Monday, August 27, 2012

Oh, MIssouri, Race Always Matters, Don't You Know

Wrote the editor/intern answering the mail and reading the slush:
Hello: Your story was interesting, but I felt that you focused too much on Gretchen being white--she's awful certainly, but I don't see why race matters there.  That being said, I loved her focus on voids and how you ended it.  Please try us again soon with another piece.
 Is it left unstated that the writer shouldn't get all mad at white people?  Or if the person is awful it should not be an indication of her white-ness?  Not sure.  But interesting.  I'm betting this was a young intern who wrote this note.  Anyway, check out the author's in-depth reply to this rejection over at his blog. It's worth the read. Very interesting.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

hi, I'm an anonymouse that's commented before as an "insider voice" of TMR, I interned there for two semesters. I agree that it's probable that this was a young intern (I don't think this handwriting resembles the handwriting of any of the people who *should* be writing this kind of rejection that responds directly to the piece), but in TMR's defense, interns are *actively* and *frequently* discouraged from writing these kinds of notes on the rejections. We were and are allowed to write "please try us again" or "we liked it, but have to pass at this time" or something equally innocuous but vaguely encouraging, but, to reiterate, we are *repeatedly* told not to write comments specifically about elements of the story because we are not editors.

once an intern wrote a rejection that said something along the lines of "I don't know if you've heard of it, but you should check out a book called Catcher in the Rye." editors were pretty pissed.

bemused mixed-race female fiction reader said...

Very few authors succeed with the "white devil" trope anymore. Actually, more like zero. If you're going to make race the central feature of all your stories, you need to be a little more nuanced. The most successful fiction today is character-driven and does away with tired stereotypes and cliches. It doesn't presume to lecture people either.

Don't make assumptions about your reader's race consciousness. Don't assume she lives in a bubble and needs to be educated by you about race. You don't know who your readers are, so just give them a good story without a lot of pseudo-high-minded race moralizing and stupid stereotypes about white people. White people are actually the most diverse demographic anyway, so using the equation

white = rich = mean

as the subtext of all your stories just makes you look silly.

jackson bliss said...

I'm sorry, but "bemused mixed-race female fiction reader" is acting like she READ my story + ALSO as if she's telepathic + knows the background of the MR intern/editor that wrote me that note. Let me break it down for you, you don't get to make generalizations about my story because YOU NEVER READ IT. This is beyond ridiculous.

Also, while the story is about thematically about race/class/power, it's told through a love story between an exchange student + a Latina + her battle with three rich, mean white girls. This piece is about bullying, which can + does have racial overtones to it. And by the way, when an editor/intern says I don't see why race matters here, this particular story is ABOUT race so it matters very much. And who says there is "a lot of pseudo-high-minded race moralizing and stupid stereotypes about white people." Again, have you read this story? Who says I'm using clich├ęs? Seeing as I spent a year in a public CA high school, I think I'm perfectly entitled to write a story that deals with the issue of class/race conflict at a public CA high school.

Lastly, there is no white devil trope, just three rich white girls in HS who try to hurt a Latina because she's dating a boy they want. I saw that shit all the time in SoCal. And I'll flip your last ¶ on you: Don't make assumptions that a--most likely--white editor has it all figured it all about race when she says "race doesn't matter" because to many people of color, race is something they can't forget. You don't know who I AM, you DON'T know my fiction, you DON'T know who the intern/editor was at the MR, you DON'T know if my story contained stereotypes. Race is NOT the central features of all my stories--that's an absurd generalization. This story IS character-driven. I don't usually write about race, but this story deals with it. Your comment actually makes you look silly because you just made a series of generalizations about my story, my corpus + about me never have read anything by me (at the time you wrote this comment).

Furthermore, I think it's naive + dangerous to assume that everyone is conversant with race. And when an editor/intern says I don't understand what race has to do with anything, to me, that's an indication that that editor/intern has not gone through what a person of color has. To me, that's someone trying to deracialize an experience of a character (person, writer, whatever) who is continuously racialized by white people, people in power, the government, etc., etc.

Lastly, this story, the one you claim isn't nuanced + that portrays white people as devils (your language, not mine, by the way) helped me get into my PhD program in CW + received a LOT of love/praise by editors at some of the best journals in the country, so you don't know what you're talking about.

Anonymous said...

