I don’t feel like linking but there’s an essay going around about the lit world and I’ve seen a lot of fist pumping excitement about it.
My initial response was tepid.
Mainly because these are issues I know I’ve written and talked about and as usual, it’s another topic where I see a lot of folks get excited when a nice White lady says it, when I said it for years I got a lot of very shitty responses.
Part of that is because I don’t say it like this:
Let us not make people at the margins into scouts or spies for the mainstream. Let us stop asking people to speak for the entire cacophonic segment of humanity that shares their pigmentation, genitalia, or turn-ons.
Let us spend more time in those uncomfortable moments when our privilege is showing. Let us reflect there, let us linger, rather than recoil into the status quo.
I say things like yo this is racist.
I say, this is sexist.
I am not a nice White lady so when I buck up against the status quo I become a threat and a bully. White writers presume I don’t understand the differences between aesthetics, technically “good” writing, that I am a fascist and pro censorship, that my knee jerk reactions are bad, that my writing sucks, blablabla. All things that have been said to me personally in the comments, via messages on social media etc. A personal favorite from some dude I’ve never heard of via email, “You’re no Roxane Gay.”
No sir, I am not.
I understand why it is that my own work in regard to certain topics in publishing aren’t met with the same AWWW YEAH response that On Pandering was. I get it.
When Marlon James said that authors of color pander to White women I fist pumped.
My reasons for agreeing with that statement by itself, aren’t the same reasons he gave so let’s talk about that shall we?
Being a Black woman author, I’ve spent a lot of my time yes pandering to White women in lit.
In super seekrit supposedly feminist writer spaces where, I experienced some of the worst abuse, gaslighting and racism of my entire fucking life. Pure disrespect and a boot in the neck wearing White Privilege Nikes that I still feel the bruises from. I discovered yet another literary space where, solidarity and support and professional connections were promised so long as I maintained my Nice Negress face. It got to be straight up abuse and I flounced like a mother fucker to the point where I removed ALL links to my work at my own peril because fuck those people.
This was not one group it was most of them.
I spent months biting my tongue, politely educating, sharing my work on how not to be a fucking racist, and got a lot of bullshit in return.
I remember very clearly just prior to me rage quitting the big super seekrit lady group, a White woman writer/publisher/mover shaker sent me a very long private message on facebook detailing ALL the ways she had decided that because of my aggression (I said no to White women), my “unsisterly attitude” (I said no to White women who were demanding my emotional labor for free and with a smile) and the one that hurt me the most “if you weren’t so aggressive I would have read your piece” (after I linked this piece in a long and awful “discussion” about White women and racism) she went on to explain that she has connections in the industry and if my name came up in her circles she’d be sure to caution people about working with me because I did not lay down and get fucked by her and other White women writers Whiteness hard ons.
Since I removed myself from that group and most of the others associated with it, I’ve watched other WOC try so hard to not do what I did.
I watch them and we talk, and they cry and we all burn because unlike me a lot of the WOC writers I am connected have oceans more patience than I do.
The fact is, many White women are in fact gatekeepers. They might not be the gatekeepers of big house publishing, but as publishing in the trenches goes, they are. They are editors and in other positions where many WOC have to choose between pandering, indulging, pleasing those White women or staying true to their vision.
I’ve seen it happen time and again. WOC writers having to fight against “aesthetics” that prevent them from capitalizing or specifying Black, having editors change their work to the degree that it strips racial identity from it, being in a position where they don’t have enough power to really be demanding because let’s face it, if you are not a name authors it is an extra hill to climb to be able to get your work out AND be defiant.
I’ve watched WOC be pushed out of groups intended to be resources and sources of support and opportunity because they got too uppity and refused to be silent when bullshit was bullshit.
It’s happened to me.
I’m sure it’s happened to a lot of us.
So yes, YES many of us have to pander.
We have to learn how to navigate places where Whiteness is wielded like a weapon and it is our opportunities to be published being held hostage. It is fucking up our livelihoods.
So, while we’re all fist pumping about “pigmentation differences” remember that a lot of us who are not name authors, we’re not midlist, you’ve probably never heard of us are already in the trenches. Maybe start with paying attention to what the fuck we’ve been saying for years.
Then fist pump.
Or you know, do something.