Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ahem, Ms Bear?


I think it's more accurate to say that Emma, and several other people in this discussion, are trying to talk about the book on a literary/analytic level whereas you got short-circuited before you could reach that kind of discussion by a personal/political reaction. Part of what's going on here, as medievalist and matociquala have also noticed, is that we've got two very different discussions jostling each other for space. (See point II above, particularly that first paragraph where I'm unable to stop myself explaining why your reading is wrong. Also tsubaki_ny below about approaching everything analytically.) This is not about dissing people of color; it's about having a learned, but deeply ingrained, protocol for talking about books. (Given that the readers of this blog--and Bear's blog, for that matter--are writers and readers and all around text-geeks, it's neither surprising nor blame-worthy that these are our instincts and that they cut across lines drawn by class, race, and sex. It's what we do--and I fully include myself in that.)

Now, one must be interpolated into the dominant culture in order to have this ingrained protocol. One also must be taught how to do it. It isn't inherent, but a learned skill set. So it is, inevitably, itself an artifact of race/class/sex privilege. [ETA: And in one's education, one has to have chosen to take a number of English classes--that's not necessarily about privilege at all.] Happily, it can also be turned against the dominant culture, as any number of feminist, Marxist, and post-colonial literary scholars have demonstrated. (This is the thing [info]medievalist is wishing for.) So it is not, in and of itself, destructive. It's also not an approach that inherently denies racism or classism or sexism. It puts text first, personal experience second (and that's an improvement over the days when it was text only), instead of experience first, as a political approach does.

[ETA: End paragraph of pedantry here.]

Neither approach is "wrong." But it's hard--as these comment threads are demonstrating--for the two sides to understand each other.

When I say "it's not about dissing people of color," I am not saying that as a white woman dismissing POC experience yet again. I'm saying it as an academic with many colleagues who are POCs and who use these dominant culture tools with breath-taking grace and clarity. (See, for one example, The Apotheosis of Captain Cook by Gananath Obeyeskere.) It's a different circle on the Venn diagram.

I see. I'm not a writer, a reader or an all around text geek. I'm an emotional person who is not interrogating your text from the right perspective.

Perhaps you did not mean to turn me off further discussion, but you have. You are telling me with one side of your mouth that the rules of discussion among this particular group of people is text first, experience second. You are privileging that mode of analysis, not saying it's better outloud, oh no, but privileging it all the same. And I don't think you get to tell me whether or not your words as stated, without codicils of wink-wink, nudge-nudge, let's all be friends here, are somehow not dismissive.

Privileging the text, privileging it by calling it the dominant mode and academic mode, as if dominance in a conversation about institutional racism is a good thing, and academic as if as a reader I'm meant to step back and cold heartedly think about something that's hurt me - are more important than what I naturally bring to a reading; my emotions and experiences.

You are privileging this way of interacting with the text while admitting that it is faulty when it comes to letting academic white women (and men) understand what they're missing and dismissing and discarding when it comes to the narrative as seen through the point of view of not just a person of colour, but a hurt person of colour; one who feels slyly attacked by tropes that dismiss who she is as a person and part of a people who are NOT WHITE.

Your learned, deeply ingrained way of relating to text IS NOT MORE IMPORTANT THAN NOT HARMING A PEOPLE. They're hell of not more important than not hurting me and others like me eager to see some semblance of self in a book and who instead end up having to discuss all over again, for the umpteenth time why YOU STEPPING ON MY FOOT HURTS! And you don't get to tell me that you're a doctor and are used to distancing yourself from pain with medical jargon and xrays and a bloody nurse.

You also don't get to fucking tell me that IF ONLY I were as learned as you in the ways of white tower reading, I would totally get where your colleagues are dialoging from. I know where the hell they're coming from - it's the land of "How dare the uppity minority feel she can analyze anything one of us says or does as if she matters."

It's coming from the place of "How dare you call me evil racist. I'm educated! I'm not taking this personally or emotionally... unlike you, you out of control PoC. Oh you people are so easily aggravated."

Your little comment/speech, truepenny is full of excuses and buffer and is all the more repugnant because you initially presented yourself as someone who was capable of seeing through the eyes of another.

But if you want one of yours to dialogue with you, I'll send one your way and see how you fare when you can't doublespeak your way around a fellow academic.

Elizabeth Bear, could you please tell your friends to put on some pants? Pale white buttcheeks in my face are quite unsightly. And the next time it happens, I'm going to grab a pole and shove.

I don't want white guilt. I don't want dissembling. I don't want 'But we don't know how to jump in from an emotional standpoint like you non academic beings,'. White people who keep asking me BUT WHAT CAN I DO?

Don't do this and it'll be a great start.

I am done. Finished. The end. And I've decided that 80% of the lot of you are wastes of space in this matter. I'll try with the next generation.