Kudos to Saeed Jones for writing a Self Portrait Of The Artist As Ungrateful Black Writer. Self Portrait Of The Artist As Ungrateful Black Writer is a must read for not only every writer and reader of color but whites as well.
The publishing industry is dominated largely by male whites. An industry that deems people of color invisible. Publishers whose preference is to publish white writers who write their narratives of the lives of Blacks and people of color. Narratives fueled with tainted perspectives minus rich understandings and cultural nuance. My question is, why is any writer of color in 2015 giving these individuals an audience? Why the need for their affirmation and confirmation? Why give a damn what they think? I’ve asked myself this question about every imaginable award. Awards are wonderful especially if well deserved. However, receiving an award from a white organization must never be the criteria for self value and artistic worth! Nor should it be the official criteria for having made it (succeeded).
I’m appalled but not surprised to read that one of Saeed Jone’s colleagues touched his hair. If this was not enough Gwendolyn Brooks was called a coon by Wallace Steven. There still remains a historical inherited patriarchal and matriarchal mindset. The pathological belief of ownership.
Mr. Jones writes, “People talk to me absolutely bathed in a bubble bath of self-congratulation,” James Baldwin wrote in his 1964 Playboy essay “The Uses of The Blues.” “I mean, I walk into a room and everyone there is terribly proud of himself because I managed to get to the room. It proves to him that he is getting better. It’s funny, but it’s terribly sad.
”In his essay “Wallace Stevens After Lunch,” poet Major Jackson notes that while having lunch with the other 1952 National Book Award judges, Stevens looked at the photograph of the poet Gwendolyn Brooks — the first black person to win the Pulitzer Prize, in 1950 — and said, “Who’s the coon?” Noticing the other judges — all white men — shifting in their seats with discomfort, he added, “I know you don’t like to hear people call a lady a coon but who is it?” Brooks had been on the NBA judging committee that had given the hallowed award to Stevens for poetry the previous year.
These moments in literary history are usually segregated to the footnotes section. Throughout my education, I never heard “Like Decorations In A Nigger Cemetery” discussed in a classroom, never talked about Wallace Stevens looking at a picture of Gwendolyn Brooks and asking, “Who’s the lady coon?” — as if racism vanishes the moment we set foot into the ivory towers and glittering soirees of the literati.
I understand the concerns and anxieties Mr. Jones experienced. I understand being the only person of color in the room or one of less than a handful. I understand the arrogance of others attempting to disguise interrogations and micro-aggressions; questioning our very presence.
I attend conferences and the like for a myriad of reasons, to meet my fellow writers, share experiences and hopefully leave having learned something of significance. When people of color attend these conferences, we must come with purpose. We must bring the social and political into the room. We must not allow ourselves to become so engrossed in the moment we fail to address the exclusion of our concerns. Yes, bring your personal concerns and objectives. However, unite as a collective in purpose, be a strong visible and well organized presence. There’s nothing wrong in seeking opportunity. However, the question becomes at what price? We must bring the voices of our communities with us! We must bring our hashtags. Never go along to get along at the expense of self and community!
Our ancestors started journeys without material and monetary wealth. Important to their survival and resiliency was determination, faith and purpose. We must call on our collective innovation, skills, street smarts and yes, our hustle! If push comes to shove and don’t wait for the push to become a shove! Self publish! Get out on the street and utilize social media to sell your –it! Come on now, you know the drill!
Okay, here it is. I’m too old and refuse to bite my tongue (remain silent) in order to make others comfortable or for fear I will not be published, get invited to speak at literary conferences or be the recipient of an award. I know for sure remaining silent about microaggressions, injustices, and supremacist literary politics does nothing to support ones mental health! I be damned if I’m going to remain silent so folk can pat themselves on the back.
There is a literary mafia and it does not live exempt of black and people of color representation. Closed doors and opportunity are not reserved merely for the old boy and old girl traditional white institutions. So termed black and people of color organizations and individuals who are non-inclusive. Private clubs where only friends or those they deem accomplished and worthy are given membership. Males and females in the spirit of the old crab in the basket mentality, envy and jealousy attempt to position themselves as obstacles to the success of others. The same systems of injustices exist in all facets of society.
There are individuals who will board planes, trains, drive and would swim if they had to, to get to these conferences. Individuals who refuse to support activities in their own backyards. Until we as a united community learn to respect, support and build our own institutions we’ll always be chasing others begging inclusion! We give so much of ourselves, never getting back anything in return! We fill the pockets and give status to others while our organizations and institutions bleed!
On May 30th, 2015 the Bronx Book Fair is happening in our own backyard at the Bronx Library Center located at 310 Kingsbridge Road, Bronx New York. I wonder how many of the folk who left town to attend recent out of state conferences will take a $2.75 trip to the Bronx to support a free book fair founded by persons of color?
©Lorraine Currelley 2015. All Rights Reserved.