Friday, August 17, 2007

My Belated Comments on The Lastest Blog Wave - Racism in Reading

I read a lot of other blogs. Some of which I found because, when I started blogging, I wanted to be sure that I was following all the nettiquette and following the proper forms. So I googled sci-fi blogs. While reading through the incredible diversity out there, some stuck. These blogs recommended others and the usual chain occured.

The big craze right now is based on a post by David Anthony Durham on being "color-blind". I won't pretend to understand or grasp what it means to be a person of color in the U.S. So, while taking the grave risk of seeming or maybe even being somewhat racist, I'm going to post my honest opinion.

I am not, nor have I ever been color blind with regard to race. I don't believe that anyone can or should be. A white person brings with them certain cultural differences from someone that is chicano or black. A woman necessarily views the world differently than a man. I also firmly believe that racial backgrounds, while influential in character building, are not the definition of who people are. It is a small indication of some of the things we can and some of the things we cannot share as experiences. I will never know what it's like to grow up in a bi-lingual household. There's simply nothing I can do about that. It is what is. That doesn't mean that I can't learn about and appreciate the culture of those from south of Texas. It just means that there are cultural differences. I also didn't grow up in a house with a spiral staircase. I still know how to climb one and can appreciate its architectural beauty. I can't experience being from another culture. No one can. That doesn't mean that I can't observe and appreciate other cultures. Nor does it mean that someone from another culture cannot observe and appreciate mine.

While Mr. Durham is absolutely correct in his assertions on institutional racism, I would argue that there should not be an African American literature section. Those books belong on the shelf with every other book. There's not an African American section at Bookstop in order to sell to everyone. It's there to sell to the racially conscience buyer, be they black, white or polka-dot. Is that not, in itself, racism?
The reason that section exists is not because these books are seperated literarily, but racially. Why? Is the book more or less of a good book because of the author's race? I must answer a resounding 'no' and I guess face the consequences of expressing that opinion.

I would also tell you that my bookshelf is as culturally diverse as Mr. Durham's, but not because I sought to make it diverse in terms of culture. I sought to get the best written books I could. After I read Mr. Durham's post, I actually had to think about who had written my books and what their backgrounds were. I, too, have white, black, latin, male, female and gay authors on my shelf. The authors' cultures are not why I bought the books. I sought out some of the best science-fiction and fantasy books I could find, and in doing so, my collection became culturally diverse - as was inevitable.

True talent, no matter what the art form, knows no cultural boundaries. To be truly diverse, one merely needs to appreciate that talent. While race and gender may flavor the langauage and the setting of a story, the author is the one telling it. The reader should enjoy that story for itself without examining the author's cultural background. I believe that to do it any other way is racist. All things being equal, a great story is a great story, no matter who wrote it.

I am not a writer, but I would think that no true writer wants to be appreciated on a purely cultural basis. Other than monetarily, I cannot imagine there could be much satisfaction in creating literature that only a portion of the world could appreciate. I would imagine that writers want to write stories that touch people of all cultural backgrounds, as much as possible. That it is possible, that it has been done before and will be done again just goes to prove my point that culture is not as restrictive in defining who we are as some would have us believe. A great story touches people. All people. Period.

I freely admit that an author's culture cannot help but flavor their writing. After all, the story comes from who the author is, from his/her past experiences and imagination. I simply believe that that cultural flavor won't determine whether the story is good to people who may or may not share that cultural background. A good story touches on emotions that are inherent in the human animal and those emotions don't happen to limit themselves along cultural lines. Thank goodness!

Culture is where we come from. But it cannot and should not determine where we are going. And it won't as long as we don't let it. I appreciate cultural diversity. Its wonderful and spectacular and sometimes scary that people are different in so many, many ways. Its also absolutely breath-taking that people - all people - are so alike in the ways we are alike. And being alike deserves at least as much attention as being different, don't you think?

Mr. Durham is a man of color. I am White (please feel free to substitute whatever racial tag you prefer for either of the above terms). I'll bet you any amount of money that when he's angry or sad or elated that he feels pretty much the same way I do when i'm angry or sad or elated. And that pretty much the same things make us angry or sad or elated. With an admittedly different experiential path, we arrive at the same emotional situation.

Isn't that okay?


David Anthony Durham said...

Texasblueboy, Hello. Thanks for this thoughtful post. My response is an easy one. I agree with absolutely everything you just wrote. Your sentiments are honest, and open, and yet also show an awareness and respect for other peoples' experiences. You acknowledge differences and difficulties, and wish to push through them and connect with our shared humanity. That, sir, is exactly what I'm about. It's part of what every word I've written as a novelist is about. It's fundamental to my view of the world and all the experiences that got me to where I am now.

Does that surprise you? There seems to be a tone in your post that suggests your in disagreement with me about some of these things. You're not. Not at all. But you wrote...

"While Mr. Durham is absolutely correct in his assertions on institutional racism, I would argue that there should not be an African American literature section."

Who would you argue with? Not with me. I agree completely, and I think you'll find that nothing I wrote suggests I like that African American literature section. I don't. I point it out because I don't, and because I think so many people don't even know it's exists.

If you go back to my original post - and/or read anything I've written in responses thereafter - you may find that what I actually said differs from what many people seem to think I said.

So, again, I think there's considerable wisdom in your post. But that's patting myself on the back also - because I couldn't agree with you more.


texasboyblue said...

I stand corrected..and humbled. Thank you very much for your corrections and your very graceful and thoughtful response.

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