already gotten her play-by-play account of the incident, despite the dean’s warning not to discuss it.
I suppressed a sigh of defeat. Composed my face to its managerial mask. Wondered again what made this woman so bloody commanding: that throaty voice, those tight cornrows framing heavy brow and full purple lips. Her face belonged to some fierce Asian deity guarding a temple.
I cleared my throat. “You know it’s against policy for me to discuss your grievance,” I began.
Her face glistened like a polished stone. Glowering, I thought.
Then in a beat, she threw her head back, let out a full-throttle laugh.
“That’s not why I came in,” she said. And laid a plastic, motorized fan on my desk.
“Just gets so stinking hot back here.”
Colour My World a Rainbow by Norah Colvin
I am not participating in the flash challenge this week, feeling unable to write something that would give sufficient recognition to the gravity of the divide that is racism. However I do not want my silence to be seen as lack of concern, or negation of the importance of the issue. Instead I will use my post to amplify the voices of others. (Continue to Norah’s post to hear Dr Enyimba Maduka, Clint Smith, James A. White Sr., Nina Jablonski and more).