Friday, February 17, 2012

White People, Black Stories: James Patterson Channels a Black Detective

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

I have to admit, I've never, ever read anything written by the prolific, James Patterson. Not because I have anything against him or his work, he just doesn't write in a genre that I'm terribly interested in. But I have a lot of respect for him as an author who single handedly keeps the publishing industry afloat.

I do have a James Patterson story though. I remember being in the library a few years ago, and seeing an "Alex Cross" novel prominently displayed on the shelf. Because I am a voracious reader, as well as a book reviewer, I knew about Alex Cross. I knew he was a Black detective and the basis for a widely popular series, one that began with the book, Along Came a Spider. I picked up the book, thinking maybe I'd give it a try. Up until then, yes, I admit it, I assumed the author of Along Came A Spider, the creator of Alex Cross, HAD to be Black. Imagine my shock and surprise when I discovered James Patterson was White. I actually got into a fight with the librarian when she corrected my assumption. Okay it wasn't a fight, it was mostly me just going, 'No way! Are you sure?'

But, yes indeed, James Patterson is very White and very Rich. And not just because of Alex Cross. He's written so much more than that one series, but Alex Cross was crucial in building that fortune. In fact, the Alex Cross series has been tagged as the best-selling detective series in the United States in the last ten years. Not bad Mr. Patterson. Going Black obviously has its priveledges.

So, I'm of course wondering, what drove Patterson to create a Black main character? I'm curious what his connection to the Black community is, if at all.

Here's how Patterson answered that question from a reader in 2010:
"My grandparents had a small restaurant when I was a little kid, and there was an African-American woman who was a cook there. I spent tons of time with her and her family. I always kept them in the back of my head, and the aura of that household is part of what drove me to create the Cross family. So it's not just Alex."

Like I said, I've never read a James Patterson novel, so I cannot comment on how authentic his Black characters are, but this comment makes me a wee bit wary. Your grandparents' cook is your connection to the Black community? Really? But again, these books are a huge hit, so he's obviously doing something really well and race probably has nothing to do with it. I know plenty of Black people who are big fans of Patterson's and love the fact that Alex Cross is Black. It doesn't matter one bit that his creator is White.

So, I'm just curious. Did anybody else out there at one time think James Patterson was Black because of his Alex Cross series? Does anybody else think it's kind of weird that Tyler Perry has been cast to play the celebrated detective in the next Alex Cross movie? Yeah, me too.



Itsbugart said...

"I spent tons of time with her and her family."

Sounds to me like he knew a bunch of black folks that he met through the cook, not just the one woman who worked at the restaurant. Maybe he played with her kids and had dinner with the extended family, etc. and had friendships with different family members?

LT said...

Maybe? I hope so.

foxikaye said...

I am a huge fan of Patterson. He had to (must still does) a huge connection with the black community, his books are extremely detailed, like Alex listening to Frankie Beverly and Maze in his car.he also paints Alex's family in a positive light. The type of family I grew up in, not a Bill Cosby or Madea type
I have branched out and started reading lot if his other works, there was one about a girl with wings named Max, that had me wishing I was a mutant, lol!!! I am 34!
I had heard that Edris Ilba(spelling?) was originally casted play Cross and I wish they would have kept him....

Demetrius Sherman said...

The writer of "Shaft" black PI stories is white.
Neil Cross, author of black detective Luther is white.
Author of "In the Heat of the Night" with black Virgil Tibbs....

Be nice if an African American wrote about a white detective!

Demetrius Sherman said...
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Demetrius Sherman said...
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Anonymous said...

Really? I just finished reading an Alex Cross novel & I thought that his character was a pretty poor representation of a black detective living in DC in the early-mid 90s. Granted, I'm white. But, for someone who lived a LONG time in DC with more than just one black cook as a friend, I thought he just sounded like a middle aged white guy who did a little bit of research on music. Could just be the particular book I read, too... don't know. The book I read (Cat & Mouse) barely even touched on the issues facing those living in DC during that time period. Maybe he did that in earlier books.

Demetrius Sherman said...

Well Anonymous, I just wonder if people who say Cross seems white have a stereotypical view of blacks?
I mean he is highly educated and so learned the same things in college that whites would. Being an educated professional, he would speak and act like one, right? In that educated background, a lot of that stuff would rub off on him.

Unknown said...

As a black man Im happy there is A black character .period. Whoever writes the story is irrelevant. unless of course said black character is sittin with a bucket of chicken in his lap eating watermelon drinkin champipple... But besides avoiding these and other obvious stereotypes the BLACK experience is different for everyone..