The reality and un-reality of race

Race, a culturally-constructed term to genetically categorize peoples of certain ethnic and cultural backgrounds into locked groups, is the backdrop of discrimination and racist mentalities. Anthropologists and scientists have studied the theory of race to conclude that there is no such thing as this in human beings. There is such a thing as human variation, but underneath our varying complexions we are genetically the same. On September 22, 2011 poets R. Dwayne Betts, Martha Collins, Fanny Howe, Claudia Rankine, and Natasha Trethewey for the Fall for the Book Festival came together to discuss how they identify race and poetics in their respected writings.

The major discussion of the panelists revolved around ideas of privilege, who has “race,” and how one writes a “raced” poem. When readers encounter a poem, do they say this poem is about race because it was written by a writer not white, or is the subject matter confronting issues of sovereignty, discrimination, equality, counterculture and minority lifestyles? Who even is a minority in America today and how much does this have to do with class issues? Is it a privilege to ignore cultural background in writing? Is this integrity, is this ignorance? Is it fair? We can have our private answers to these questions, but when it comes to the livelihoods of writers within the publishing field, predominately is the case that white writers do have privilege in writing subject matter that evades mention of a cultural history and writers of color are represented as writing only from their “race” because of their physical appearance.

The range of human experience is our race, although many will never believe this. Currently at the Natural History Museum in Washington D.C., the Race Project exhibit explores notions of “race” and strives to educate on the human spectrum and variation, never ignoring cultural issues that affect people’s access to healthcare, income, and safety. This is a traveling exhibit, and I highly encourage all to visit.

Please join me in furthering this discussion of cultural perspective in writing? What are your experiences with writing and race? What do you do when your hapa?

♥ Sheila M

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