White Privilege Gets You Published: A Fisk

Bet you didn’t know that the only reason you get published is because of white male privilege.

I read this, and, literally, was sitting in my office with my mouth hanging open, praying that no one would come in and ask for a copy of their insurance card and see me looking so horrified.

The stupid is so profound that my poor little brain just could not fathom its depths.

A modification of a Chesterton quote is in order here:

The Idiot is sane because it drowns easily in an infinite sea of Stupid; Reason seeks to refute the infinite sea, and so make it finite.  The result is mental exhaustion . . . the Idiot only asks to get his head into the Stupid.  It is the Reasonable Man who seeks to swim out of it it, and it is his head that splits.

This is my head, splitting and spewing its contents all over the office.

Something must be done:

AliensFiskAs usual, the original is in italics, and my comments are in bold.  And don’t forget: the Asymmetrical Bullshit Principle applies.

Should White Men Stop Writing?  The Blunt Instrument on Publishing and Privilege

I would dearly love to take a large blunt instrument to your Publishing and Privilege nonsense.  Or maybe to your big stupid head.

As the article so graciously informs us, “The Blunt Instrument is a monthly advice column for writers,” so if you have a question about a difficult writing problem, like how to write convincing characters, or the best way to address a particularly galling plot hole, send your questions to — wait, not this guy.  Send them to Matthew, who knows what he’s talking about.  All this idiot can do is spew ideological nonsense.

We begin with the so-called “question” send to the all-knowing and all-powerful Blunt Instrument:

I am a white, male poet — a white, male poet who is aware of his privilege and sensitive to inequalities facing women, POC, and LGBTQ individuals in and out of the writing community — but despite this awareness and sensitivity, I am still white and still male.  Sometimes I feel like the time to write from my experience has passed, that the need for poems from a white, male perspective just isn’t there anymore, and that the torch has passed to writers of other communities whose voices have too long been silenced or suppressed.  I feel terrible about feeling terrible about this, since I also know that for so long, white men made other people feel terrible about who they were.  Sometimes I write from other perspectives via persona poems in order to understand and empathize with the so-called “other;” but I fear that this could be construed as yet another example of my privilege — that I am appropriating another person’s experience, violating that person by telling his or her story.  It feels like a Catch-22.  Write what you know and risk denying voices whose stories are more urgent; write to learn what you don’t know and risk colonizing someone else’s story.  I genuinely am troubled by this.  I want to listen, but I also want to write — yet at times these impulses feel at odds with one another.  How can I reconcile the two?  –Anonymous

There are so many things wrong here that I barely know where to begin, but I won’t go through and actually fisk this one, line by line.  If this is a real person with a real question, I’ll give that real person a real answer (although I get the feeling that the author of the “answer” also wrote the “question” so that he could have something to use as an excuse to spew his vitriol).

So, Anonymous, here’s your answer: stop freaking worrying about so-called Privilege.  There’s no such thing.  Stop listening to all the wackos out there trying to convince you that something’s wrong with you because you happen to be white and male.  They’re the ones discriminating against you, not the other way around, and they get away with it because they’re hiding behind phrases like “equality” and “social justice.”  They’re full of it.  You write what you want to write.  Write beautiful, moving, artistic poetry.  If it’s good, it will stand on its own merits, no matter who wrote it.  Do you think that Shakespeare was worried about being a white guy when he wrote “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day / thou art more lovely and more temperate”?  No — it’s a beautiful poem that can be attributed to any beautiful woman of any race, and spoken to her by a man of any race who cares about her.  That’s it.  The poem stands on its own.  Write like that — write a good poem, and who cares what color the person is who wrote it?

TitansThe history of discrimination in the world is so much bigger than white men making other people feel bad.  How about the discrimination of the Nazis against the Polish people?  White and white, but it’s still discrimination.  How about all the times that the English killed each other off — Catholics versus Protestants?  They weren’t even two different nations, let alone two different races.  Still discrimination.

Just being a white guy doesn’t make you a racist bigot, no matter how many times they try to tell you it does.

I got off topic there, because none of this discrimination nonsense has anything to do with you writing a poem.  Write something beautiful, and screw the naysayers who hate you for being a white man.  Don’t feel terrible about feeling terrible — stop feeling terrible, because there’s no reason to.  Write something.  Make it good.  And be happy about it.

