Writers of color often get told that they ought to separate their craft issues from their diversity issues. Even in my relatively friendly MFA world at VCFA, I’ve occasionally heard this advice. Not so much lately, I must say.
The advice usually comes with plenty of good intentions, from a true belief that somehow the writer’s post-colonial or feminist or other “ism”-related views are separate from the matter of writing. It’s about content, surely, not process. There’s something else called “true” craft, isn’t there?
Um, no, not really.
My background, culture, family, beliefs, have always imbued my craft. Haven’t everybody’s? If you happen to be writing while white, in the same way I’m writing while brown, would you not say your literary antecedents come at least in part from within your culture? Is including references to Shakespeare and Milton in a lecture not a culture-driven act? You and I can both do that, but they are an act of connection to a particular socio-historic past.
So why should your cultural connections be allowed into the conversation but mine be put into their own little box and kept separate from my art? For many years I didn’t know anyone to whom I could put these questions and hope to get semi-cogent answers. In part, I wrote The Grand Plan to Fix Everything to turn common tropes on their heads, link to stories outside the usual Eurocentric paradigm and give the brown kid the power to be cool.
That was 2012.
That conversation doesn’t seem to be going away, this article seems to suggest.