Category Archives: race & publishing

Racialicious Crush Of The Week: James Earl Hardy

By Andrea Plaid

James Earl Hardy. Photo Credit: Sylvester Q. Courtesy of the interviewee.

Award-winning author James Earl Hardy mentioned that quite a few people may have seen his best-selling book, B-boy Blues, outside of college classrooms–where it’s required reading in African American/multiculti lit and queer lit courses–and bookshelves: actor Isaiah Washington, who plays one half of a same-gender loving (SGL) couple in Spike Lee’s 1996 flick, Get On The Bus, is a holding a copy of it.

Lit-checked in a Spike Lee movie? Such is Hardy’s swag.

After the jump is the interview, in which Hardy talks about the “One Superstar Person Of Color At A Time” mindset in publishing, Black masculinity in pop culture, and his writing a one-person play about a man of color who’s a porn star and entrepreneur. (You read that right.) Hardy also talks about Washington’s career-ending homophobic remark, made a decade after his role in Get On The Bus.

Jason Chu On The La Jolla Playhouse Controversy

Lyrics:
I hear “nothing’s more American than immigrating in
“Working hard is more important than the color of your skin”
But if that’s true, why are the faces that look like me
Always involved in takeout, kung fu, or exotic villainy?
I mean, we wear the same clothes and we do the same things
And we talk the same way – but it was never a real dream
For me to be Friends with Rachel, Joey, or Ross
And “Jason Chu” was not the answer to the question, “Who’s the Boss?”
Even on Cheers, where everybody was supposed to know my name
I never heard a Chu, Nguyen, Kim, Loke, or Chang
So I concluded that Asian faces are only right
If we’re talking about rice, or a high-tech device
I mean, I just saw the Dark Knight Rise
And I cheered every time that I saw an Asian face – twice
This is why we don’t win: the systems that we’re in
If we build separate communities, we’re viewed as aliens
But if we try to play along, we have no hope of blending in
They’ll never let John Wayne be played by John Kim
But The Airbender was Noah Ringer, and Goku was Justin Chatwin
And the whole cast of Akira was gonna be played by white men
But I have never seen a role with a European name
Be filled by an Asian with the excuse “we cast for talent, not for race”
So the La Jolla playhouse can say anything they want
In the end, I don’t see action, so I conclude it’s just a front
For the same attitude that I’ve always seen out there
Because “color-blind” is just a nicer way to say “we don’t care”

Background here and here.

Why The Pretty White Girl YA Book Cover Trend Needs To End

By Guest Contributor Ellen Oh, cross-posted from Hello Ello

Graphic courtesy jillianaudrey.blogspot.com. For illustration purposes only.

Recently, there have been more Asians on TV than usual. This makes me happy because it is such a rare event. Spotting an Asian on TV always feels like trying to find Waldo. And when I do spot an Asian on TV or in the movies, I jump up and down and get overly excited, like I’ve spotted some rare species or mythical creature, like a unicorn or Big Foot.

So you can imagine my exuberance over watching the Knicks and Jeremy Lin. What’s not been so cool has been the media response to him. Lots of people have lots of opinions on him and race plays a huge factor in it all. Why? Because, like Asians on television shows and movies, Asian pro athletes are few and far between. Jeremy Lin’s performance is irrevocably linked to his race. He is considered an Asian “anomaly.” Let’s focus on that word “anomaly.” Meaning, “to deviate from the expected”–an irregularity. It is in this way that the media lifts up one man and backhands an entire race.

Asians have long been the silent minority in this country. It’s gotten so bad that when someone makes a racist remark toward Asians, they just shrug it off and make it seem like you’re the one making a big deal about nothing. Or they think it’s funny. Like a couple of white guys who think they are being clever by opening up a restaurant called “Roundeye Noodle shop” in Philadelphia. And then they are surprised when people get offended? The roots of that racist remark stem from Asians being called slanty-eyed chinks.  If anyone thinks “Roundeye” is not racist, you should come explain that to my youngest daughter who had the singular pleasure of being told by two boys in her class that her “small Chinese eyes” were ugly compared to her friend’s “blue round-eyes.” She was in kindergarten and only 5 years old. She cried for days. Words can scar you for life.

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Quoted: Author Kate Hart’s Findings On Diversity On Young Adult Lit Covers

I had hoped that without “gatekeepers,” self-publishing and indie presses would make up some of the ground in minority representation. Instead, out of the 200+ non-PW titles I surveyed, not a single one appears to portray a person of color.

Now, I realize this chart is not representative of all self-published and indie titles. A real assessment of self-published titles should start with Amazon (if anyone cares to take that on, I’m glad to spread the word of your results!). It’s likely the chart says more about Goodreads voters*** than it does about representation– but that possibility doesn’t cheer me up much either.

So how are the gatekeepers doing?

