The Book!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Putting Those White Males in Their Place



Blake, Africa and America supporting Europe.

Another example of the anti-white racism in our current culture
came down the pike the other day: “White authors are still writing racist books because white critics won’t call them out.” I get these regularly on Facebook. I tend to respond here rather than on Facebook, because otherwise I lose my “liberal” friends. It is not easy in academics not to be left-leaning.

Most obviously: it discusses racism in literature as only a problem of white male authors. What could be more racist than such an assertion?

“Racism in literature,” it begins, “manifests itself in myriad ways: characters whose personalities are reduced to their accents, cultural dress or foods;...”

Further on, it says that much of the problem of racism is that books are too often judged solely on literary merit (God forbid), instead of political considerations. But a case of a character who is distinguished only by his accent or dress or food is not racism. It is simply bad writing.

Does the author know what good writing is? Isn’t she supposed here to be an authority on it? She is identified as “an award-winning essayist, journalist, and literary critic” Or have the humanities discarded all such considerations now?

She goes on: her second example of endemic racism is “brown or black characters ‘rescued’ by white saviors...”

No doubt this happens in some stories. It is not easy, offhand, to think of an example. Robinson Crusoe, I suppose, published in 1719. But the complaint drips with irony. Has the author never heard of the literary character called “the magic negro”? It’s been a big deal in literary thinking recently. The common plot device is not to have the black character rescued by a white one, but the white one rescued by a black or brown one. The Green Mile, Gunga Din, Pocahontas, The Last of the Mohicans, the story of the first Thanksgiving, The Shining, Peter Pan, the Krishna cycle, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and so on.

By this logic, these are all racist stories. But with the target being whites.

One wonders if the author has actually done much reading.

Another common example of racism: “... the ‘surprising’ friendship between a white character and a character of color...”

So showing a white character as not being racist is itself—racist.

“or, a white character’s journey to a ‘foreign’ or ‘third world’ country in search of ‘enlightenment.’”

Someone sure likes scare quotes.

Granted, this is a pretty common motif: the pilgrimage. Aside from Chaucer, it is pretty central to the image of Jerusalem in the Bible, or Mecca in the Quran. Or, in Taoism, the mythical islands to the East. Still, one would have thought this implied a positive, not a negative, attitude towards Jerusalem or Mecca, of said foreign country, as, say, possessing the real spiritual truth. It seems that, the instant a white mentions anything or anyone non-white, even with the highest praise, he is racist.

So are non-white authors equally racist if they mention anything white? Wouldn’t their writing in English, in the first place, count as cultural appropriation?

“The western or white gaze is unimaginative, misrepresentative [sic], and often harmful.”

Imagine substituting “the Chinese or Oriental gaze,” “the black or African gaze,” or “the female gaze” there. Sound good?

“As Pooja Makhijani writes in her review of Kevin Kwan’s China Rich Girlfriend: ‘We Americans erase layers of oppression by foisting our own frameworks, which reflect the specificity of our culture and history, on others.’ ‘The end result,’ says Lee, ‘is the reflexive default to ‘the western gaze.’”

Note the name of that author: Kwan. Our reviewer does not say it, but he is Singaporean Chinese. However, rather than concluding that racism is found in all races, both this article and the review to which it refers bizarrely blame Kwan’s supposed racism on Americans and the British. This is racism in both directions: in scapegoating white Europeans, and in infantilizing Asians. It supposes even a successful non-white author like Kwan is incapable of thinking for himself.

The poor dears. In the end, on this assumption, it was a darned good thing for their own sake that the British and Americans were there to take care of them for a few decades.

And they must have done very good job of it, if their influence is still so absolute generations after they left. Why, doesn’t that make a powerful argument for cultural superiority of some kind?

And why isn’t Kwan the guilty party, for “cultural appropriation,” for being so deeply influenced?