If you continue to worry about this political/ideological crap, your poetry won’t be poetry; it will be a social message trying to disguise itself as poetry, and it will fail.  No one will like it.  It won’t move anyone’s soul.  You’re a poet; just be a poet.  Leave the social ideology stuff to those other idiots who don’t manage to publish anything, but blame everyone but themselves.  You’ll be happier, trust me.

And now on to the good stuff.

Dear Anonymous,

I have thought a lot about your letter. I know that you’re not the only white male writer asking these questions. As a white writer myself, I’m not necessarily the best person to answer. But this is my column, so I’m going to do my best, because I think it’s an important issue.

And how would you know that a lot of white male writers ask silly questions like this?  And since when is it an important issue?  It’s only important in the crazy left-wing mind, where what’s important is the color or gender of the person doing the writing, not the quality of the writing itself.

I want to come at your question from a different angle though. You ask whether the time to write from your experience — the “white, male perspective” — has passed. I think this is the wrong question.

Yeah, it is the wrong question to ask, because it has nothing to do with writing good poetry, or good anything, for that matter.

The white male experience was not more important in the past than it is now. In Western culture, the white male experience has been overexposed, at the expense of other experiences, for centuries.

Uh, maybe because the white portion of the national population has outnumbered the others for so many centuries?  You do know that they’re called “minorities” for a reason, right?

minority, n: the smaller in number of two groups constituting a whole.

DictionaryIt hasn’t been overexposed.  There are just that many more white people in the country, you idiot!

The only difference is that the culture — at least the subculture that’s important to you — no longer accepts the white male perspective as default.

See, I knew you’d get it.  You said “subculture.”

subculture, n: a group that beliefs and behaviors different from the main groups within a culture or society.

That means that they’re smaller than the main group, idiot.  That main group is bigger than the others, so the amount of literature produced by that group will naturally be bigger than the amount produced by the others!  It’s like you think that the state of Rhode Island should have the same amount of money in their economy as the state of Texas.  That’s completely absurd.

And yes, that culture is “default” because there’s so much MORE of it.  It’s just a fact of life.  Get over it.  Do you see me whining about the Protestant Privilege in this country?  No, that would make me as stupid as you, because this country was founded by White Anglo Saxon Protestants, and that means that there are MORE Protestants in the United States than Catholics.  Am I claiming discrimination?  Nope.

You can and should respond to this shift, but I don’t think the answer is to stop writing.

How about he just ignores the shift and writes what he wants?

Instead, you should do what you can to make sure your own perspective is not getting more exposure than it deserves — that you’re not taking up more than your fair share of space.

Yep, you had expensive coffee with the woman who thought that JK Rowling should stop writing in order to give the little guy a chance.

There’s no such thing as “fair share of space.”  If you want to write, do it.  If it’s popular, people will read it and it will put money in your pocket.  If not, then they won’t and it won’t.  The more stuff out there in the world for people to read, the better.  Just because Rowling writes a book doesn’t mean that she takes a book away from you.  Write more stuff!  The more that’s out there, the more people will read.  That is a good thing for everyone who writes, not a detriment!

What is it with you people trying to make sure that everyone stays in their own little boxes and never strays outside the lines?  You’re the discriminators, not the rest of us who just want to read good stuff.

Many people have been angered, rightfully, by recent stunts in conceptual poetry that exploit real tragedies, like the death of Michael Brown, for the benefit of white artists.

There is a major difference between using art to address a tragedy, and exploiting a tragedy to try to make art.  If the two were the same thing, then anyone who paints a picture with the World Trade Center in it is guilty of exploiting a tragedy.  Anyone who writes a book with the assassination of John F. Kennedy in it is guilty of exploiting a tragedy.  Anyone who writes a poem with an oblique mention of the Holocaust is guilty of exploiting a tragedy.  Hell, at this rate, my own short story about my grandfather’s World War II B-29, Bedroom Eyes, is exploiting a tragedy, by your definition.

From what I can tell from the article about “The Death of Michael Brown” poem, it sounds like the artist was not exploiting the tragedy, but using his art form to draw attention to it.  Was his timing a little insensitive?  Maybe, but that’s the fault of him reciting that poem at a particular time and in a particular setting, not a fault of the art.

So I think you’re right to be concerned that persona poems could come off as a form of exploitation and appropriation;

I guess that means that if I write a character in my book who happens to be a black guy, I — the Polish/Apache author — am automatically a racist?  I’m exploiting and appropriating black culture?  Oh, wait.  Sorry, I meant African American culture.