Courtesy Kate Hart

- From “Uncovering YA Covers: 2011″

How Can Essence Move Forward?

by Guest Contributor Chris Rabb

Essence CoverToday I learned that Michael Bullerdick, the latest managing editor of Essence Magazine–a highly influential publication whose first issue published in 1970–inadvertently outted himself on social media recently by expressing extreme right-wing beliefs that counter the history and long-standing values of the organization where he was hired last summer.

What’s notable about this story is that Mr. Bullerdick is a white man. While he is not the first white employee to make headlines–as Ellianna Placas did when she became the first white fashion director–he is the first white person and first man to be the managing editor of this publication geared to Black female readers.

According to Richard Prince at Journalisms, Bullerdick was asked to leave after his posting habits on Facebook came to light:

In one screen shot, an April 10 posting is headlined, “No Voter Fraud, Mr. Attorney General?” touting a video by James O’Keefe, the conservative activist who worked with right-wing trickster Andrew Breitbart. The same day, Bullerdick shared a photo illustration of Al Sharpton headlined, “MSNBC Race Pimp.” Bullerdick also recommends material from the conservative magazine Human Events and the right-wing website townhall.com, from which Bullerdick posted “the Frequent Bomber Program,” an article about 1960s radical Bill Ayers. Bullerdick wrote, “Obama’s mentor and friend.”

The mismatch in values not surprising to me–even though I know very little about Bullerdick, personally. What I do know, however, is that Essence was acquired in 2005 by Time, Inc.–the largest magazine publisher in the U.S.–a corporate conglomerate that well understood the cumulative spending power of Black women.

In 2000, the Black owners of Essence sold 49% of this iconic company to Time. Why just 49%, you ask? Because by retaining 51% ownership of the company, they could technically say that Essence was still Black-owned (insert air quotes here).

The owners no doubt predicted that many Black readers and non-readers alike would condemn this choice as nothing less than “selling out” at the expense of an institution that, in the field of media and journalism, has provided an important outlet for Black women to express themselves in ways that corporate media was loathe to do both before 1970–and arguably even today–in many mainstream circles, despite a few notable exceptions. Continue reading

Quoted: Jaswinder Bolina on Poetry, and Writing Through Identity

Carrier Wave, Jaswinder Bolina

[Back then, I was] only a year or so into an MFA. I stop by the office of a friend, an older white poet in my department. Publication to me feels impossible then, and the friend means to be encouraging when he says, “With a name like Jaswinder Bolina, you could publish plenty of poems right now if you wrote about the first-generation, minority stuff. What I admire is that you don’t write that kind of poetry.” He’s right. I don’t write “that kind” of poetry. To him, this is upstanding, correct, what a poet ought to do. It’s indicative of a vigor exceeding that of other minority poets come calling. It turns out I’m a hard worker too. I should be offended—if not for myself, then on behalf of writers who do take on the difficult subject of minority experience in their poetry—but I understand that my friend means no ill by it. To his mind, embracing my difference would open editorial inboxes, but knowing that I tend to eschew/exclude/deny “that kind” of subject in my poetry, he adds, “This’ll make it harder for you.” When, only a few months later, my father—who’s never read my poems, whose fine but mostly functional knowledge of English makes the diction and syntax of my work difficult to follow, who doesn’t know anything of the themes or subjects of my poetry—tells me to use another name, he’s encouraging also. He means: Let them think you’re a white guy. This will make it easier for you. [...]

To the poet, though, the first question isn’t one of class or color. The first question is a question of language. Poetry—as Stéphane Mallarmé famously tells the painter and hapless would-be poet Edgar Degas—is made of words, not ideas. However, to the poet of color or the female poet, to the gay or transgendered writer in America, and even to the white male writer born outside of socioeconomic privilege, a difficult question arises: “Whose language is it?” Where the history of academic and cultural institutions is so dominated by white men of means, “high” language necessarily comes to mean the language of whiteness and a largely wealthy, heteronormative maleness at that. The minority poet seeking entry into the academy and its canon finds that her language is deracialized/sexualized/gendered/classed at the outset. In trafficking in “high” English, writers other than educated, straight, white, male ones of privilege choose to become versed in a language that doesn’t intrinsically or historically coincide with perceptions of their identities. It’s true that minority poets are permitted to bring alternative vernaculars into our work. Poets from William Wordsworth in the preface to Lyrical Ballads to Frank O’Hara in his “Personism: a manifesto” demand as much by insisting that poetry incorporate language nearer to conversational speech than anything overly elevated. Such calls for expansions of literary language in conjunction with continuing experiments by recent generations of American poets are transforming the canon for sure, but this leaves me and perhaps others like me in a slightly awkward position. I don’t possess a vernacular English that’s significantly different from that of plain old Midwestern English. As such, it seems I’m able to write from a perspective that doesn’t address certain realities about myself, and this makes me queasy as anything. The voice in my head is annoyed with the voice in my writing. The voice in my head says I’m disregarding difference, and this feels like a denial of self, of reality, of a basic truth.

