Racialicious Reads: Identity Edition

774276_73489432As we ease into fall, strong pieces are brewing to take us into the colder months.

The Art Of Not Belonging [Guernica]

Dwyer Murphy interviews Edwidge Danticat on her new work, being an immigrant writer, and categorization.

Guernica: Would these be very different stories if you didn’t translate? If you took them down in Creole?

Edwidge Danticat: Oh, definitely. I had that experience with Krik? Krak! I made some of the stories into radio plays in Creole and they become totally different. More alive in some way. More immediate. In the epigraph to Drown, Junot Diaz uses a quote from a Cuban poet, Gustavo Pérez Firmat—“The fact that I am writing to you in English already falsifies what I wanted to tell you.” This is the dilemma of the immigrant writer. If I’d lived in Haiti my whole life, I’d be writing these things in Creole. But these stories I am writing now are coming through me as a person who, though I travel to Haiti often, has lived in the U.S. for more than three decades now.

Often when you’re an immigrant writing in English, people think it’s primarily a commercial choice. But for many of us, it’s a choice that rises out of the circumstances of our lives. These are the tools I have at my disposal, based on my experiences. It’s a constant debate, not just in my community but in other communities as well. Where do you belong? You’re kind of one of us, but you now write in a different language. You’re told you don’t belong to American literature or you’re told you don’t belong to Haitian literature. Maybe there’s a place on the hyphen, as Julia Alvarez so brilliantly wrote in one of her essays. That middle generation, the people whose parents brought them to other countries as small children, or even people who were born to immigrant parents, maybe they can have their own literature too.

Are We Trayvon Martin? [The Margins]

I.Y. Lee at the Asian American Writers’Workshop examines racial space and conversation for the Asian American commmunity in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting.

Some Asian Americans have been Trayvon Martin in the past: in 1975, when Peter Yew was brutally beaten by police and it took the largest rallies in New York Chinatown’s history (some 10-20,000) to secure promises of no further police harassment; in 1982, when Vincent Chin was beaten to death with a baseball bat because his killers, who never served jail time, confused him with the Japanese auto industry; in 2001, when Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Punjabi Sikh, was shot and killed by a man who mistook him for Muslim and conflated Islam with 9/11; in 2011, when Private Danny Chen was driven to suicide by the racial tormenting of his peers and superiors in the army.

But today, the much-publicized “model minority” myth will tell you about the ‘success’ and assimilation of Asian Americans—so much that elite colleges may be quietly capping the numbers of Asians they admit. This is not a compliment. Indeed, it divides Asians from other people of color, obscures the real needs of Asian communities—e.g., between 2007 and 2010, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders had the highest long-term unemployment rate of any group—and marginalizes the experiences of working class Asian immigrants.

What’s Killing Poor White Women? [The American Prospect]

Monica Potts looks at a new twist on racial health disparities – white women who are dying earlier than previous generations.

In March, two researchers from the University of Wisconsin reported that women in nearly half of 3,140 counties in the United States saw their death rates rise during the same time period that Olshansky studied. The researchers colored the counties with an increase in female mortality a bright red, and the red splashed over Appalachia, down through Kentucky and Tennessee, north of the Cotton Belt, and across the Ozarks—the parts of the South where poor white people live. Location seemed to matter more than other indicators, like drug use, which has been waning. The Wisconsin researchers recommended more studies examining “cultural, political, or religious factors.”

Something less tangible, it seems, is shaping the lives of white women in the South, beyond what science can measure. Surely these forces weigh on black women, too, but perhaps they are more likely to have stronger networks of other women. Perhaps after centuries of slavery and Jim Crow, black women are more likely to feel like they’re on an upward trajectory. Perhaps they have more control relative to the men in their communities. In low-income white communities of the South, it is still women who are responsible for the home and for raising children, but increasingly they are also raising their husbands. A husband is a burden and an occasional heartache rather than a helpmate, but one women are told they cannot do without. More and more, data show that poor women are working the hardest and earning the most in their families but can’t take the credit for being the breadwinners. Women do the emotional work for their families, while men reap the most benefits from marriage. The rural South is a place that often wants to remain unchanged from the 1950s and 1960s, and its women are now dying as if they lived in that era, too.

No Mercy in Motion [Guernica]

Jesmyn Ward ruminates on the last summer she spent with her brother before he was killed by a drunk driver in Mississippi.

This is where the past and the future meet. This is after the pit bull attack, after my father left, and after my mother’s heart broke. This is after the bullies in the hallway, after the nigger jokes, after my brother told me what he’d done as we stood out on the street. This is after my father had six more children with four different women, which meant he had ten children total. This is after my mother stopped working for one White family who lived in a mansion on the beach and began working for another White family who lived in a large house on the bayou. This is after I’d earned two degrees, a crippling case of homesickness, and a lukewarm boyfriend at Stanford. This is before Ronald, before C. J. This is before Demond, before Rog. This is where my two stories come together. This is the summer of the year 2000. This is the last summer that I will spend with my brother. This is the heart. This is. Every day, this is.

When I finished my master’s coursework at Stanford in April 2000, I packed my things and shipped the detritus of my life via UPS to Mississippi. I was moving home. I wanted to live in southern Mississippi or somewhere near Mississippi in the South for a few years because I was tired of being away: I was tired of being small in the big world. I was tired of being perpetually lonely. During my senior year at Stanford, I’d sat in my college dorm room, a single with shag carpeting and a sink in a closet, and stared out into the courtyard at the moon, which shone brightly through the weave of oak trees. I ached so badly for my family and DeLisle that I’d cried. How do I get back? I’d worked hard in high school, spending weekend nights during my junior and senior years studying for standardized tests and navigating the unfamiliar lingo of college applications alone. Going to an elite college far from home hadn’t molded me into an adult, made me confident and self-assured; instead, it had confused me, made me timid and unsure of myself. I yearned for the familiar.

  • Misti-Nicole Harper

    As the daughter of a poor,white Arkansas/Louisiana couple, this is sobering. I remember the way I grew up and the way my mother and sisters still live, and it’s difficult–I graduated from college and am approximately three years away from earning my Ph.D. The way I live now is radically different than when I lived at home, and it sometimes causes a rift between me and my family. How do you talk about lifestyle choices that are tied so intricately to education and money–social class benchmarks–that are detrimental in determining life expectancy, and not come across as if you are now “above your raisin’” as South Arkansans say? Thank you so much for posting this article.