Which presents an interesting problem: my story is a science fiction story, and there is no such thing as America anymore.  So, what do I call that character?  African?  No, that’s racist.  African-Saturn-Space-Station-an?  Nope, I think he’s a black guy.  The end.  No exploiting or appropriating here.  Or would you prefer that all my characters be Polish/Apaches like me, just because I happen to be one?

Simonthere’s also a risk of self-congratulation and unexamined complicity.

Uh, what?


 So, writing a white character makes me “self-congratulatory”?  And what the hell am I “complicit” in?

Even if your goal is to learn and to empathize, one wonders why your act of inhabiting a woman’s or POC’s perspective would be more deserving of readership than writing by someone who has lived that experience?

Learning and empathizing is great.  But again, what does the color of the person writing the story or poem have to do with anything?  It’s like you’re trying to make the case that the author becomes the character they’re writing.  That’s absurd.  I never was an agent of an interplanetary police force, but I can still write about them.

If the only things people ever wrote about were their own personal experiences, fiction would not exist.  Or if it did, it would be just as boring and frustrating as real life.

And the problem is, because of your status as a white male, whatever you do write is easier to publish, all other things being equal. Whether or not you or your editors and readers are aware of it, you get automatic bonus points. You’re at the lowest difficulty setting in the video game of life.

Um . . . it’s not like the publishers make you submit a picture of yourself and fill out a form that asks for your race and gender and religion and political affiliation.  They might not know what you look like at all.  How many times in history has a person written under a pseudonym to hide their real identity from the person publishing the work, and pulled it off?  Louisa May Alcott wrote under the name A.M. Barnard.  Charlotte Bronte used the name Currer Bell.  And they got away with it.

Now, just because they lived in a time where that was necessary does NOT support your argument.  It does NOT mean that white males of their very nature are easier to publish. The fact that these women were able to write something that even the white males of their time thought was publishable supports what I’m saying — that it doesn’t matter what kind of person you are.  What matters is how good the literature is.  And an editor doesn’t have to know what race/gender you are.  I’ve submitted a novel to three different publishers, and nowhere in that correspondence was there a question about my race or gender or religion or political views.  It wasn’t necessary to draw attention to it.  The point was to get them to want to publish the STORY, not some whiny crap about how persecuted I am.

When the VIDA counts come out and multiple publications are shown to publish far more men than women (with the numbers for POC writers looking even worse), editors make excuses about their submission pools — they get far more submissions and pitches from men than women.

Really?  Amazing!  Didn’t I just say that?

Then people inevitably respond by telling women to write more, submit more, and pitch more.

Look at that!  You got something right!

I think this is exactly the wrong response: Instead we should tell men to submit less. Pitch less. Especially white men. You are already over-represented. Most literary magazines are drowning in submissions. Instead of making things even harder for overworked, underpaid editors, let’s improve the ratios in the submission pool by reducing the number of inappropriate, firebombed submissions from men.

I can’t believe you just said that.

You’re the one who’s racist and sexist!  A white man submits a story, and automatically it’s “inappropriate” and “firebombed,” whatever the hell that means?  That, sir, is a racist and sexist statement!  You have no idea what the story or poem or whatever actually says, or how good it is, but because a white man sent it, it’s “inappropriate” and “firebombed”?  You are a bigot.

I thought you were trying to help writers with your advice.  So, your advice is to tell them to stop writing, not because they’re writing sucks, but because they, of their very nature, are not worthy of being published?

If you were talking about a black person, people would be calling for your head.  But because you’re talking about an “over-represented” white male, it’s fine to be a racist jackass?

HypocritesYou — white men — have all the advantages here, so you should work to solve the problem of imbalance, instead of putting all the burden on women, POC, and LGBTQ to fix it themselves. (And I’m suspicious in any case that perfectly balanced submission queues would always lead to gender parity on the other side.)

Yeah, because it’s all about the race or gender of the person doing the writing, not the quality of the story.

Wait, I think I’ve said this before.

This is America — the land of opportunity.  It’s about equality of OPPORTUNITY, not equality of OUTCOME.  Women, POC, and LGBTQ (as you put it) have the same opportunity to be published as white men.  If they don’t take advantage of that opportunity, that’s their own fault, not the fault of the publishers.

And before you go nuts over the fact that I said that, I am a woman, and I have enough Apache in me to qualify for reservation claim, so shut the hell up.