“Most book critics are white, and very often white and male,” Khakpour says. “Often those white males are not themselves very well-versed in issues of race, ethnicity, xenophobia, cultural appropriation etc. They are simply trained in reading books by white men, for white men, about white men.” … “Then there’s the reality that it’s much harder to recognize a problem you’ve never experienced. “

Odd, then, that most of the offending authors she cites, along with almost all of the critics, are either not white or not male. How did that happen—in a piece supposedly about white authors and white critics?

But never mind. There is a bigger logical problem here: if it is true that white males cannot have any insight into the lived experience of women or those with darker skins, it must be equally true that women and people of darker skins have no insight into the lived experience of whites or males. Who is the expert here? On what basis? Racial superiority?

Later, the author so much as says that white males “are simply not qualified to comment” on issues of race.

“Poverty enlightenment, a popular theme in narratives about white people traveling to brown or black countries, is similarly problematic when looked at through an anti-colonialist lens. ...”

The unfortunate reality is that, if a book portrays someone going to a “brown” or “black” country, said character is likely to see poverty. Is the author supposed to falsify this, or simply avoid setting any stories in “brown” or “black” countries? How would either of these options be less “racist”?

“Soniah Kamal, in a review of the [sic] Julie Feldon’s Karma Gone Bad (a memoir that proudly evinces its colonialist gaze in the title), notes that the author ‘sees beauty in the world after meeting a slum family, interacting with an orphan girl, and seeing a little barefoot errand boy. Does Feldon experience the same beauty when witnessing poverty in the US?’”

Ironically, the book the reviewer immediately goes on to criticise is a cheerfully comic novel about --- poverty in the US.

Then there’s Nell Zink’s 2015 novel Mislaid. Critics deemed it “infallibly irreverent,” “profoundly irreverent,” “a high comedy of racial identity,” or a “backwards route to examining oppression.”

So is the problem with seeing some kind of blessedness in poverty? If so, our author has just declared Jesus Christ racist. Has she never read the Beatitudes? It’s kind of hard to make much of Western civ as a whole without knowledge of the Bible.

“Mislaid harkens to blackface and slavery, when whites stripped Africans of their identities and forced them to assume their surnames.”

Okay, so maybe she was not a history major. But let’s set the record straight. Blackface might count these days as “cultural appropriation,” but it was obviously a sign of the general popularity of black culture. People would pay more money to watch if the performers pretended they were black. This popularity of black musical culture, after all, continues today. Is it racist to buy Mariah Carey records? The blackface minstrel shows were often banned in the South before the Civil War on the assumption that they were abolitionist.

Nor were Africans ever forced to take “white” surnames. Yes, they were required to take surnames. This was not about racism; it was a practical need in a complex society. Africans did not have surnames. When the slaves were freed, black Americans got to choose whatever surname they wanted. Nobody imposed a name on them: they were simply asked. Most of them chose “white” sounding names. Again, is the assumption that non-whites are incapable of thinking for themselves? And why is this not cultural appropriation?

Granted, Zink’s novel, although the central characters are in fact poor whites, could be interpreted as being really about black poverty in the US. When Zink complained there were no favourable portrayals of “US” poverty, perhaps she meant to exclude blacks as not being American. Nothing racist about that, right? But even so, if she is right, that there are few books or novels these days about poor whites, does that really suggest a preference for white people? Or does it rather suggest that the folks who write, edit, publish or read books don’t give a damn about poor whites? Or cannot see them sympathetically?

It is perhaps to easy to laugh, to see this as ridiculous. Nevertheless, the ugly fact remains that I received this article because I belong to a—more accurately, THE-- worldwide association or professional editors. This was sent out there as recommended.

Note then that, worldwide, nobody gets a book conventionally published without it going through a professional editor. One of these folks.

The same is true of entry to the professions, or to higher study. You don’t get to write books, either, without going through an academy where just this sort of thing is de rigeur.

Not just the overwhelmingly dominant viewpoint—a viewpoint that is largely enforced, and any dissent from which is likely to be punished.

Our system has become both stupid and systemically racist and sexist. Worldwide.


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