Wednesday, August 03, 2005

I love me some Octavia Butler. However, this line from this post about her books gives me pause: This novel, in which a young middle-class black woman finds herself shuttled between 1976 California and antebellum Maryland, has become a classic of SF&F and required reading in both women's and African-American studies. But don't be fooled - while Butler's fiction appeals to feminist and minority demographics, it's not propped up by that appeal. To read Octavia Butler is to read good literature - period.

Oh yea, because only white male literature can be just plain good literature? I'm sick and tired of people acting like white males are the universal, and the rest of us, our experience is particular. I am reading and loving Middlesex. Now, I have never been a Greek immigrant, or intersexed(I learned about the specific condition he talks about in some psych class, but the people were from the Dominican Republic (warning: nudity) but do I say "Well, it seems like it might be aimed at the Greek-American or intersex demographic, but it's just good literature? Ok, one more time- WHITENESS(AND MALENESS) IS NOT UNIVERSAL. IT IS ALSO ONLY INVISIBLE TO WHITES AND MALES. White male literature does not speak for everyone. It's just one perspective. Yes, in the hands of a master like Eugenides, it can be a very good perspective, a very enlightening perspective, but that does not diminish masters of other sexes or races. It doesn't make his perspective the standard, and ours only limited to our communities. You can read Invisible Man and relate to his not being seen for who he really is, no matter what your race. You can cry over the plight of Pecola in The Bluest Eye, no matter what your race. If you can't feel empathy for someone else's experience, just because they have a different life than you, a different color than you, what is wrong with you? The lack is not in the literature. It is in you.

And black folks, and other people of color, don't perpetuate this fallacy. Don't think that others can't read Pearl Cleage, or bell hooks or Maya Angelou or apologize for reading literature that sees you or act like it's not important. In stories we learn to see ourselves differently. Our stories have to be told, and we have to see that our varied stories are important. To build a bridge of empathy, we first must be willing to listen stories, whether they are our own or others.

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