So here are my suggestions for things you can do — so you can “listen” while also writing, so you can write your own experience without denying anyone else’s or colonizing their stories:

Here we go with the “colonizing” again.  Go get a dictionary.

I thought you just told this poor person to stop writing, because he was a white male.  Make up your mind.

Read more books by women, POC, and LGBTQ writers. Make their experience a bigger proportion of your reading, and learn that way instead of by appropriating their voices. Then amplify what you love — recommend those books to friends, teach them if you teach, give them away as presents. If you edit a magazine, make sure you’re not overexposing white male authors, giving them too much space because it’s what you relate to. Even if you don’t edit or teach anything, you can promote more diverse authors to editors and teachers you know.

The guy was asking you about writing tips, not tips for a book club or a reading list.  Get back on topic.

Don’t be a problem submitter. When I edited a magazine, we got far more submissions from men, and men were far more likely to submit work that was sloppy and/or inappropriate for the magazine; they were also far more likely to submit more work immediately after being rejected. When you submit writing, you’re taking up other people’s time. Be respectful of that. I said in my last column that getting published takes a lot of work, which is true — but most of that work should take the form of writing, and revising, and engaging with people in the writing world, not just constantly sending out new work, which starts to look like boredom and entitlement.

RightThat rule can apply to anyone of any race or color or gender or whatever.  Some people are just rude.  You’re being a bigot again, blaming white men for problems that can just as easily apply to women, black people, and homosexuals.  Bad manners cross all cultural barriers.  Get over it.

And constantly sending out new work is “boredom and entitlement”?  I thought it was just someone trying hard to get published.  After all, the more times you submit, the more experience you gain, the better your chances of actually being published.  Huh.  Imagine that.

Think of this as something like carbon offsets. You are not going to solve the greater problem this way, on your own, but you might mitigate the damage.

Yeah, because writing it a lot like the global warming problem.

Telling a writer not to write is NOT solving a problem, mostly because there IS NO PROBLEM!  Stop making crap up and complaining about it.  Just let people write!  If it’s good, it will be published; if not, it won’t, and the author will have to learn how to make it better.  That is good for everyone, even if it hurts at the time.

Yes, the first time my book — my wonderful masterpiece that was really a part of my soul, or so I felt — was rejected, I cried for about two days.  It hurts.  But you know what?  You get back on the freaking horse and keep going.  You learn.  You write more, you write better, and maybe next time it’ll work out.  Or it won’t, but then it won’t hurt quite as bad as the first time.

I’m sure some people would tell you to stop writing; I’m not going to.

Except you just did; you used a lot of words to do it, and tried to disguise it, but you did.  So now you’re a liar as well as a hypocrite.

LiarThere is already more writing produced every day than anyone could ever be expected to read, and producing writing is not necessarily an imposition, since people have the option not to read it.

Whoa, really?  Isn’t that what I just said?  That more writing isn’t a bad thing?

I’m not even going to tell you not to write about race or gender; you might even be obligated to.

Yeah, because there is a set formula involved in writing acceptable literature.  Works published must contain a certain amount of Groupthink and Acceptable Ideology.  You are obliged to follow these rules, or the Mental Hygiene Police will come and arrest you.

There are surely non-exploitative ways to do so; I wish I knew the formula for how. The best approach is likely to work toward good writing regardless of your subject matter;

I just said that.

to me that means choosing complexity over obvious, trite sentiments, and avoiding self-flattery — don’t cast yourself as the white savior.

I don’t think anyone tried to do that, certainly not the person who wrote the question.  Just because you write a white character doesn’t mean you’re being a “white savior,” whatever that means.  It’s just a character.  You write the character that suits the story, period.  If I was writing a story about a group of eight-limbed sentient aliens who live on a faraway planet and eat stardust for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I probably shouldn’t put in a regular white guy, because that would be out of place on that planet.  Does that mean I hate white guys, or think that there really is intelligent life on other planets?

No, of course not, because this is FICTION we’re talking about!

Anonymous, don’t listen to this moron.  He’s so full of his ideological crap, his eyes are brown.  Write what you want.  Send it to anyone you can think of.  If you get rejected, learn from it.  Keep writing.  Don’t let someone else’s crap ideology stop you.

lsbFollow the squirrel minion to get to Lori’s website, Little Squirrel Books.

This entry was posted in Commentary, Fiction, Fisks, Writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to White Privilege Gets You Published: A Fisk

  1. Pingback: There Is No Such Thing as Universal Literature: A Shakespearean Fisk | The Catholic Geeks

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