Reverse Discrimination in Literary Critique
writing friend Leora Krygier was asked by a reporter for the Orange
County Register if she felt qualified to write from the point
of view of a young Vietnamese girl in her book When She Sleeps.
Having once been in journalism and been in a position to do some
interviewing of my own, I was a bit incensed. It seemed amazing
to me that someone would presume to tell a writer they couldn't
or shouldn't do that or that it would cause any resentment at all.
I mean, how could a reader (or a reporter) possibly presume we couldn't
write from the point of view of someone of a different race, a different
religion or culture. And why would they tinge that question with
a hint-of-haughty in the voice, a bit of a look-down-the-nose demeanor.
daughter, a cultural anthropologist, suggested that such ideas were
a function of our intensity to be as politically correct as possible
and I realized that the Register did have a large Vietnamese
population, which was probably one reason they were doing the interview
in the first place. Because I believe that being politically incorrect
in most instances, simply promulgates bigotry, I tried to put all
my arguments—arguments in favor of creative writers—aside
and forget about it.
in the October 1, 2012, edition of Time magazine, I ran
into another instance of this kind of question. Belinda Luscombe
put on her snarkiest interview hat to interview Pulitzer-prize winning
novelist Michael Chabon. It went something like this: "A central
character in your book Telegraph Avenue, Arcy Stallings,
is the black co-owner of a record store. Did you feel anxious writing
from the point of view of a black guy?" In addition to the
haughty and snooty tendencies listed above, her question smacks
a bit of the passive aggressive.
admit it. That got me a little riled. But the interviewer persisted:
"But race is a charged subject. In the book, there's a white
lawyer, Moby, who talks like a black guy. You didn't worry that
that was you?"
I went on a full scale rant, albeit a quiet one to myself. Exc-u-u-se
me! But don't writers of fiction always use something of themselves
when drawing a character? None of us can pull any character trait
that we haven't personally seen, experienced, or read about from
thin air! I sniffed! But it doesn't have to be us.
doesn't fiction work—especially great fiction—because
at our cores we are all the same. Sentient human beings who share
needs and feelings? When I suffer under one kind of prejudice, as
an example, isn't that at some level very similar to what someone
else suffers under another? So wouldn't that qualify white-girl
me to write from the point of anyone I so chose—if I took
care. If I had a worthy subject and theme. And isn't that the job
of the artist to decide?
(I actually huffed! Almost aloud!), haven't these reporters ever
heard of research? Or imagination?
what about that idea of getting too close to something, so close
that we may feel responsible or fear we're putting our souls in
danger? Or that someone might mistake sincerity for satire? Of vice
versa? Wouldn't any thoughtful person understand that every time
an author picks up a pen he or she puts themselves in some kind
of emotional (philosophical?) danger? And don't readers understand
the difference between fiction and reality? Do they really think
that every character in our books is us rather than seeing that
every character may be but may also be a reflection of someone we've
observed? Or read about?
this is the answer I came up with. Apparently not.
Tips and Tidbits
(Each month in this box, Carolyn lists
a Tidbit that will help authors write or promote better. She
will also include a Tip to help readers find a treasure among
long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.)
of all patterns and stripes will enjoy the quick tips
and questions and answers format of my blog, The
Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor Guidelines
for submitting questions are in the left column of the
blog. It is inspired by The
Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid
Humiliation and Ensure Success which won USA Book
News Best Book 2007 Award, Reader Views Literary Award
and was a finalist in the New Generations Indie Award.
It is also available for Kindle, www.budurl.com/FrugalEditorKindle.
Tip for Readers' Tip:
Don’t forget that I give a
Noble (Not Nobel!) Prize in conjunction with MyShelf
every year. That’s another great way for writers
and readers to share something they love with others.
You’ll find submission guidelines in each January
issue of “Back to Literature” on MyShelf.
Check the archives! Last call!
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