“I can’t agree that [Junot] Díaz’s success is gender-based; because yes Díaz is a man, but he’s also a man of color. Critics who say that Díaz would not receive the same warmth, if he was a woman, are overlooking the factor of race.”
- Breaking the Barrier: On Race, Gender, and Junot Díaz by Thea Lim
[Image via MSU]
While I emphatically agree that gender is a barrier in publishing, taking out our sense of injustice on men of color is barking up the wrong tree. It would make more sense for us to think about how the barriers we face are parallel, and to try working on the unfairness in publishing together.
“What began to be clear to me as I read these women of color—Leslie Marmon Silko, Sandra Cisneros, Anjana Appachana, and throw in Octavia Butler and the great [Cherríe] Moraga of course—was that what these sisters were doing in their art was powerfully important for the community, for subaltern folks, for women writers of color, for male writers of color, for me. They were heeding [Audre] Lorde’s exhortation by forging the tools that could actually take down master’s house. To read these sisters in the 80s as a young college student was not only intoxicating, it was soul-changing. It was metanoia.”
- Junot Díaz talks race and writing with Paula M.L. Moya
These days it’s hard to open a paper without some slightly whipped-up controversy about Morrissey being a racist, but back in the mid-1980s his lyrics and persona mapped out a structure of feeling that spoke to my own floundering selfhood. He sang about shame and unlovability: I had bloodied myself as a 12-year-old using a kitchen knife to scrape away what I saw as the tainting brownness of my skin – a browness that made me only half a person, half the Englishman I wanted to be. He sang about loneliness and isolation: I was rarely invited to the homes of schoolfriends, and certainly never invited them to my mine, for fear that they would snigger at the photographs of turbaned relatives that lined its walls. He sang about weakness: the mantra from my parents was that we were vulnerable because of our religion and had to act as meekly as possible so as not to become targets for thugs and bully boys.
Many of my cousins who lived in Southall and Coventry, places with larger Asian communities, sometimes felt the same emotions. Like me they weren’t into bhangra, so they turned instead to reggae or hip hop, barricade music they associated with street toughness and self-respecting masculinity. Perhaps because I was growing up in a whiter corner of England, or perhaps just for aesthetic reasons, I was drawn to music that was less about collective pride than about individual abjection, music that created theatrical extroversion out of bedroom-bound introversion. I instinctively preferred weakness to strength, treble to bass: “How Soon Is Now”, “Barbarism Begins at Home”, “Shakespeare’s Sister” – the wah-wah rockist parts of the Smiths’ discography were always my least favourite.