Not a British Subject: Race and Poetry in the UK

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2018-05-27 23:46Z by Steven

Not a British Subject: Race and Poetry in the UK

The Los Angeles Review of Books

Sandeep Parmar

As long as we have literature as a bulwark against intolerance, and as a force for change, then we have a chance. Europe needs writers to explicate this transition, for literature is plurality in action; it embraces and celebrates a place of no truths, it relishes ambiguity, and it deeply respects the place where everybody has the right to be understood…

Caryl Phillips, Color Me English

Nature rejects the monarch, not the man;
The subject, not the citizen: for kings
And subjects, mutual foes, forever play
A losing game into each other’s hands,
Whose stakes are vice and misery.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Queen Mab”

WHEN I LEFT LOS ANGELES in the summer after 9/11 to study creative writing in England, I was only supposed to be away for a year at most. England was a country I thought I knew — I was born there, lived there for a few years, and returned to visit my maternal grandparents nearly every summer in my teens. Wanting to study poetry, I enrolled in the University of East Anglia’s MA program. Based in Norwich, the writing MA at UEA boasts Kazuo Ishiguro, Anne Enright, and Ian McEwan — along with a host of lesser known but respectable poets — among its graduates. Compared to Los Angeles, Norwich felt strangely remote, enswathed by lakes and rivers and marshland studded by flint houses. Two hours from London, and a bit further to Derby (where my grandparents immigrated in the 1960s from Punjab) I found myself at the desolate end of a train line, cut off from the multicultural Britain of London and the heavily ghettoized Midlands. Norwich — and UEA — could not have been any less ethnically diverse. Whereas inner-city Derby, in particular the multiethnic Normanton road, felt like an entrenched if deeply divided community of Sikhs, Muslims, West Indians, and others, Norwich was eerily homogenous. When I inquired of a local cab driver about racism in the city, he assured me that it was not a problem because “there aren’t any black people.” This did not prove to be exactly true.

What was I doing there? I should have asked myself. And what kind of poet would I become? I never thought to question my attraction to British poetry, or my unfounded sense of its legitimacy. At 21, I was drawn back to the country of my own and my mother’s childhood for instinctual reasons I would only realize many years later. And so, forsaking sunshine, naively idolizing the English way of life as one giant costume drama, I wasted no time and devotedly read beyond the mere handful of 20th-century British poets I had encountered as an undergraduate at UCLA…

…A recent review of Sarah Howe’s book begins with the publisher’s blurb:

Loop of Jade is described as an exploration “of a dual heritage” — Chinese and British — a “journeying back…in search of her roots.” My heart sank a little. Without diminishing the importance of such endeavours, the intervening three decades of identity politics has also led to, perhaps, a sense of, well, here we go again.

The reviewer misses the point — it is not “identity politics” that is at fault here, but publishers who only stage a poet’s racial identity when that poet is not white. Howe’s book moves between lyric and experimental modes, and dodges the uneasy limits of poetic subjectivity. Her work retains a deeply intellectual authority over itself in an industry that would prefer to ornamentalize poets of color…

Read the entire article here.

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Beyond Blackness and Whiteness: Activists of Mixed Race Speak Out

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, United States on 2016-08-02 19:45Z by Steven

Beyond Blackness and Whiteness: Activists of Mixed Race Speak Out

The Los Angeles Review of Books

Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn

SHORTLY BEFORE Alton Sterling’s and Philando Castile’s names became viral hashtags on social media, the latest flare-up in the ongoing conversation about race and racial justice in the United States had been sparked by actor Jesse Williams’s speech at the BET Awards. Some went so far as to call his speech “racist,” with more than 26,000 signatories petitioning to have the Grey’s Anatomy star ousted from the show; a choicely worded tweet from Shonda Rhimes promptly shut down that noise. Others asserted that, as a man of mixed race, Williams should refrain from speaking on issues of blackness, to which author Shannon Luders-Manuel responded in her essay “Can Biracial Activists Speak to Black Issues?” for The Establishment:

Blackness cannot be taken away from us. Biraciality cannot be taken away from us. They exist as tangibly as our skin, made from Europe and Africa. We are the colonizer and the colonized. We are the oppressor and the oppressed. We bleed for our brothers and sisters. We carry on our backs the weight of what one half of us did to the other. We slip easily into white spheres, taking notes and taking names while nodding our European heads.

As one of the fastest growing demographics in the country, mixed Americans are broadening the discourse on race, identity, and the American experience. Can having a biracial or mixed identity provide a vantage of both privilege and oppression? I posed this question to Heidi Durrow, author and founder of the Mixed Remixed Festival in Los Angeles; comedian, writer, and activist Tehran Von Ghasri; and Aaron Samuels, co-founder and COO of Blavity. Their perspectives were as varied as their personal stories, and, for some, fraught with mixed emotions.

Read the entire article here.

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