I don't know SoCal, but I went to high school in a mixed-race and mixed-wealth suburb of Detroit. Divisions were first along money lines then along race lines. Rich white, black, Hispanic, and Asian kids hung out with each other without a lot of racial self-segregation. Poorer kids only hung out with poorer kids and usually they self-segregated by ethnicity and/or race.

In high school my older brother was relentlessly tormented by the queen of the rich girls, a Hispanic girl named Graciela who called him "fag" every day. (He's not.) She was also a hard-core Catholic and constantly said gay people were going to hell. (Eventually a teacher overheard her and gave that bitch a long overdue dressing down.)

If I write a story about this and play up Graciela's ethnicity to explain her homophobia and bigotry, I'm probably going to get a note from an editor saying that her being Hispanic is not the central issue. I can go on the defensive and say that where I lived Hispanic people were generally the most biased against LGBT people and fell back on their religion as an excuse. But at the end of the day the editor is still not going to publish my story. And if the editor happens to be Hispanic, I can see why my story would not sit well with him or her.



Post-Script: Graciela stalked my brother on FB for a while several years after graduation and wanted to hook up with him even though she's married (maybe not anymore) and has two babies. So maybe all that time she was just expressing rage at an unrequited crush. Real life is stranger and more complicated than fiction.

jackson bliss said...

Okay, first off, there is a relationship between race + class. Sure there are definitely affluent minorities (+ I definitely have friends who fit that profile perfectly), but the majority of wealth is concentrated with a few, select white families. There are lots of reasons for this, the poor quality of education in inner-city schools that does not prepare students for college, fragmented families, substance abuse, police profiling, the racist judicial system, institutional racism. I could go on, but I won't. The point is that being white, beautiful + rich gives you power that has no parallel in this country. Harvard did a study in which fake resumes were sent with identical qualifications, but with different names. The first batch used white-sounding names, the second used names that most likely suggested minority applicants + the white-sounding resumes ALWAYS received more callbacks. Also, the majority of employees doing the hiring will statistically be white. That's not me attacking white people, that's me trying to explain to you the power of white privilege just in the employment cycle. Now, add wealth to that equation + you have not just race, but also class. Can minorities achieve this power? Of course + they do. But statistically, they face many obstacles, some of which are shared with poor white people, some of which are not. And my story is about something that happens ALL the time: Rich girls bullying poor girls. But it's just not class, because often class has racial overtones. For example, many wealthy white people in SoCal refer to Latinos as "illegals." Suddenly, being Latino becomes a value-judgment on their citizenship, on their culture, on their value as human beings. You wanna pretend that doesn't happen? Go ahead. You want to tell me that fiction should stay away from talking about these things? Then what good is fiction at all?

Second, you flat our ignored everything I said about you judging me without reading my story, maybe because you have no defense. Did you read my story?

Third, my story doesn't use race to explain bigotry, it honestly depicts the way that mean rich, white girls attack other girls, in this case, a Latina, because she has something they want. There is a LOT of racism against Latinos in SoCal. My story tries to do justice to something that happens. But again, did you read my story?

jackson bliss said...

(con't)


Fourth, I think it's odd that your big piece of evidence of why Latinos are homophobes is based on a rich, homophobic Latina stalking your brother. I question how many Latinos you actually know + know well. For you to make Graciela the rule of how "Latinos are" just proves you don't know that many. I also question how many evangelical Christians you're kicking it with. Do you realize that most of the South hates gay people? And the south is disproportionately white . . .

Fifth, + this is where I really want to grind my teeth, you make these absurd generalizations about Latinos while claiming offense to the depiction of whiteness. You say things like "Hispanic people were generally the most biased against LGBT people and fell back on their religion as an excuse." How ironic that judge me without reading my story, then list a bunch of generalizations about me even though you don't know me, then you drop some essentialist, half-racist BS like this about Latinos being homophobic. Listen, I abhor homophobia completely. But my wife is Latina. We have tons of Latino friends + virtually none of them are homophobic. And the ones that are are hardcore Christians, which, in case you didn't notice, is EXACTLY how white + black evangelical Christians ALSO feel (especially in the Deep South). Hardcore Christians ARE homophobic. There's absolutely NOTHING about Latinos that is homophobic though. What you said is ignorant + shows the very lack of nuanced understanding of racial politics that you're accusing me of. Another thing, I lived in Buenos Aires for a year + also traveled to Peru + Uruguay + Mexico, + I actually think most people there were a lot MORE tolerant of GLBTQ culture than many Americans except for the very religious ones. Remember, more than 1/2 of this country opposed gay marriage until very recently.

