Monday, December 21, 2015

Black Writers in a Post-Racial Age?

By now, anyone who's been paying attention knows that post-racial is just another myth among America's press clippings. I doubt that the publishing world has ever believed itself to be post-racial though. Consider the watermelon joke at the National Book Awards ceremony just last year when Jacqueline Woodson received her award for Black Girl Dreaming.

And it's hard to ignore that some bookstores still segregate writing by black writers from that by white writers. Even Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison has been sometimes cordoned off. So, there's not much more to say about that.

Still, I share this link to an extraordinarily beautiful and provocative essay by Saeed Jones at BuzzFeed, "Self Portrait of The Artist As Ungrateful Black Writer." For a number of reasons this article resonated with me. I especially appreciated his honesty about the pressure for black writers to be more polite and docile than white writers if they want to have careers:
You can make yourself crazy simply by paying attention. The publishing industry on which my work depends is 89% white. And so, when one of those white people puts their hands in my hair, it’s difficult for me to speak up in the moment, or even months later, because I want to have a career, not just one book. I suspect there are limits to the literary elite’s willingness to tolerate an insistently “angry black writer” in their presence. Writers who speak out too loudly, too often will never be told explicitly “you’ve bitten the hand that feeds you” but there are so many ways to starve.
Yes, the need to eat and live indoors is a thing.

Jones also tells of his experience going to and being at a party with the nearly all-white literary elite and how he felt about that experience as a young, black, gay male. He acknowledges that creepy impression we black writers sometimes get that we are a trophy in someone's effort to prove she or e's open to everyone, even black people. It's a cleansing read.

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