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Friday, April 15, 2016

Very Excited About A New Writing Class

I am very excited about a new writing class I'm being allowed to take. I say allowed, because the class came about because not enough minorities submitted material for a public art project, so the city is putting money into things like this class, aimed at writers of color and indigenous writers. I asked permission to attend, and it was granted, as long as I stay in the background and keep quiet in class. 

The class is large. I'd say looking around it, about half were African-American writers, maybe thirty percent Asian. Quite a few looked East Indian, or Pakistani or Middle Eastern, and a handful identified out loud as either Latina or Native-American. 

I should also say that, for me, these categories are almost silly, because an African-American writer from New Orleans is going to self-identify very differently than one raised in, say, a small, mostly white town in Nebraska. Some experiences will be shared, obviously. Many will be different. 

Thai Buddhist family giving alms. 
A Buddhist from Thailand, which has never been colonized, 

Philippino Passion Play for Easter 

a Catholic from the Philippines, which suffered for centuries under Spanish rule, 

Indonesian Muslim wedding
a Muslim from Indonesia 

Kim Young Soon speaks of her nine years in a North Korean prison camp. 
and a defector from North Korea would not have *that* much in common, though Western cultures might not see much difference. 

Life in Nepal is a lot different from life in Afghanistan. An Azerbaijani might look like an Armenian, but oh, no, they are not the same. Nor are all Armenians or Azerbaijani the same. The Persians of Iran would be deeply offended to be called Arabs. And woe to the person who believes that there are is one set of "Native American beliefs." Try telling that to the Hopi and the Navajo. 

So, anyway, the minorities that I am don't fit the right categories to qualify for this class. In this country Jews became "white" right around 1960, though our family was decimated because of what others viewed as our race. (Nope, sorry,  not decimated. We lost a lot more than ten percent of the family.) Certainly, I have personally encountered enough anti-semitism to be able to identify. Also, I have spent years learning and listening about our differences and our pain, plus, I have a kid with a disability and I probably have a disability of my own--I've been identified as such, but I'm still not sure. 

But this class is for those who have not been the beneficiary of what is currently being called "White privilege. I can give you a perfect snapshot of of those benefits from when I was a teenager, and qualified for an employment grant due to our family's low-income.  I trotted over to meet the bureaucrats whose job was to persuade employers to hire inner city kids. 

The minute I walked in and presented my paperwork, relief rolled off the employment workers. There I was, white, blonde, speaking not just standard English, but, heck, my mom trained to be a speech teacher. 

They told me I could pick any job I wanted from their list. You better bet that was *all* about my color, my middle-class bearing and behavior, my non-ghetto name, and my "proper" speech. 

To be real, I'm not sure how much any of that helped me that summer, when I worked at a local, inner city Girls club teaching art and theater to kids whose English sounded Spanish, until we all started reciting The Wizard of Oz word for word, and
The young Billy Burke--isn't she lovely? 
then we all sounded like Boston (the Scarecrow or the Tin Man) or New York Jews (the Cowardly Lion) or Ditzy Private School East Coast/Vaudevillians (The Good Witch.) 

Which is kind of funny, because Billy Burke (or Mary William Ethelbert Appleton "Billie" Burke) spent her early years traveling with her daddy, who was a clown in Barnum and Bailey's Circus. 

I am very excited about this class, though. The teacher seems gifted, thoughtful and passionate. I believe with all my heart that race must be discussed, that everything is political, including the assumption, in literature, that I am white unless I tell you otherwise, including the assumption that a novel all about men is Literary, while a novel all about women is A Women's Novel, including the fact that any Asian or Pakistani or African-American should also feel free to write any damn thing they wish, and not just as Asian-American, Pakistani-American, or African-American. (Meaning that Jhumpa Lahiri should be free to write about culture, not race if that's where her heart takes her.)

My friend of color and fellow classmate was irritated that I am not supposed to speak in the class (hugs to you, Marcia, and for your careful sounding out of my reaction, bless your heart.) Still, I do understand the teacher's request. There needs to be a safe place for people who have not yet found their voice, in a culture where their voice is often denigrated or denied. 

Truth is, though, keeping my mouth shut is damned hard for me. Thought enters mind and comes out of mouth. I know this about myself. 

So I can use this class to work on discipline. Right. 

I'll bring my knitting. Wherever it is. Maybe if my hands are busy. . . 

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