This post is brought to you by me having to navigate the Default and Correctness of Whiteness in my literary life this week.
A few things.
I’m very low on spoons. I will not link to any of the trash I discuss, you’ll have to google first. Also if you don’t know what I mean by default Whiteness, or Whiteness as a concept and destructive construct, do not comment and be mad. Either google or go watch this puppy video cause shit is about to get real.
There are a few articles going around that are anti-sensitivity reader and I’ve been involved with three very distinct (as in zero overlap) conversations about it with White people who have all made the same assertions that sensitivity editors/readers are:
- Looking to profiteer off of censorship.
- Will change the voice of the original author.
- Don’t know what they are doing.
- Are “forcing” identity politics into writing.
- Are actively trying to as a whole rook poor White people out of money basically.
AGAIN for the cheap seats. Some things are censorship other things are not. Things that are not censorship*:
- Being told no.
- Being critiqued and dare say I fucking DRAGGED and publicly read for filth due to writing, editing or publishing fuckshit.
- Being told that you’ve written, said, produced or published something actively harmful.
- Being called an asshole (taken from a real comment to me by someone RE: the Paris Review post/s I made way back).
- Not being given primacy in writing about a thing.
These are things that come up constantly in my lit life. Most of the time cries of censorship begin when White authors feel threatened by POC talking to them about their use of their Whiteness when it is a problem.
By that I mean things like, saying hey just because you can write about something, doesn’t automatically make yours the voice. This is what I was talking about in this entry. And in saying it, I spent months being harassed and often the first “criticism” was that I a writer am pro censorship because I said they could have used the opportunity to feature a Black Poet during such a time of historic Black action.
Here’s the thing. I am against censorship. Censorship as enacted by religious concerns and the government.
Publishing is not magic, it doesn’t happen by vote and publishing companies are not the government. Nobody is entitled to publishing. Nobody is entitled to be the primary voice on an issue just because they can talk.
I go on at length about this because over the past, let me be generous and say five years specifically, it is only White people who apparently lose all ability to think critically and if I a Black person, dare to correct or instruct them, or even just talk about Weaponized Whiteness (and by extension using Whiteness as both Correctness and the Default) suddenly, it is censorship. That is not how censorship works.
Now in the context of a sensitivity reader, the conversations I was a part as if the very idea that they, Paragons of Correct Whiteness they were, could ever fuck up writing something.
Okay look. I fully believe that you and everyone else in the world can write what the fuck they want, when the fuck they want.
I also believe that is you say, write a children’s book that portrays a slave child as a happy little worker yeah, you deserve to get dragged.
Now, what amuses and frustrates me in these things is the assurance that oozes from the assertions of how terrible “identity politics” are and how, if only those people could see, Whitey Whitepants writer didn’t mean to write a racist polemic that would give Lovecraft a boner, GOSH.
Of COURSE a White writer or a straight writer etc who is trying to create or delve into the world of marginalized peoples is going to likely not always do a bang up job. No wait let me put it into a different context.
If you are a nerd like me, you probably see stuff in TV or movies are like, WHO THE FUCK GREENLIT THIS SHIT, THAT IS NOT HOW THAT WORKS…
That’s reasonable right? It’s reasonable to expect that something presented as a professional thing, was researched beyond wiki.
So why would it be any different than writers who are writing say Black folks in their stories to check in with real live Black people to see if they are doing things wrong?
If your voice is so fragile as an author, it can’t withstand something like:
Hey Whitey Whitepants writer, here in chapter 4 you have X character seeming to have an “urban” meltdown calling the one Black character homie over and over again and doing their MTV showed me what Negroes be doin schtick and it is not great for these reasons:
That is how it works. This is a professional service, that is not designed to censor or ruin your precious work. It’s to help you uncenter yourself and your experience and have a moment to connect with your readership on a far deeper level.
The other problem I have is this.
