Sunday, June 14, 2015

Are we really asking if white men should stop writing?

When I first read this, I thought, "this has to be satire." Apparently, it's not, but  it name drops so many of the current SJ tropes that I assumed it had to be.
Sometimes I feel like the time to write from my experience has passed, that the need for poems from a white, male perspective just isn’t there anymore, and that the torch has passed to writers of other communities whose voices have too long been silenced or suppressed. I feel terrible about feeling terrible about this, since I also know that for so long, white men made other people feel terrible about who they were. Sometimes I write from other perspectives via persona poems in order to understand and empathize with the so-called “other”; but I fear that this could be construed as yet another example of my privilege—that I am appropriating another person’s experience, violating that person by telling his or her story.
There is validity in asking what's "appropriate" given the backlash a lot of writers have faced for not showing diversity, but I don't see why this burden needs to fall on writers themselves and not publishers? Writing "the other" into fiction isn't appropriating someone else's experience unless you are literally doing that. The trick is to do it well and not stereotype.

(That isn't entirely true: there is room for stereotypical, but dimensional characters. I don't necessarily think it's bad unless your views on what a, say, a gay man living in New York in the 1980s, or a white, southern working-class woman are severely limited. But no, I don't think you should actively resist every single stereotype to the point that your character is unrecognizable. Layering is a good way out of this.)

The advice?
[...] people inevitably respond by telling women to write more, submit more, and pitch more. I think this is exactly the wrong response: Instead we should tell men to submit less. Pitch less. Especially white men. You are already over-represented. Most literary magazines are drowning in submissions. Instead of making things even harder for overworked, underpaid editors, let’s improve the ratios in the submission pool by reducing the number of inappropriate, firebombed submissions from men. You – white men – have all the advantages here, so you should work to solve the problem of imbalance, instead of putting all the burden on women, POC, and LGBTQ to fix it themselves. (And I’m suspicious in any case that perfectly balanced submission queues would always lead to gender parity on the other side.)
Again, the onus should be on publishers and editors, not individual writers. Telling men to "submit less" does nothing to achieve equality if publishers aren't looking for writers who aren't straight white men. 
Read more books by women, POC, and LGBTQ writers. Make their experience a bigger proportion of your reading, and learn that way instead of by appropriating their voices. Then amplify what you love – recommend those books to friends, teach them if you teach, give them away as presents.
I think this is a little simple. Of course, no one who suggests this is asking perspective readers to seek out, say, Thomas Sowell, a black conservative. It smacks of "give me a cookie" activism. Read Toni Morrison because she's an excellent writer, not because she's a woman of color. My advice would be to instead read something that a) angers you. Something that b) scares you. And c) something that disgusts you. Push your own boundaries. Adding LGBT or POC to your reading list without stepping outside your comfort zone isn't going to make you a better writer.