I’m at Ball State today for the InPrint Festival, an annual event celebrating authors and their first books. The 2nd night of the event is a panel where BSU invites an editor as well to discuss the process of editing, of selection and creation. I’m the editor, of sorts. In about 40 minutes, I’ve to stand in front of a class and talk about Vouched Books and why it’s important. That’s somewhat terrifying.
I have some down time right now, and instead of preparing anything for the presentation, I chose instead to read an essay by Matt Salesses, “DIFFERENT RACISMS: On Jeremy Lin and How the Rules of Racism are Different for Asian Americans,” at The Rumpus, which I saw all over my twitter feed yesterday.
Coincidentally, poet Gleen Shaheen who is also taking part in the InPrint Festival was just speaking to a similar point at lunch, how at times in his writing education he was told not to write about his Arabic heritage, that to do so was “cheating” on some level. Salesses mentions a similar barrier to his own early writing in the essay:
I know many Asian American writers who refuse to write about Asian Americans, out of a fear of being typecast, or a fear of being seen as “using” their ethnicity, or a fear of being an “Asian American writer,” or something. And really, I understand that. I have been one of those writers. This may not come as a surprise, at this point in this essay, but for a long time, I wrote only about white characters. I wrote about them because I grew up with people like them, but also because they were the people in books and because I, too, feared the label, or at least told myself I did. What that fear really is, it seems to me now, is a fear of not being taken as seriously as the White Male Writer, who has so long ruled English literature.
The essay is fantastic and eye-opening and altogether aching. Salesses uses the backdrop of the Jeremy Lin-sanity to highlight how flagrant racism against Asian Americans really is, how even positive racial stereotypes (Asians as hard-working, respectful, kick ass ninjas) are still stereotypes, still a form of racism.
It is hard to call someone who thinks he is complimenting you a racist. But the positive stereotypes people think they can use because of their “positivity” continue (and worsen) the problem. Thinking you can call an entire race “respectful” is thinking you can classify someone by race, is racism.