Aside from perambulating around for about 40 years in a Black Queer body, I have been studying, writing about, talking about, dealing with racism for about that long. Depending on who I’m talking to, sometimes (as y’all know if you read me regularly) I use very academic language, sometimes I don’t. I code switch like a mother fucker.
That said, for the last two weeks or so here’s how those conversations have gone. Without rancor on my part.
Person posts link to shitty article about the terrors of Sensitivity readers/editors or posts a link to a blog post by a semi famous White lady writer: OMG They are going to censor us and ruin our work! How terrible! We can’t stand for this.
Me: That is not what sensitivity readers/editors are for. They do (insert examples of stuff they do) nobody -has to use them- dude you’re fine.
Random other White people: fall all over each other to “correct” me (not that they use or have acted as sensitivity readers), explain to me how having this option is automatically censorship, how it is an attempt to co-opt or otherwise fool innocent White writers into being SUPER PC.
Me: ………..no it is just like asking an expert in a field you’re writing in.
Them: NO IT IS NOT.
The problem isn’t the arguments. The problem is that even in instances where I am/have shared my work/thoughts on these things, Whiteness is always given the immediate trust that they are correct. Even when they are loudly proclaiming something that is dead ass wrong.
Then, regardless of what I say or how it is said, it takes another White person to come along and occasionally repeat what I’ve said verbatim and then, OH WOW I NEVER THOUGHT OF IT THAT WAY.
I’ve spoken with MANY poc about this. 90% of the time, we are thought to be wrong. People say things like: knee jerk, bullying, mean, trying to “turn” someone PC, that we’re silencing, pro-censorship.
If the people speaking up happen to be Black women, the language is carefully not overtly racist but, the impression is always either that Black women are mean and aggressive or liars or otherwise are the perpetrators of violence even when what’s actually happened is that folks have been given some high level major education on anti-Blackness.
Intent and impact are vastly different and White folks, men especially if your first instinct is to “prove” someone wrong, maybe it’s time to examine that. More so if part of your remarks are to say that you don’t actually know about the thing and don’t use it.
Now, I could have posted this in the spaces I was talking about but it is easier for me to leave them. As I’ve said many times in the last year, y’all I have written about this shit so fucking much. And you know what the actual worst thing is?
It’s not the Default and Correct Whiteness.
It is the fact that it doesn’t matter how I talk about these things, because I am Black and use words, I’m put into the ANGRY NEGRO corner and then White folks who don’t like what I have to say can be like, oh well you’re so angry I can’t listen to this/take it in.
Tone policed to fucking death.
And I’m not mad. It’s painful.
It hurts to be dismissed out of hand because White is Right.
It hurts because writing and literature have been my driving passions since I read a book about a pregnant dog when I was 3 years old. It is my blood and my bones. It gets me through bullshit ass days at my dayjob. It has led me to meeting some of the most important and most wonderful people I’ve ever met in my life. It has led me to my chosen family and to a place in my actual soul that feels free. It is my passion and my companion and the work of my heart and I love it so much.
And my love of literature and writing is the only reason why I keep talking about these things. I don’t try to change shit I don’t care about.
And yet, all this passion and there have been moments where I’ve literally said hey, person you are causing me harm right now or I’ve said that I’m hurt and you know what?
I’m not a White woman so White folks are relentless. Harm to me doesn’t exist because I’m always perceived as angry, aggressive and scary.
And after so many years of trying so hard to be a good literary citizen and use my knowledge about these issues to help- I’m just kinda done.
This entry wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have a migraine and need to keep my brain busy at work and I needed to get out some hurt without yelling at folks.
The take is this.
When used as the only measure of calm, competency Whiteness will fail. Not only will it fail but in the context of the literary community, will drive folks out and if that’s the point hurrah! If that’s not the intended consequence, then think about how you interact with POC before you decide they are wrong about the thing you don’t even know about.
*There are times when these behaviors are rooted in the spirit of censorship and are actual censorship as in done by the government but we’ll talk about that later.