It’s summer! Grades are in, graduation is this Saturday, and well, we have other writing and reading on our plates! And some fun and relaxing, too! Consequently we’ll be on a biweekly (every two weeks) schedule for our posts; in the recesses between them, we plan to link to Things We’re Reading that we hope you’ll read too. We especially hope to provide a signal boost for the writings of women of color.
Without further ado, please meet Jenny Zhang, a poet whose essay “They Pretend to Be Us While Pretending We Don’t Exist” tackles what it’s like to be a woman of color in the literary world. She confronts moments like when Michael Derrick Hudson masqueraded as a Chinese American poet under the pseudonym Yi-Fen Chou in order to publish a poem.
She and the other white writers who marveled over my luck wanted to try on my Otherness to advance their value in the literary marketplace, but I don’t think they wanted to grow up as an immigrant in the United States. I don’t think they wanted to experience racism and misogyny on a micro and macro level, be made to feel perpetually foreign no matter how long they’ve lived here, and be denied any opportunity to ever write something without the millstone of but is this authentic/representative/good for black/Asian/Latino/native people? hanging from their necks.
Zhang documents the ways in which the voices of poets of color have been underdocumented, underheard, and, as in the Hudson case, appropriated and monetized. “When they wonder why I am still here I can’t help but suspect it’s very different from when I wonder why I am still here. I can’t help but suspect they are enraged there even has to be anyone like me here at all.”
Our pride is our survival and the white wounded ego does not get to ooze over our excellence anymore. We will not be colonized by white injuries scabbing over our words. The reparations white people claw for the minute they feel excluded from this world is not our problem.
Complementing Zhang’s essay beautifully and painfully, Jennifer Tamayo’s piece “When You Handle Poison” relates the cost of living within the white supremacy of U.S. poetry communities, detailing the taxing emotional and economic tolls.
The handling of this poison — the labour to spot and deconstruct instances of capitalist white supremacist cis-hetero-patriarchy at work — is particularly venomous because it performs both personally and systemically.
Tamayo traces this work–how her “unpaid and unseen” labor fits within larger raced and gendered cultural and economic systems–through her body. She emphasizes, “Essays of this kind are written with the body. If I track the progress of writing, my body becomes the compass.” In this way, she charts the everyday resistances she engages in through the ways they harm and eat away at her.
What I find difficult about these e-mails is the performance it asks of me — at times civil, or charming, or pleased, or excited, or careful — I am never myself. I am your social justice doll come to life. I distrust the invisibility of this kind of private conversation and what it demands of me.
Both of these poets end with refusals to make nice, demanding that their experiences and their knowledges be recognized and heard…. so please do read these pieces and feel free to start a conversation in the comments.