by Ernest Hogan
SPOILER ALERT: I reveal something about the ending of my novel Smoking Mirror Blues in this one . . .
He has the first line of the novel, “Not just as your President, but as someone who cares about you, I strongly recommend that you don’t go out into the streets to celebrate Dead Daze this year.” Malcom Jones, “who had been called ‘America’s first black president’ so many times in the last year that it now seems like part of his name.”
No, he wasn’t in any way based on Barack Obama.
Really, the first Wordcraft of Oregon, edition came out in 2001. And that was after years of trying to sell Smoking Mirror Blues to mainstream New York publishers.
I thought that a black president would be perfect for a futuristic recombocultural novel. I didn’t think I would see such a thing in my lifetime. In his novel We Can Build You, Philip K. Dick has a President of the United States named Mendoza in 1982, which I thought was far-fetched. I still wonder if we will ever see an American president with a Spanish name.
The future, like Tezcatlipoca, always plays the trickster . . .
A subplot of Smoking Mirror Blues is a scandal about Malcom Jones. (HERE COMES THE SPOILER!) It is revealed that he wasn’t born black, but through cultural and body modification became black.
“That’s what’s so wonderful about America,” he explains. “All things are possible here. We aren’t limited by the way things are. Here people can truly become what they want to be. Whatever they want to be.”
Some critics thought this wasn’t believable. In an information-saturated age, how could someone hide their past and mislead the world about their race?
Such things are possible. The reason comes from my own experience, which is that whether I’m black, white, or something else depends on how others are perceiving me.
As a Latino with a non-Hispanic surname, filling out forms was always a problem. “Hispanic” would usually have “Hispanic surname only” attached. I was always frustrated when filling out the “Race” section. I’m a Chicano, dammit! Why can’t they fit that into their perceptions? And checking the “Other” box was degrading.
Tezcatlipoca must have given me the idea: I decided that during my college years I would put myself down as something different every time I filled out a form. I merrily checked the boxes for “Black,” “White,” “Oriental,” “Hispanic,” even “Other.” And I smiled when I did it.
And no, it didn’t get me in any trouble.
These forms had disclaimers saying that the information would not be used to judge you, they just wanted to know how many of what ethnicities there were. Blinders were put on when it came to who was who.
Here in America we don’t keep official records of such things. You tell them what you are, and they take your word for it.
In a digital age I could see how someone could be a demographic chameleon. I’m pretty sure they’re out there. We probably run into them every day. Like President Jones said, “All things are possible here.”
The real future is probably going to be stranger than Smoking Mirror Blues. Tezcatlipoca is going to feel right at home there.