More on race, reading, writing, and publishing.

22 Aug

Originally posted to the Literature section of MyMedia,
as part of the race in literature thread

Justine Labarlestier, a YA author, has a wonderful essay on Reading While White, about her own evolution, as a white author, on the matter of race. I do hope you follow the link and read the whole thing, but here are a couple of short-ish quotes, to give you an idea:

For years the response to my books—glowing reviews, award nominations, fan letters from People of Colour—supported my belief that I was doing good.

I had read critiques of the white saviour complex but was sure they didn’t apply to me. But one day in early 2009 a black woman blogger wrote a critique of my novel Liar.

Liar has a black teen protagonist. The blogger wrote that the book hurt her, that it was full of painful tropes, and that she would not read anything else I wrote unless it was not about People of Colour because I could not be trusted with the stories of anyone who isn’t white. Further, that she wasn’t going to read any more books with PoC protags by white people because we always get it wrong.

I felt like I’d been punched.

It was the most painful criticism any of my books had ever received and I’ve had reviews call for my books to be burnt and me to be slapped.

I sent the critique to several friends so they could reassure me she was wrong.

Yes, in the face of someone literally stating she had been hurt by the racist tropes in my book, all I wanted was reassurance. I thought my hurt feelings were more important than her actual pain.

Frankly, her anger got through to me more effectively than if she had been nice.


I reread that critique while writing this essay. Here’s the thing: it wasn’t that angry or sarcastic. It was more sad and disappointed.

It sounded angry to me back then because I didn’t want to think about how my books weren’t helping YA to become diverse. I didn’t want to think about how I was part of the problem. I wasn’t ready to listen so I heard it as angry yelling.

Until we white writers are ready to listen, until we’re ready to accept that, yes, we are a part of systemic racism, yes, we benefit from white supremacy, it doesn’t matter what the tone is, we won’t be able to hear or understand what’s being said.

There’s a phrase in the second quote that I wish those reading this, and anything about race, would take to heart. Here:

I reread that critique while writing this essay. Here’s the thing: it wasn’t that angry or sarcastic. It was more sad and disappointed.

And that is one of the main problems when talking about race. Most often the people being hurt are not yelling or antagonistic, or ‘mean’ (the one most often trotted out in the circles I frequent). They have lived with this their whole lives, and they are tired of the constant bombardment, the constant demand that they be polite, and nice, and deferential, and–mostly–quiet about it.

Plus, saying that the system is racist, and that white people are privileged by it, doesn’t mean “all white people are consciously racist asshats.” It means, nothing more and nothing less, that all white people benefit from a system created to privilege whiteness.

That’s a fact. Facts aren’t rude, or antagonistic, or mean. They just are. We can accept them, and deal with them, and work to change them, or we can pretend they don’t exist, and feel offended and hurt when someone points them out to us.

2 Responses to “More on race, reading, writing, and publishing.”

  1. Lori 23/08/2016 at 1:06 PM #

    I think you just explained the entire perception that white people have with Black Lives Matter. Nobody is screaming, nobody is raising fists or guns. They’re just saying three words and because of those words, suddenly they’re being accused to sparking a race war.

    It’s exhausting. And sad.

    • azteclady 23/08/2016 at 1:23 PM #

      What I find bewildering is how so many people–like the armed white assholes camped with fucking Confederate flags in front of the NAACP down in Texas–can still not get that black people (and decent people) say that Black Lives Matter only because it is fucking evident that they don’t.

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