This series is geared toward white writers who are watching the protests, the riots, and have full knowledge and understanding of the systematic/institutional injustices in the US and UK. This series is for those who are trying to understand what’s going on in the world, and struggles to know just what to do with it, especially when it wants to seep into their writing.
I may or may not be getting this right. What I know is that if we want to do any good in the world, the work has to start with us. This series is aimed at starting at home, inside, with the self.
Now Is the Time for Artist and Writers
Toni Morrison said,
“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.”Toni Morrison
She reminds us that in times of pain and injustice, it is our responsibility as writers and artists to record the history of the world, to show the experiences of the now, and to portray in such a way that we can garner understanding from the readers.
This is our time.
What Does This Mean for You?
This week’s series has been in response the injustices of police brutality and of the injustices towards black people, indigenous people, Latinx people, Hispanic people, etc. There is nation-wide unrest in the US, and that unrest is spreading across the globe.
If you’re like me, you may be feeling the call to write about this. After all, we’re writers. But how you write about this and what you write about this does somewhat depend on who you are. In a perfect world, it wouldn’t, but if you’ve been paying attention at all through life, you may have noticed that we are far from a perfect world.
When I’m talking about writing, I mean writing with the intent to publish one day, or writing for creativity. What I don’t mean in this post is writing your personal thoughts in your journal. That’s for you. But if you’re writing with the intent of one-day sharing it with the world, then you need to focus on your own personal experience through all of this.
With the internet as it is, we all have a platform to on which to speak. But how we use that platform is important. Are we going to let other people stand on that platform or are we going to speak over them?
The most important thing we can do is listen to those who are fighting their personal injustices. They are telling us what they need from us, and we need to listen and honor and respect those needs.
Write, write, write—absolutely write! That’s what we’re all here for, right here, on this website. We’re here because we’re writers. But when you write, ask yourself whose voice you might be replacing when you do so.
Years ago, I wanted to use my writing voice to write about the injustices toward minority folx, and even wrote a story in which one of the lead characters was directly going through these experiences. When I read over it and over it, the experiences felt hollow, and like I was just faking it.
Because I was. Those weren’t my experiences to share or to tell. I couldn’t put myself in the shoes of someone who has experienced the world so completely differently than I had and write about it. Nor was it my right to do so—most importantly, it wasn’t my right to do so.
In the end, I re-wrote the story as a person who witnessed these things going on in the minority community. Because that’s what I could write about. I could write about my own frustrations, anger and confusion as an outsider looking in.
This gets complicated, really quickly—if we’re fiction writers, aren’t we supposed to write about situations we haven’t experienced? This post is not about this particular question. But a really helpful resource you can check out is Writing the Other, which is a website dedicate to helping writers responsibly write about experiences of characters who are “other,” whether it pertains to race, sexuality, disabilities, etc.
When I share Toni Morrison’s words that now is the time for artists and writers, I mean that now is the time for us to write our own experiences at this time. But most importantly, now is the time to listen to what other artists and writers are saying, and now is the time to support their work so that the world as a whole can come closer to understanding.
This advice does not come from me. This comes from listening and hearing what’s being asked. Morrison once wrote that she does not privilege the white person in her writing. That is, she’s not writing with the white person in mind, but she is writing for black people. And as a white person, I learn so much from listening to those stories, words, and messages. I can learn the experience better, and see where harm has been done, and I can learn not to act in that way.
Likewise, I can read articles, listen to talks, read books, watch documentaries, and learn how to be a supportive person during this time. And one of the things I often hear and read is that black voices need to be heard. Native voices need to be heard. Immigrant voices need to be heard. Queer voices need to be heard.
So when I pass this message along to listen and to support black art and writing, this isn’t my suggestion. This is what is literally being asked for. I’m just passing along the message.
I have a list of references and materials at the end of this post. They are a starting point and are a small and number of materials. I strongly suggest that if you’re like me, that you start with some or any of those. There was a lot more that I wanted to put on there, but tried to pick the most relevant things. If you have suggestions of essential reads, watches, or listens, let me know and I’ll add them to the list.
One of the suggested readings in the fiction section below is “Recitatif,” by Toni Morrison. It’s a short story about two girls who grew up somewhat together. The goal of this piece was to make it ambiguous as to which girl was white and which girl was black. It is meant to challenge your perception of experience.
Your homework is to try and get ahold of a copy of this story and read it.
Once you do, I want you to spend some time journaling about what you read, what you thought of the story. Did it challenge your perceptions? What did you think?
This is part one of your homework.
The next part is to look into the voices of those who need to be heard, read what they have to say, listen to what they have to say, and ask yourself what you can do to support this.
Thirdly, look at your own writing and ask yourself whose voices you are supporting and how.
Please note, this is not an accusation that anyone is doing anything wrong. All I’m suggesting is to take note of what you write about it, how you write about what, and how it helps or hinders.
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Ar-tic website: www.ar-tic.org
“Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge
“7 Casually Racist Things That White Authors Do” by Mya Nunnally
“White as the Default” by Marissa Rei Sebastian
“Definition of Cultural Appropriation: What it is, Why it Matters, and How to Avoid it,” by Nicki Lisa Cole, Ph.D.
Why I am No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo
Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala
I Know Why the Caged Bird Singsby Maya Angelou
Writing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison
The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison
Mouth Full of Blood by Toni Morrison
Race by Toni Morrison
Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl & Cynthia Ward
Killing Rage: Ending Racism, by bell hooks
Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black by bell hooks
Black Looks: Race and Representation by bell hooks
Plantation Memories by Grada Kilomba
Writing Excuses Related Episodes
15:12 Writing the Other—Being an Ally
14:31 Cultural Setting as Conflict
14:21 Writing the Other—Yes You Can!
14:12 Writing the Other—Latinx Representation
7.4 Writing the Other
6.15 Writing Other Cultures