Black History Month Series (II)

Q: What does it mean, really, to be a multicultural writer?

A: I write as I live, through all of my valued private and public traditions and experiences…as an American. There’s no pie chart for my cultural percentages, and 9 times out of 10, the Black part is not open for discussion.

Blackness is a state of being shaped by experiences, not just a biological “marker,” so when I say “Black” I am not talking about physical packaging—9 times out of 10. Why is that such a difficult concept for non-Black Americans to get, especially women? Is “woman” just a biological fact or marker for them? When a man relates to a woman’s “femaleness” or refers to her as a woman when that specific fact seems irrelevant to the current human communication or interaction, doesn’t that woman get angry, defensive, feel insulted, maybe think “sexist jerk”?

If so, why do I get labeled an ABW or militant for thinking “race-obsessed jerk” when my race is gratuitously or inappropriately “related to” or referred to? When is it inappropriate for another person to refer to my race? 9 times out of 10 that the person is not one of my oldest and dearest friends, and yes, especially if the person is not a Black American and/or of African descent. It’s a cultural understanding thing, complicated by both historical and present racism. I catch a lot of heat for mentioning my own race, asserting that it “makes a difference,” so all non-me’s should have even stricter racial gag orders than I.

Turning specifically to the question of art, when I apply pen to paper, it is not with the pressure of a monocultural agenda. That is, if I’m in a Black state of mind, my pen writes about race, or culture, or racism. When I’m feeling my “woman-ness”, I write about sex, or gender, or sexism. Major holidays bring out my inner American; that’s when I write about friends and family, or mistletoe and pie, or anti-patriots. Some days, when socio-economic inequities are especially noticeable and infuriating, I write about class prejudice. In other words, I write what I write, with neither boundaries nor pretenses of belonging to any one literary tradition. To write with respect for the past, appreciation for the present, and an eye on the future is perhaps my subconscious, apolitical, multicultural agenda. A reader who possesses a monocultural agenda or monomaniacal obsession with any one part of a writer’s personal features or demographic categories (i.e., with her “markers”) will probably find my work disappointing.

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