Announcing HYBRID AMBASSADORS: a blog-ring project of Dialogue2010 You met our multinational cultural innovators this spring in a roundtable discussion of hybrid life at expat+HAREM. Now in these interconnected blog posts some of them share reactions to a recent polarizing book promotion at the writing network SheWrites. Join the discussion on Twitter using #HybridAmbassadors or #Dialogue2010.
Driving through ghost towns in South Dakota were the remnants of “No Indians Allowed” signs displayed larger than the names of the taverns themselves. Photographs I’ve seen of “Whites Only” or “Colored Toilets This Way” invoke disgust, shame, horror, and rage. The Civil Rights Movement paved the way for new paradigms of seeing beyond the racial divides that upheld the USAs racist and genocidal past. Or did it?
A recent post on She Writes by an African-American woman calling for “White Ambassadors To Help Me Cross Over” shocked and troubled me on so many levels. During my participation in the forum I found myself alternating between a 1950s time warp where the world is seen in black and white, and a 1980s politically correct experiment gone horribly wrong. White supporters came out of the woodwork, promising to buy the author’s book and vowing to spread the word to their white friends. The only white woman to mention how inappropriately the discussion had been framed from a cultural standpoint was called “uncivil” (translation: “racist”). The few women of color who challenged the author’s assumptions and methods, myself included, were met with high levels of anger and quiet shows of support.
I’ve experienced my fair share of discrimination in my life, and multiple levels of it seeing that I am a product of a biracial union. Never once in all my years as a woman of color has it ever occurred to me that I would need “white ambassadors” for my work.
The truth is, I don’t. You don’t. Nobody does.
The only ambassadors we need for our work are those who believe in us, those who know we have an important story to tell, people who are truly interested in what is under our tale’s surface. People, plain and simple.
Call me naive, if you want. I know I am not. I am a realist.
Any intelligent consumer of books looks past the superficial details of the author and goes straight to the story. If the story doesn’t interest a reader then how will targeting racial groups be of any benefit? Any online social networker knows that you cannot expect people to spread the word about your work without excerpts, without engaging in a blog, without dialogue.
The more I reflect on the discussion at She Writes the more I am convinced that the blog post was conceived in an effort to poke at white American guilt. Reading through the comments I see how insidiously and effectively the post has bullied a great number of white women to agreeably engage so as not to be seen as racist.
The organisation of She Writes itself is even promoting the book since this discussion took place, and let me add that to date there is not a single excerpt of the book available.
If organisations of women writers, an already marginalised group, are reproducing these racist publishing house stereotypes in promoting books based on the race of the author and not the merit of the story, then I fear the worst for all of us with stories to tell.
During the 2008 elections in the USA the polling companies predicted that Obama would win by a huge landslide. He won, yes, but not by the landslide everyone had thought. Why? Because in the wake of America’s fears of being seen as politically correct, nobody wanted to admit they weren’t voting for the black man. Behind those voting curtains, away from prying eyes and the risk of judgment, those people placed their vote elsewhere. The fear of being perceived as a racist, especially in so-called liberal communities, is a great one and clearly She Writes has also fallen prey to this phenomenon.
I wonder how many of the women in that She Writes forum will *actually* buy and read the book that was so heavy-handedly pushed onto whites only.
As for me, I don’t buy, read, or promote books by people who not only alienate me based on the color of my skin, but who also lump the huge diversity of society into constricted boxes.
In this day and age there is no place in this world for whites only.
©2010 Sezin Koehler
More thoughts on this subject from fellow HYBRID AMBASSADORS:
Rose Deniz’s Voice Lessons from a Hybrid Ambassador
Anastasia Ashman’s Great White People Book Club
Catherine Yiğit’s Special-ism
Tara Lutman Agacayak’s Circles
Catherine Bayar’s Thicker Skin
Judith van Praag’s We Write History Today
Elmira Bayrasli’s The Color of Writing
Jocelyn Eikenburg’s The Problem with “Chinese Food”