Either way, I'm going back to my original point: You have no right to critique a story you haven't read + an author you don't know, just as you have no evidence that the editor/intern in question here actually has a nuanced understanding of the politics of race at all. And like I said, this story helped me get into my PhD program in Creative Writing + English + has garnered many positive comments from editors, so it obviously isn't what you're claiming it is. Certainly, you've demonstrated that you don't have a very nuanced understanding of being non-white in America + you seem completely oblivious to white privilege. Lastly, if I wanna respond to a rejection letter that tries to deracialize a racialized moment in a story of mine, or if I feel that an editor/intern is trying to erase race when I feel that it is still very much an issue (both in my story + in our country) that's my privilege both as a writer, a thinker + also because it's my frigging blog.

I hate to be a dick, but your responses have actually proven that we have a long way to go, that as a country, we need to keep talking about race + stop trying to pretend that race isn't a cultural factor, that classism can often be racism, that being rich makes people act entitled.

Anonymous said...

Jackson,

I agree with your main points, and in fact was going to bitch out "bemused mixed-race female fiction reader" before I saw you already did so, but I have to say, reading your comments here has actually made me less interested in you as a writer, and I think that's something for you to consider.

I've spent most of my life in Souther California. I've travelled the world, but, most of my time has been here. And I was completely with you, and all of your points, up until you started ranting at readers in this blog. I don't know you, but you're coming off as extremely narcissistic. This attitude of SHUT UP U DIDNT READ MY WORK + U DONT LIVE IN SOCAL is ridiculous. You submitted a rejection letter to an open blog -- we don't have to read your work to have an opinion on the situation. And it's extremely hard to take you seriously as a serious writer when you write "+" instead of spelling out and, and you express frustration BY TYPING IN ALL CAPS.

If you ever do write something that penetrates the bigger named journals (forgive me if you already have! Not trying to make assumptions), and people google your name, these rants may well leave as bad a taste in their mouth as it did in mine. So, food for thought.

By the way, as a SoCal girl, I think that the relationships between latinas and whites here is fascination. But its relationships - plural - not relationship. I think the main way that the editor shamed his/herself here was assuming that -they- knew the correct-and-only-way that race relations work, here or anywhere. But that's how you left such a bad taste to me, later. You are acting as if there is a correct-and-only-way, and that you know it.

Bemused was a total bitch, but the Graciela story poster was very respectful, and mostly wanted to make their own, interesting point. Shame on you.

- judgemental observer who has only been published in the most tiny of rags.

jackson bliss said...

Wait a second, let me clarify something for you: I wasn't ranting. LROD reposted an entry from my blog (it's not the first time + I had nothing to do with this reposting). People responded to my blog entry through this website + I responded. A response (even if thorough) is not a rant, just like your response isn't a rant.

Second, pointing out that race is intense, complex, that there's a thing called white privilege, that racism exists, that we don't live in a postracial society, that classism + racism can (+ often are, intertwined) is the farthest thing from narcissism. These are cultural arguments, not personal arguments. Narcissism is excessive interest in one's self. I'm interested in the topic of race + racial erasure.

Third, I have stories published or soon to be published in the Kenyon Review + the Antioch Review, among others, both of which are pretty big name journals + frankly, my responses (not rants) show that I'm a socially-conscious fiction writer, which I am. I WANT people to know that.

Fourth, I'd avoid ALL CAPS, but I can't use italics in my responses. I guess I'm just not tech-savvy enough. Additionally, using "+" instead of "and" is a personal choice, but I like +, + prefer that graphic element to "and." It's a personal choice. If you're willing to judge me because of that, that's your issue, but I find your objections quite superficial.

Five, I agree that there are many different types of racial/class/social relationships between whites + Latinos. If anything, I'm arguing for complexity, not simplicity. That said, there are a LOT of rich white people in SoCal, quite a few of whom, are very conservative, who talk about Latinos like they're foreigners/aliens/invaders/an infestation. That's a fact. It doesn't have to be that way + I also know quite a few people from SoCal who don't feel that way, but that attitude + that racial/class stratification does exist whether you like it or not. I mean, come on, the San Diego Minutemen are highway sponsors + many San Diegans call Latinos "illegals," + they write crap like "locals only" on rocks, which is nativism. But I agree with you that that's not the only relationship that exists, it's simply the one I was dealing with in my story.

