Friday, March 16, 2012

Writing While Marginalized - Pt. 5

How do other folks who are members of historically marginalized groups, and who write about race and gender and sexuality, wrestle with writing for mainstream spaces? Do they? Should we? Are there topics writers will not or should not discuss outside of a "safe space"? Are there story ideas writers reserve for "of color" or GLBT spaces?

I asked some smart, writerly, social justice-minded folks to weigh in. And I'll be sharing their thinking all this week. Today, Jennifer of Mixed Race America, and more from Christopher MacDonald Dennis.

JENNIFER (Mixed Race America)

This has been a very rich discussion to read, and I appreciate Tami giving me an opportunity to add my own thoughts to this rich mix.

Others have echoed many of the concerns and misgivings that I have in having conversations about race and my specific racial community (Asian Americans) in a larger mainstream context.

However, let me add another dimension to this.

Recently, colleagues of mine who study/research/write about Asian American communities have been trying to figure out how we can have more of a voice in MSM. There is so much invisibility of Asian Americans--and what little coverage there is often is rendered in very sterotypical terms. We have wondered how we can have more of a voice in sharing our own stories and histories to educate others, especially around social justice issues. Interestingly enough, Jeremy Lin has provided an avenue into this, as I’ve seen colleagues of mine featured on the CNN website writing about Asian Americans and trying to educate people about the history of Asians in America.

And one of the things I think about when I see their pieces in MSM isn’t just that they are making visible a whole community that has largely been invisible, but that it’s quite powerful to see your community legitimzed in MSM. For all that MSM is problematic, for all that the dominant society is problematic, it is also true that it feels empowering to have a voice.

And while I do worry that some conversations are going to be misconstrued and misunderstood--I guess I’m just tired of not even having a voice at all.

I don’t think there’s a single answer to this very complicated question/issue.

Let me just add two more things: (1) I think about the young Asian American teen or young adult coming across an Op Ed piece or article about Asian Americans in the MSM and learning something about Asian Americans--even if that information or topic is going to be controversial (Japanese American internment--you wouldn’t think this would be controversial, but it is) or misconstrued (the Tiger mother debacle), reading a thoughtful piece that talks about Asian Americans when Asian Americans are so absent from public discourse--this can be very empowering and powerful for Asian Americans (2) I think about other groups of color/racial minorities reading about Asian American issues and seeing the intersections and overlapping issues. I think about the ways in which communities of color can be allies. I think about the way that different communities who have experienced varying forms of oppression and privilege can work together on social justice issues.

I know these 2 things seem overly optimistic and potentially naive, but I think about the space that Tami created on this Google page, and I think about how powerful it could be for us to stand up for one another as allies--and for us to try to have a voice in MSM to show our strength and that we are willing to fight for causes that may not directly impact us -- although I guess I would also say that ending one type of oppression is a start to ending all oppressions (because they are so intertwined ala intersectionality).


Jennifer, you raise an important point and one that we all must take into account: some of us are invisible, while others are hyper-visible. Reading the above thoughts, I kept thinking that Asian Americans, as a group that is truly invisible in the MSM and in the national discourse in so many ways, would see things differently. I think it is important that we as members of different marginalized communities understand our own and each other's unique experiences in this country. We may all be oppressed but oppression operates differently for each of us. Only by doing so can we develop strategies of resistance that make sense and are not cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all.

An example of this potential allyship: If those of us who are Black/African-American are asked to comment about the “state of race” in this country, we make sure that the author/blog/newspaper/MSM outlet knows that they should also be interviewing Asian Americans, indigenous folks, and others. Will they do it? Perhaps or perhaps not but we have changed a dynamic that can be problematic for all of us. I have done this when asked to speak for the “LGBT community.” I am a gay man so I represent only one of those letters (although I identify as queer). I make sure that the person interviewing me realizes that I shall see things differently/have different priorities than trans folks (either queer or straight), bi/pan/omnisexual folks, lesbians and that if the author really wants to understand the LGBT, ze needs to interview members of those communities as well.

This conversation will conclude next week with contributions from Andrea Plaid, Nadra Kareem Little and more from Sparky.

Pt. 1  Latoya Peterson of Racialicious

Pt. 2 Sparky of Spark in Darkness

Pt. 3  New Black Woman

Pt. 4  Prof. Christopher MacDonald Dennis 


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