Monday, March 19, 2012

Writing While Marginalized - Pt. 6

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, Andrea Plaid and more from Christopher MacDonald Dennis and Sparky.

ANDREA PLAID (Racialicious)


Working at Racialicious, Latoya has already said a lot of what I think about the topic, especially since I’m earning my writing chops at the blog. However, I also tend to tackle a stickier subject: sex. Not so much gender and sexual identity--though I’ve done my share of such posts--but the practices and acts. I’ve seen those posts explode in some rather ugly ways in the comments sections because the topic is such a Mobius strip of intimacy, desire, and belonging yet is a space where some people feel the need to preen their self-righteousness that I’ve had to walk away from the thread in disgust. So, yes, even though the R is that space where we walk that line of in-house conversations and public discourse, when it comes to sex (no pun intended), it’s still a subaltern discussion. However, we still try to have them, as frustrating as they can be.

Moving my writing outside of the R, I tend to get a bit nervous about writing some topics because I do wonder if, by getting published in a less PoC-centered space, if I’m being set-up as the “tour guide” for the souls of PoCs, especially Black women or, more insidiously, if I’m being presented--okay, co-opted--as the “PoC friend” who agrees with some of the white progressive ideas, like my writing at AlterNet that I initially thought SlutWalk was a great idea when a lot of Black women and other women of color bloggers were vehemently against the event. At the same time, I do think we need to have our opinions in various spaces--both spaces that center marginalized identities and the mainstream media--because it shows that there is a difference of opinions that we do hold.

But those are opinions, usually backed with experiential/numerical/scientific facts. When it comes to “news stories” about us and by us...I agree with almost everyone on the thread: it makes me antsy when that news story comes off as cultural tourism which, in a society that doesn’t value marginalized people’s humanities, makes us feel like we’re on display like the Hottentot Venus. Some of it is where the story is placed, true. Then some of it is simply how the story is constructed--it’s the difference between Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry talking about Black women and citizenship at a college lecture captured in a YouTube clip and Soledad O’Brien’s Black/Latino In America series. Dr. Harris-Perry’s presentation reminds me of the Toni Morrison quote where she says she goes on the fictive journey and assumes that the audience is smart enough to follow. O’Brien is 101ing the hell of “The Black Experience” and “The Latino Experience” because she’s assuming her audience--namely white CNN viewers--knows nothing about Black and Brown folks...and she’s doing this to the consternation of the folks she’s trying to cover because she simplifying our complexities almost to the point of reinforcing old stereotypes, if not creating new stereotypes.


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