Welcome to Our Lawn
While I was sick as a Ricky Gervais joke during the January 2014 residency for the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College (I have NEVER been more invisible) I was able to rise from my bed to deliver a class I called “Would You Like to See My Cat Mammy? Looking at Other People and Their Stuff.”
Here is a description of that class:
Are you a white person who is just dying to include a colorful people of color in your next novel? Do those quirky folks down at the trailer park intrigue you to no end? Quivering to decorate your poems with your favorite bits of Indian lore? Then this is the class for you! We’ll look at how the shifting lenses of creator/narrator/reader/viewer shape the development of and interpretation of cultural material in creative works. All text materials will be provided in class, along with music, video clips and an actual cat mammy! Bring your (or someone else’s) most offensive characterization to discuss (if you dare).
If you’d like to take a look at the audio/video resources for this class, please visit this microsite I set up for the class: http://catmammy.wordpress.com/
Earlier this week, Marta Rose, who attended the class, tagged me when she posted this article by Ta-nehisi Coates on her Facebook wall:
Neal Brennan—White America’s Greatest Klingon Writer
Never trust anyone posing as a tour guide.
TA-NEHISI COATESJAN 17 2014, 2:18 PM ET
The Q&A with Neal Brennan, co-creator of “Chappelle’s Show,” over at Buzzfeed begins with this ominous paragraph:
In a sense, Brennan has made introducing black America to white America his life’s work. His advice for how white people should act around black people? “It’s an odd thing. You treat them like human beings.”
These two sentences are in conflict. It’s certainly true that you should treat black people like human beings. The first step in that process is understanding that asking how to act “around black people” is itself an act of inhumanity.
Read the rest here on the Atlantic.com, where Coates regularly blogs. The discussion thread is particularly eye-opening.
This post prompted a rich and engaging discussion on Marta’s Facebook Wall. Here’s a brief excerpt of the exchanges between Marta and me. (I’ve not included others, since I don’t have their permission, but Adam Jernigan, if you’re reading this, send me a note so you can get in on this!):
David Haynes Thanks for tagging me, Marta. I have to say that as much as I am interested in folks getting their “ass in the water” with TNC, I remain equally interested in what it looks like from over there. I find it fascinating all the things that “The Help” tells me in the many ways that it fails. That’s important information and I’m glad she went there.
Marta Rose Hey David, I’m not sure TNC would disagree actually. At least, the way I read this was white folk should A) stop agonizing and B) stop pontificating and C) Just Do It, even though it will, inevitably, be awkward.
David Haynes There’s still a tone of “getting it right” in his piece. But he’s always advocated for folks to please stop making uniformed guesses and asking stupid questions and coming on over for an actual look around.
Marta Rose Do you think that “getting it right” should at least be the goal when writing “across the tracks” (where, by the way, we missed you)? Or no?
David Haynes Are we social scientists? Historians? I’m not. Personally, I think “wrong” is interesting and useful. When we demand “right” we encourage all but the bold to stay away. And when writers stay away, they erase parts of the world from their imaginations. This is dangerous.
Marta Rose I take your point, David, and am heartened by it. I have long encouraged people to write across lines that feel “dangerous” and most often what I hear is that they “aren’t allowed.” I agree this is dangerous. I would love to keep this conversation going somewhere…. it feels so important to me.
Well, Marta and I (and others!) would like to keep this conversation going: Welcome to the “Welcome to Our Lawn” series. Marta and I welcome you to share in our conversation about what goes on when cultures connect. Please contribute to our moderated comment section and you may want to think about writing your own guest post.