Exploring the complexity of love through creating a crime family ‹ CrimeReads

I have long wanted to understand how family members can love and hurt each other at the same time. This is the idea I clung to when I sat down to write my second novel, half outlaw.

My goal was to write a story about a family with problematic views regarding race, ethnicity, gender and identity because that was something that, as a mixed (half Mexican, half white) woman, , I was trying to understand within my own family. Somewhere along the way, I turned the fictional family into an all-white outlaw motorcycle club called the Lawless and gave the main character, Raqi, the same racial and ethnic identity as me.

They say to write what you know, but it was only through Raqi’s experiences that I was able to do that. What did I know about crime families or even motorcycles? My family is made up of postal workers and I am known among my friends as the “manager”. Even so, an outlaw motorcycle club is where I was led, so I followed through, referring to a wide range of resources to make the club as authentic as possible.

The Lawless were Vietnam War veterans, returning home to find it difficult to fit into society. With Billy as their leader, the Lawless began selling and circulating drugs throughout the United States. Crime became part of the fictional club, as it allowed them to live independently of a society, they no longer fit in.

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In my research, I found that outlaw motorcycle clubs—especially those that engaged in criminal activity—seemed to operate more like a pseudo-family than an organization. They called themselves “brothers” and had a loyalty to each other that rivaled the feelings of love we have for people related by blood. I could work with that.

In 1921, Freud published a book entitled Group psychology and ego analysis in which he examined how groups form and function. Although he focused on the military and churches in the study, his findings relate to a wide range of groups, including fraternities, sororities, religions, secret societies like Freemasons, clubs of bikers and criminal organizations.

Freud pointed out that in any relationship between two people there are feelings of aversion and hostility. However, feelings of aversion disappear when people join groups where the members and the leader share a common trait or quality. Within the group, the members receive and experience a type of love that unites them.

As Freud writes: “As long as a group formation persists or expands, the individuals of the group behave as if they were uniform, tolerate the peculiarities of its other members, assimilate to them and do not experience no feeling of aversion towards them. their.”

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The Lawless, as an outlaw motorcycle club, was the kind of group that Freud had studied. The club first came together in common for their love of motorcycles and to be among others who experienced the Vietnam War first hand. It didn’t hurt that they were all of the same race, which would have been the norm for clubs in the 1950s and 1960s in America. With these commonalities, the fictional club bonded, and love and loyalty became synonymous.

half outlaw couldn’t just be about a group of motorcycle club members living in harmony and working towards the same goal. There is no tension in this story. But introduce a brown-skinned mixed-race girl into an all-white, criminal pseudo-family and she might challenge lawless ideas of love and loyalty.

In the novel, Raqi enters the Lawless family at the age of four. After the death of her parents, she is sent to California to live with her uncle, Dodge, a drug-addicted man and member of the Lawless. Raqi takes after her Mexican father and her complexion makes her an immediate outsider.

Writing about a mixed race girl with a white family was not a difficult task for me, as it is something I know intimately. As a half-Mexican, half-white woman with brown skin, I quite often felt like an outsider among the white side of my family. I knew what it was like for my family to love me, but also to do and say things that hurt me too.

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The white uncle who called me a “half outlaw” in 2014 and thus inspired the title of the novel is a good example. He doesn’t give anyone birthday gifts, but once gave me $50 for my birthday and randomly sent me “Thinking of you” and “Hope you’re well” messages on Facebook. He’s also not shy about using slurs about blacks, Latinos and gay people or expressing support for Trump’s xenophobic policies.

Then there’s my mom, a blonde, blue-eyed Caucasian woman, who praises my career and accomplishments to friends and strangers, calls me often to see how I’m doing, and fills up on my meals. and favorite wines when I come home to visit. But she also shared a Facebook post on the pro-border wall during my first author book tour and once told me that white actors can and should be able to play characters of color.

These encounters are just a few of the many encounters I’ve used to inspire the kind of love Raqi has with her uncle and the club that raised her. The lawless loved Raqi, and yet, because of their privilege as white men and their comfort with violence and crime, they hurt her too. They may have given Raqi clothes, school supplies and Christmas gifts when she was a child and watched and cared for her when Dodge was off on drug runs, but they also showed contempt and disrespect. racist attitudes towards people of color, including Latinos. The Lawless involved her in club rides in a way they did not with other Lawless children and yet they were violent towards women and sexually harassed Raqi as a teenager.

In my experience, groups and families like each other and often function more similarly than one. As Freud said, members of groups love each other through their commonalities and ignore anything that makes them different to maintain harmony. That’s why some of my family members and the lawless may have negative views about Latinos, but love me, support me, and protect me and Raqi. In fact, by ignoring that our ethnic identity is the same (at least in part) as the ethnic identity of those towards whom they may be prejudiced, our family tells us that we are one of them. It may sound ironic, hypocritical, insane, or twisted, but it’s still love.

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As mixed-race women, Raqi and I take note of these opposing behaviors and beliefs because they directly affect us as outsiders of the group, our family. We can feel the love, just as we feel the pain of realizing that if we weren’t part of their group or family – whether by blood or adoption – they would treat us as they would treat anyone who looks like us.

I can’t say that all crime families will love the same way I portrayed the love between the Lawless and Raqi. This kind of love is passionate, loyal and supportive, at the same time it is painful and traumatic.

With half outlaw, I wanted to explore the idea of ​​how family members can love and hurt each other at the same time. I thought it might be easier to examine this concept by writing about a mixed-race woman in a crime family. To represent this complex form of love as it exists in real life, my life, would have been a little too close to home.


Sharon D. Cole