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bear by san

March 2017



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bad girls firefighters

i think i'll go down to the river. i think i'll dangle all my hooks.

Oh, obliterative majority culture.

I was just talking with a friend about Alexandre Dumas, and it made me wish I had a couple hundred thousand to drop on advertising. Because I would go around major markets and buy billboards. Nothing fancy. Just black serif text on white. Possibly with a high-contrast black and white image.

It would be called the Great Writers Of The Western World Series.

And they would say things like:

Alexandre Dumas was also a brother.

Edna St. Vincent Millay also liked girls. And boys. Sometimes at the same time.

Christofer Marlowe was also a queer atheist.

Ursula K. Le Guin is also a woman.

Kurt Vonnegut also suffered from clinical depression.

Octavia Butler was also a black woman.

...add your own, really.

The point being, I am tired of obliterative majority culture and its bully kid sister, exceptionalism.

Alexandre Dumas was not a great black writer. He was a great writer. He was black. These are two complementary identities, and they should both be honored in equal measure. His greatness is not independent of his blackness--I do not mean to suggest that--but what I meant to say quite plainly is that Alexandre Dumas does not somehow fit into a smaller wading pool of greatness because he was black.

Maya Angelou does not fit into a smaller wading pool of greatness than Robert Frost because she is a black woman and he was a white man. They are fish in the same pond, and if you aren't measuring her as at least his equal, you need your ears checked. She's not pretty good, for a girl.

But more than that, I want to put these billboards up across from junior high schools. Because I imagine how nice it would have been to be thirteen, and me, and look up and see a billboard that said something like Virginia Woolf also got beat up in school.

And maybe I would have understood then that I didn't have to be a straight, white man to be a great artist. And not a second-stringer in the pretty good for a girl wading pool.


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A thousand times, yes.
See what you started?
I think you kick more ass as you than you would if you were a straight white dude with an unexceptional upbringing.

However, I may be biased. :-)

If you'll indulge me in a personal tangent here, this is why, in my opinion, you are a much better writer than I am capable of being - my utterly unremarkable path has been more or less free of the hooks and barbs that have caused you-as-you to adapt and become strong and amazing, and your complexity and strength of voice are byproducts of what you have survived. My stuff? Pretty simple and boring and lacking in any kind of dramatic tension.

Suffering need not be requisite for great art, or great artists, but for those folks who are capable of making great art, having come through their own challenges lends depth and texture that might otherwise have had to be introduced as artifice, not as an innate part of who the artist is.

I think this falls under, yeah, "It helps to have lived."

And by lived, I mean, to have had the world absolutely fucking kick your teeth down your throat once or twice.

But you know? That comes for all of us, sooner or later. White/male/heterosexual/neurotypical/cis/wealthy privilege can only carry anybody so far.
Preach it, Bear. PREACH.

All of this x1000.
Oh good gods yes!
Elizabeth Weston was a famous woman poet in the 16th century and you've never heard of her because she wrote in Latin.
Er, 17th century actually.
Yes, dammit. YES YES YES.

See also: Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sandra Day O'Connor are not "decent jurists, for women."
Those are amazing!


Excellent. Blogging it.
Hells, yes.

But excuse me while I go dig my college diploma out of its box and mail it back to the campus from whence it came, b/c this is the first I've ever been made aware that Alexandre Dumas was black. :} (Granted I studied German lit, not French, but still ... wow, how did I not know that?! Is that a good thing or a bad thing that nobody ever mentioned it?)
It's one of the great vanishing facts of European lit.

And I think it's a bad thing, because it contributes to the fucking invisibility of black writers.
His father's mother was a black Haitian. His father, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, was a French general nicknamed the "Black Devil" by the Austrians.
One of Dumas's novels, Georges, is about a mixed-race man who becomes involved in a slave revolt.

He was a great writer. He was black.

"I would talk to someone like the ALA"

oh, now you have me wanting to make posters for my library.

see what you did? I do not have time for this! :)
Dumas was only around one-quarter or less of black ancestry, but it's noticable in his photograph:


I put some of the blame for the assumption of the "big fish in the small wading pool" on ethnic and women's studies departments, which try to pry achievers out of their wider social context to claim them for this or that smaller group.

Of course, when you simply read a writer, you may not know his or her ethnicity, unless it's obvious from the name (and names can be deceiving). Most American blacks have English, Scots or Irish names. And since last names are usually patrilineal, all the last name tells you at most is the ethnic origin of the father.

You usually know if she's a woman, but there are some obvious exceptions due to noms de plume, such as George Eliot and Andre Norton, and of course androgynously formed names such as C. L. Moore (she's so famous under that name that she's almost never called "Catherine") and Leigh Brackett (her full name, Leigh Douglass Brackett, sounds more masculine than her pen name).
I never had any doubt that Andre Norton was female; it never appeared as a question for me until somebody talked about her using that pen name to seem male, which confused me a lot. What, people didn't know Andre Norton was female? How not? (This was back when I was reading her out of the public library near the first house we lived in in Northfield, so 1960-1963, grades 1-3 for me.)

Certainly Andre is a name used by men; it's uncommon enough that I've only known one or two total my entire life. I probably wasn't familiar with it as a name at all then, and assigned it female for some unthinking reason (if I'd thought about it, I wouldn't have been so surprised later to learn it had been intended to confuse me).
+ 1

Actually, + elebenty.
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