Wednesday, June 29, 2005

poc madness

Never did I expect that when I was coming up to San Francisco for this incredible POC writers gathering that there would be such pleito/misunderstanding/change within the writing group I face at home.

We've introduced a new person to the writing group. It does not bother me that she is white. While that did cross my mind, that crossing was more of an observation, not a thought meant to change or question the group's makeup. More than anything, I was and am excited about her work - she has a unique/playful/intelligent voice with a deep understanding/empathic nature which comes through in her work. She's solid. Another writer, however, a white woman, brought up the issue of race.

And so I found myself having to address the issue because I am the only poc person there and because I was the one who wanted this writing group in the first place, planting the idea in another member's mind and because I thought it was going to be a simple dialogue via email. I should have known better. Race can't carefully be discussed by email. Hell the dialogue from the first exchange ever on this planet is still going on with our antepasados. Nunca para.

But let me just say something : no matter what the "other" may mean (ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, etc.) in talks of inclusion, never try to support or second that other's experience with your own (if you are not of that "other"). Why can't it be enough to hear the experience of those who live the life within their body, who are viewed bodily as living that life, and who must face the hardships associated with otherness?

It never works to bring out stories from high school, work discrimination, how much ally work experience you have or pointing out still another way to be "other" - Lord, let's address one thing at a time.

And this is crazy because I was fine with all the white women in the group. In terms of discussing racism and ethnicity inclusivity, I thought only of continued growth for the group. I thought of questioning, for ourselves as a group, why dominant culture does not foster poc writer/artist voices. And we can admit we are looking for a certain level of craft and ability in the writers who would join our group but maybe mentorship or support of writers who haven't had access to our background or training within the arts is needed. And maybe, as a group, we can foster that growth - take new steps.

Instead, it has turned into a larger issue. The group's changing, yes. And that's not a bad thing but instead of trying to address this by comparing oppressions, we need to more actively live to include and maybe change our ideals for future members of the group.

I'm going through this when I'm far away from my group, unable to see their faces, and immersed, luxuriously, within a very different dynamic - a poc-driven/poc-specific writing group. A fellow poet in my morning class, Robyn, and I were talking about this all when the instructor heard the discussion.

Wouldn't you know it became a discussion on race and class and how we identify (the old argument: as writers of color or as writers who are also of color), and how our culture and background informs and motivates and participates within our writing. So, if we are queer and poc, does the queerness and poc come through actively into every poem? No, but it does color the world we write about and live in.

My instructor looked right at me and said "Stand your ground." I have to acccept how I'm feeling. Really listen then make my choices. Maybe it's good I'm far away. Right now I'm feeling like walking through a sugarcane field with a machete, ready to burn the ground to get ready for new crops. I should wait the next couple of days and see what clarity comes through first.

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