Friday, September 14, 2012

We Are All Messed Up By This Race Thing: A Little Coonskin to Go With a Side of Junot Diaz

We are having a fun conversation here. It started out as my goofing on the buckdancing black conservatives over at Project 21 and has since taken a detour into Afrocentrism, the Black Atlantic, historical memory, transhumanism, and the interracial sex and dating habits of Star Trek fans.

In all, there are enough themes present there for a pretty solid work of speculative literature. The text may not end up being coherent; it would be pretty interesting nonetheless.

Ghetto nerds tend to roll that way I guess, with their minds overflowing, improvising, and pulling in inspiration from wherever it may come. To point, I had intended to share this great interview with Junot Diaz following my visit to Chicon 7.

[For those seeking a "no-prize," his book The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao is the inspiration for my "ghetto nerds" moniker/badge of honor.]

Speaking to the Boston Review, Diaz signals to many of the themes which animate WARN, as well as my own creative work. White supremacy is everywhere. We all breathe it, internalize it, reproduce it, and give it life--despite how the insincere and dishonest rhetoric of "colorblindess" in the post Civil Right era suggests otherwise. By implication, artists have to struggle with how to write realistically and honestly about racism/sexism/homophobia and other systems of strucutural oppression without legitimating those power relationships.

Junot Diaz comments on this challenge with beautiful wit and clarity. He suggests that race has made us all insane. Is our chief ghetto nerd right?
Paula: This reminds me of a point you made in the question and answer session following your lecture yesterday. You said that people of color fuel white supremacy as much as white people do; that it is something we are all implicated in. You went on to suggest that only by first recognizing the social and material realities we live in—by naming and examining the effects of white supremacy—can we hope to transform our practices.

Junot: How can you change something if you won’t even acknowledge its existence, or if you downplay its significance? White supremacy is the great silence of our world, and in it is embedded much of what ails us as a planet. The silence around white supremacy is like the silence around Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, or the Voldemort name which must never be uttered in the Harry Potter novels. And yet here’s the rub: if a critique of white supremacy doesn’t first flow through you, doesn’t first implicate you, then you have missed the mark; you have, in fact, almost guaranteed its survival and reproduction. There’s that old saying: the devil’s greatest trick is that he convinced people that he doesn’t exist. Well, white supremacy’s greatest trick is that it has convinced people that, if it exists at all, it exists always in other people, never in us.

Paula: I wanted to ask you about something else you said in the lecture yesterday. You said you wanted to, and thought you could, “figure out a way to represent most honestly—represent in the language, and represent in the way people talk, and represent in the discourse—what [you], just one person, thought was a racial reality,” but without endorsing that reality. You indicated that you aim to realistically represent “our entire insane racial logic” but in a way that “the actual material does not endorse that reality” at the level of structure. This is certainly what I would argue your work succeeds in doing. But I would like to hear more about how you go about creating, at the level of structure, a disjuncture between the realistic representation of race and an endorsement of the racial logic on which the representation is based.

Junot: The things I say. [Laughs] OK, let me see if I can make sense of my own damn self. Let’s see if I can speak to the actual texts. Well, at its most simplistic in, say, Drown, we have a book where racist shit happens—but it’s not like at a thematic level the book is saying: Right on, racist shit! I was hoping that the book would expose my characters’ race craziness and that this craziness would strike readers, at the very minimum, as authentic. But exposing our racisms, etc., accurately has never seemed to be enough; the problem with faithful representations is that they run the risk of being mere titillation or sensationalism. In my books, I try to show how these oppressive paradigms work together with the social reality of the characters to undermine the very dreams the characters have for themselves.

So, Yunior thinks X and Y about people and that logic is, in part, what fucks him up. Now if the redounding is too blunt and obvious, then what you get is a moralistic parable and not literature. But, if it’s done well, then you get both the ugliness that comes out of showing how people really are around issues like race and gender, but also a hidden underlying counter-current that puts in front of you the very real, very personal, consequences of these orientations.

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