Hey folks. Long time, no post. I’ve been extremely overwhelmed this semester to say the least. This is my first semester as an MFA Writing student, as I’ve begun a dual degree/interschool program in Film Directing and Writing. It’s been hectic, but fruitful.
One of the things I’ve noticed thus far is this incessant need by some students to have writers of color point out and expose the social ills and injustices that exist within the world they are writing from. In class, Jhumpa Lahiri’s work was cited as being a “fairy tale” and presenting things safely for an American audience because it did not outwardly question the dynamics of the Indian society she was writing from. My question is what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with every writer of color not being lumped into some kind of cultural representative category? Lahiri’s work was packed with subtle details and irony, all strong in their ability to contextualize the society of the characters. So, why can’t that be enough? Why is she not allowed to write character-driven stories that aren’t overt social dissections when the same white critics who demand this, don’t do this in their own writing? I’ve yet to read a story in the class where a white writer attempts to deconstruct whiteness, privilege, and their relationship to social injustice in their fiction. Stories regularly feature themes of sexism, abuse, privilege, addiction, and class imbalance, but those elements seem to remain unquestioned when tied to white characters. However, when a writer of color pens a story where those elements are present in the text, the conversation is about these “issues” and how the writer needs to tackle them, and not about the story and characters in it.
My point is that work seems to be evaluated from a very privileged lens. I can’t stand sitting in class listening to mostly white students and faculty voice their concerns about the women in India who get burned for having sex, but fail to look at the very injustices happening RIGHT here in their own country- young girls being gang-raped and blamed for it, a black student being “auctioned” off in class by a white teacher, a Mexican child and her father brutally murdered by hateful vigilantes, as she begged for her life. Writers of color are expected to bear the brunt of social and cultural ills, while whites are the mere observers of it and not involved. If there is to be a conversation about how to confront these “issues” in writing, it cannot be one-sided. I want my writing to be read with the same character investment as another student’s, and not disregarded because I didn’t expose the ills of urban America in a way that satisfied my white classmate, who never thought or took the time to examine their role in perpetuating these very ills.