Sticking non-white writers into a ghetto of exoticism, and then envying them

“I’m writing something for the first time that’s a little bit autobiographical,” this one extremely serious white woman once said to me after workshop. “I wanted to get your advice. You write about yourself all the time. How do you do it?” My characters were always young Asian American women or girls, but I hadn’t written anything autobiographical. Just like her, I had imagined my stories. I made them up. They were fiction. But to her, they were so obviously just an unimaginative extension of my already-limited self. I was just tracing my life and my identity artlessly into my stories. Another white writer talked openly about searching for some kind of obscure “ethnicity” that she could write into her stories to give them an extra edge. “Like what you have in your writing,” she added, meaning well, of course. She and the other white writers who marveled over my luck wanted to try on my Otherness to advance their value in the literary marketplace, but I don’t think they wanted to grow up as an immigrant in the United States. I don’t think they wanted to experience racism and misogyny on a micro and macro level, be made to feel perpetually foreign no matter how long they’ve lived here, and be denied any opportunity to ever write something without the millstone of but is this authentic/representative/good for black/Asian/Latino/native people? hanging from their necks. [link]

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