Notes of a non-native son: essays/reflections on experiences in America
Rebels without a cause
Editors: Molly Blackall and Esther Lutz Davies
Curse me for thinking I’m white.
Nothing irks a man more than pointing out the fact of his whiteness. To judge one’s work by colour alone is a grievance too much for our plaid-clad hero. He is a thrift store version of his Fleet Street icons. He is in every publication and nowhere at all. Just as he writes about everything and absolutely nothing. Writing with all the attention to detail of bad head.
White men are the baseline ubiquity of nearly all student media publications. Yet too often their presence there goes unnoticed, their whiteness, their maleness is never spoken in their applications. This fact of whiteness is writ large in their ascent to positions of authority and is often the only takeaway from their writing.
Softboi sentimentality is the mask of cruelty. Too much art is filtered through the palatable gatekeeper of the white man. Others’ oppression is taken as humanity. Praised for their ability to be ‘like us’ in the face of a hardship they can only imagine or experience through art. The rest of us are too “opinionated”, too “comment-y”. We cannot be objective. We cannot be white.
My identity is only a base from which to write because of his whiteness. An urgency built in his shadow, to shed light on what it means to be me in a world that systematically excludes and marginalises my existence. I will never know why he writes. To write with the frivolity of a privileged indifference to the world. Escapism is ‘whites-only’. Impartiality is only a choice for whiteness. For him, Art is never more than Entertainment.
Where did he come from? Timmy with the floppy hair. When was his diversity and inclusion program? Subjective identity is constituted through interpolation. When I turn to face the call of “Paki” or “Faggot”, in that tense moment I become what they want me to be. A desirous subject that is lesser, that is ‘Other’. But the arsehole’s defntion is not me, nor is it even meant for me. Whiteness or masculinity are only defined by what they are not. By the ‘Other’. The fragile identity of the white boy depends upon what he is not. Depends upon me.
If taste really is subjective then lets challenge the subjectivity. The author died for white men’s sins. Our new ‘post-truth era’ is just another post-modernist excuse to silence those with something to say. When he publishes that retrograde ‘comment’ piece invalidating your lived experience it's up to you to write the response bringing us back to the 21st Century. That’s the “free press”. When fascists are organising in the streets its “freedom of speech”. He fears being “too political” because he fears the revelation of his privilege. In an age of ‘fake news’ journalistic ‘integrity’ is the saviour of the ‘free press’. But the press was never free and ‘integrity’ only exists for the white norm. This desperation to cling to the notion of objectivity, denies the reality of subjectivity.
It is this banality of whiteness that makes for such irrelevant cultural commentary. He can only describe the ‘Other’ in terms of his own existence. As such he is lost in blithe universals of humanity, endurance and incidental passion. Whiteness cannot talk about what it means to be of colour. And so it doesn’t. Instead it attempts to universalise human experience, or flirt with exoticism and portray it as perverse and different. Yet, not only does it not have the capacity to comprehend the ‘Other’, but it knows to try to would be to reveal itself to the world. So racial identity becomes the open secret of white writing. It is easier to spot white writing than any other. Even if statistically nearly all writing is white writing.
I would argue, however, that writers of colour, women and queers need more platforms for opportunity not merely to diversify our media and tell their stories, but because they are ‘Othered’, because they are made aware of their identity everyday, they know what they are not because they are constantly reminded of that fact. Whiteness does not understand the ‘Other’ because it does not want to understand itself, it does not want to recognise its own privilege. To be ‘Othered’ is to know the world better than any white man. It not only provides a place to write from, but it gives us a better understanding of their world, their culture and their society. My lived experience makes me a better writer. It gives me a voice that needs to be heard.
We are all shaped by our lived experiences. By the identities thrust upon us by structural power relations of race, gender and class among others. Yet it seems as if subjectivity is only for the marginalised. Whiteness makes the ‘Other’ legible to cover itself from gaze. My work, my writing will likely never be able to escape that fact of my colour and queerness. Yet if we continue not to see whiteness, maleness, straightness as very real subjective identities then I will never be anything more than added ‘diversity’ to white publications and white writers. I must market my difference to him, while he hides safely behind the invisibility of a norm that sheaths his writing in ‘objectivity’.
So I hail the white boy just as he has hailed me: “Straight cis white man”. That is you. Own it. Centre yourself in your writing just as the western world centres you in its culture and society.