Six, the reason I kept bringing up my story was because Bemused was talking about me + my story as if she knew me + had read my short story, neither of which was true. It's so absurd it has to be pointed out. And shame on you for being judgmental + posting anonymously. And if you're less interested in me as a writer, fair enough. Frankly, I evaluate novelists on their artistic merit, not on whether they're too argumentative. And you DO realize that my blog entry was reposted here without my permission + that I was essentially set up to be critiqued, right? At what point is a self-defense a rant?

jackson bliss said...

Wait a second, let me clarify something for you: I wasn't ranting. LROD reposted an entry from my blog (it's not the first time + I had nothing to do with this reposting). People responded to my blog entry through this website + I responded. A response (even if thorough) is not a rant, just like your response isn't a rant.

Second, pointing out that race is intense, complex, that there's a thing called white privilege, that racism exists, that we don't live in a postracial society, that classism + racism can (+ often are, intertwined) is the farthest thing from narcissism. These are cultural arguments, not personal arguments. Narcissism is excessive interest in one's self. I'm interested in the topic of race + racial erasure.

Third, I have stories published or soon to be published in the Kenyon Review + the Antioch Review, among others, both of which are pretty big name journals + frankly, my responses (not rants) show that I'm a socially-conscious fiction writer, which I am. I WANT people to know that.

Fourth, I'd avoid ALL CAPS, but I can't use italics in my responses. I guess I'm just not tech-savvy enough. Additionally, using "+" instead of "and" is a personal choice, but I like +, + prefer that graphic element to "and." It's a personal choice. If you're willing to judge me because of that, that's your issue, but I find your objections quite superficial.

Five, I agree that there are many different types of racial/class/social relationships between whites + Latinos. If anything, I'm arguing for complexity, not simplicity. That said, there are a LOT of rich white people in SoCal, quite a few of whom, are very conservative, who talk about Latinos like they're foreigners/aliens/invaders/an infestation. That's a fact. It doesn't have to be that way + I also know quite a few people from SoCal who don't feel that way, but that attitude + that racial/class stratification does exist whether you like it or not. I mean, come on, the San Diego Minutemen are highway sponsors + many San Diegans call Latinos "illegals," + they write crap like "locals only" on rocks, which is nativism. But I agree with you that that's not the only relationship that exists, it's simply the one I was dealing with in my story.

Six, the reason I kept bringing up my story was because Bemused was talking about me + my story as if she knew me + had read my short story, neither of which was true. It's so absurd it has to be pointed out. And shame on you for being judgmental + posting anonymously. And if you're less interested in me as a writer, fair enough. Frankly, I evaluate novelists on their artistic merit, not on whether they're too argumentative. And you DO realize that my blog entry was reposted here without my permission + that I was essentially set up to be critiqued, right? At what point is a self-defense a rant?

don't fear the lemur said...

So we're all to believe that Writer, Rejected google-stalked your blog and posted it without your permission?

No one believes that.

You clearly linked your blogpost with your email to WR, expecting WR and all the rest of us to gobble your words up. Now that we haven't, you're attacking everyone, including WR.

And obviously, you don't understand the difference between a discussion and an attack.

Thank you for the hilarious read,

Writer, Rejected said...

I totally stalked him

Anonymous said...

The thing I find most disturbing is that this particular writer has chosen to expose his (or her) identity as a writer online via a controversial reaction to a highly specific rejection letter in a blog that could be seen indefinitely, by industry professionals, and not just from the Missouri Review. Moreover, he has further tarnished his reputation by launching ad hominem attacks to some respondents. Very unprofessional. The literary world is very small - incestuous in some ways - and word gets around quickly. Editors, agents and publishers share lists of writers they consider too high risk to deal with. It includes writers who create controversial blogs about their journals/magazines (even if praise is sprinkled in).

As for content: I agree with "Bemused mixed-race female fiction reader". The writer said, "There's only one line where the narrator overtly mentions race, when she talks about how rich white girls (especially in HS) hurt people because they can (a statement I still defend, with exceptions)." Okay, free speech allows for that. But if someone were to instead write that "Latinas ( or Africans, Asians, Arabs or Hapas") "are mean" or "have weird features" (or whatever the stereotype is) because [fill in the blank - whatever reason], the statement would be just as offensive because any such statement is too sweeping, far too general not to be taken offensively. Therefore many readers will be offended, including editors. I'm guessing there are minority outlets that would also (predictably) reject this sort of material.