It isn’t exactly intentional. It’s a product of being privileged. In the 46 years since my father left Punjab, the 40 or so years since my mother left also, my parents clambered the socioeconomic ladder with a fair amount of middle-class success. We’re not exactly wealthy, but I do wind up in prep school instead of the public high school, which only isolates me further from those with a shared racial identity. Later I attend university, where I’m permitted by my parents’ successes to study the subjects I want to study rather than those that might guarantee future wealth. I don’t need to become a doctor or a lawyer to support the clan. I get to major in philosophy and later attend graduate school in creative writing. Through all of this, though I experience occasional instances of bigotry while walking down streets or in bars, and though I study in programs where I’m often one of only two or three students of color, my racial identity is generally overlooked or disregarded by those around me. I’ve become so adept in the language and culture of the academy that on more than one occasion when I bring up the fact of my race, colleagues reply with some variation of “I don’t think of you as a minority.” Or, as a cousin who’s known me since infancy jokes, “You’re not a minority. You’re just a white guy with a tan.” What she means is that my assimilation is complete. But she can’t be correct. Race is simply too essential to the American experience to ever be entirely overlooked. As such, I can’t actually write like a white guy any more than I can revise my skin color. This, however, doesn’t change the fact that if a reader were to encounter much of my work not knowing my name or having seen a photograph of me, she might not be faulted for incorrectly assigning the poems a white racial identity. This is a product of my language, which is a product of my education, which is a product of the socioeconomic privilege afforded by my parents’ successes. The product of all those factors together is that the writing—this essay included—can’t seem to help sounding white.

— Excerpted from “Writing Like a White Guy,” by Jaswinder Bolina, originally published at The Poetry Foundation

HBO Eyeing Neil Gaiman’s American Gods; Will a Casting Race Fail Soon Follow?

by Latoya Peterson

American Gods Cover

My, my, my. HBO is going all in with their fantasy acquisitions these days. First Game of Thrones and now Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. According to Deadline Hollywood:

The project was brought to HBO by Playtone partners Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, and it was brought to them by Robert Richardson. The plan is for Richardson and Gaiman to write the pilot together. [...]

American Gods, the 2002 book that won both the Stoker and Hugo Award among other prizes, lays out a battle between two sets of gods. One consists of the traditional gods and mythological creatures who got their power because people throughout history believed in them. They are losing steam as people’s beliefs wane and are in danger of being supplanted by a new set of gods who reflect America’s preoccupation with technological advancements and obsessions with media, celebrity, technology and drugs. The protagonist is an ex-con who becomes the traveling partner of a conman who turns out to be one of the older gods trying to recruit troops to battle the upstart deities.

The main character of American Gods is Shadow, a wandering ex-convict who finds himself in a battle of mythology – the older Gods of folklore, brought to America by waves of immigration and kept alive by their devotees are set to face off against the newer Gods like the internet and the media. But what is most compelling to me isn’t just the story line – it’s that once again, Gaiman has been explicit about which of his characters are nonwhite by design. Gaiman, writing on the WELL message boards, explains his thoughts around Shadow:

[I]n my head at least he’s one of those people whose race doesn’t read easily — in the celebrity world, Vin Deisel’s an example of the same kind of look. But it seemed appropriate in a book about America that the hero was of mixed race.

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Racializens Roundup: Feminism FOR REAL Launches And MMW Goes Bananas

By Arturo R. García

Let’s start the week off by giving props to some of The R’s best friends who made some waves this weekend.

First off, Friday saw the release of Feminism FOR REAL: Deconstructing The Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism. Edited by the globetrotting Jessica Yee, this collection of essays and poetry tackles the collision between feminist theory and feminist reality. Among the contributors is our own Andrea Plaid, who talked about the project a bit on her tumblr:

Academia provides a “home”—or “safe space,” to use the parlance—for feminists. So, feminism fortified its privilege by, in essence, wedding The Academy—and really, its class privileges of having the money to go to college to “study” these ideas. Yeah, it’s a Mobius Strip of privilege, but it’s still privilege.

So, as much as feminists give lip service to “experience as a form of theoretical basis,” it seems the only time “experience” is respected is when the person has years of it (and if the person had practically founded a feminist organization).  It’s as if feminism has bought into that whole “one bachelor’s degree=5-10 years of ‘professional’ experience” that guides hiring practices. Other than that, folks’ feminism—especially being able to write and speak on it—gets dismissed real quick.

The book is coming off a successful launch event in Toronto and is now available for purchase at the link above.

Meanwhile, in California, Fatemeh Fakhraie, whose work you’ve read here and at Muslimah Media Watch, was part of a panel discussion, along with Jehanzeb Dar, who’s contributed here in the past, at the Bananas 2 conference for Asian/Pacific Islander American bloggers this past Saturday.  The first half of the panel is available under the cut.
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