BK Loren celebrates diversity of reading, writing and living.
Last weekend the 10th Annual National Black Writers Conference took place at Medgar ...
. I would have attended if I could (travel costs prevented). I consider it one of the nation's most important conferences for all writers.
Yes, I'm white. So some would argue that the conference is none of my business, or "not my issue." I disagree. As a writer, and the designer of SW's online courses, I encourage all writers to step outside their comfort zones and seek out the work and community of writers different than they are. One of the most powerful notions I embrace is that of being an ally
for racial and social equity. Part of the idea behind being an ally is that it can get tiring for individuals of a consistently marginalized group to always be the ones to "stand up for themselves"—always the ones to ask for equity where there is little, for validation where it is an anomaly, for recognition when it is due, but overlooked. Sometimes, this is my
job. Most times, this is everyone
As writers, we all have a tough row to hoe. I think being a writer is a little like being gay: it chooses you; you don't choose it. (I'm gay, so here I can speak from experience.) You'd have to be crazy to choose
to be gay or to choose
to be a writer. As the stand-up comic Lisa Cech put it in her routine, "Gays recruiting people? Really? What would our ad look like? Tired of the same old civil rights? Experiencing the ennui of being accepted and loved by your family? Haven't been bashed recently, or maybe you're just craving that good old put down faggot
being hurled at you? Well, then come on over to our side!"
The ad for being a writer would be similar. "Tired of the same old dependable paycheck? Had it with health insurance and vacation pay? Are you up to here with being able to slack off on the job and still
make a handsome living that includes bonuses for doing, well, nothing? Come on over to our side! Be a writer!"
My point here is that writing is damn hard work to begin with, and there's a reason that the word publishing and punishing are slant rhymes. The challenges a writer faces are enormous. The challenges a writer of color faces are exponentially greater. The long and still practiced act of book whitewashing is but one succinct way to illustrate this. The blog "racebender
" reports that about two percent of all YA novels portray people of color on their covers.
When the protagonist in the pages is a person of color, the cover often still portrays a light-skinned person with traditionally Caucasian features. Hmmm. Interesting practice in an industry (and culture) of "racial equality."
She Writes Studios faculty member, and founder of the website ringShout
, Martha Southgate
, said in the New York Times
article that she "respects the conference for building community," but struggles with the fact that it "should be beyond our [African American] community.” Yes! And one way for me, as a writer, to enact my wholehearted agreement with Ms. Southgate, is to stand up not
for her, but alongside
her, as an ally, to say the conference makes a point and serves us all.
The more we all stick together in fighting for the recognition and value of writers in general, of paying for the value of writing as a vocation, and of writers as a whole, the more we must recognize, embrace and celebrate our differences. Equity means recognizing
difference and celebrating
it. Not pretending it does not exist. The simple beauty of literature is that it offers a window into a world we might otherwise know nothing about. I know nothing about being African American, and I can't pretend that a book makes me an expert on the topic. But I am indebted to literature for giving me a window into a world I can't experience first hand, for making me not more colorblind, but more able to see color everywhere and with, I hope, a deeper compassion.
So what the hell does this have to do with teaching writing (my charge here at She Writes) and with motivating writers as a whole? Because being good, strong allies for all forms of equity teaches us all to be better writers, better readers, and better humans. And being better humans, we circle back around to the beginning and become better writers. Part of my identity is as an ally. I welcome those who are my allies, in return. Through writing and reading, the circle of embracing all kinds of difference grows in ways it could not if I relied solely on my direct experience of life. If you ask me, that's damn good motivation to read and to write. It's damn good reason to, as Michael Franti
puts it, Stay Human