Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Letter of Apology to the Muslim Village of No Good Horrible Very Bad Things With Legions of White Peacocks

Dear Muslim Village of No Good Horrible Very Bad Things With Legions of White Peacocks,

I thought I should apologize for calling you out and saying you were WTF and possibly drug-induced. I thought this discussion had something to do with it but then I realized it didn’t. I thought about apologizing because this discussion reminded me of the incredibly thick smear of people I have argued, debated and discussed this issue with over the past six years. So let me be very clear, this missive is not about any one person or any group of people. If anyone out there would like to believe this is all about them, that’s their business and that’s also psychotic.

I want to say two things here. One, in most of the arguments I took part in, and there were a whole lot of them, they mainly stemmed from me saying a piece of fiction didn’t work for me because I identified things I believed were stereotypes or factual errors. This would inevitably cause someone to turn around and say ‘Oh. So you’re saying I can’t write about that.’ And I never knew what to say to that. I never knew what to say because it’s easily one of the most absurd things I have ever come across in my short and limited “writing career”. Why are you even asking something like that? Me saying your legions of white peacocks is, in my humble opinion, a load of fuckwit somehow challenges your freedom to write? Really? What do you think I’m going to do, raise an army of brown people to beat you to death with encyclopedias? You think I’m going to start speaking to your neighbors about how you wrote about legions of white peacocks so they shouldn’t talk to you anymore? Whatever, that’s just the first point. The second thing I want to say is that I have also been in the position where I have been the only person who thought a piece of fiction didn’t work because I identified things I believed were stereotypes or factual errors while everyone else thought the story was the sun’s backside. It’s a fuckall position to be in. Perhaps more so because I know that sometimes, the writer of said piece often did not feel my reasons were valid reasons to dislike a piece of fiction. I guess if you’re a really smart or super-evolved reader, you can view fiction as fiction and not find the other stuff bothersome. I’m not there yet. I’d really like to be there though because all of this is incredibly wearying.

So anyway, here’s what I want to say to you, my most darling Muslim Village of No Good Horrible Very Bad Things With Legions of White Peacocks. Fiction is fiction. It’s made-up. A fiction writer can and should write whatever they want. So if someone wants to write about Muslim Villages of No Good Horrible Very Bad Things With Legions of White Peacocks, they should be able to. I completely and utterly agree with this. I also agree with the notion that if I don’t like something, I don’t have to read it. And I wholeheartedly agree with the fact that just because said piece about Muslim Villages of No Good Horrible Very Bad Things With Legions of White Peacocks didn’t speak to me does not mean it would not work or speak to someone else. There is a very good chance it probably would have and would have done so very well.

There is a 100% chance I have enjoyed works of fiction which did contain numerous stereotypes and factual errors and I did not notice them. But if I read something that perpetuates stereotypes or contains factual errors that I can identify and which I believe are stereotypes and factual errors, the story collapses for me. I lose respect for the piece and I can’t take it seriously. That’s just me. You can of course write a story set in an invented universe which is different from the real one, where water is solid at room temperature or the Nazis won WWII or whatever. But if I as the reader come to believe that you are actually confused about the laws of physics or the actual course of history, rather than changing them deliberately, I will lose respect for the story. This does not mean everyone else will or should feel the same way. It's just one reader's opinion. Maybe it's a bad opinion. Maybe it's a stupid opinion. Maybe people should be beaten with shoes for having opinions like that. Whatever the maybes, it's an opinion, nothing more.

When I call out the Muslim Village of No Good Horrible Very Bad Things With Legions of White Peacocks, I am not speaking as the Grand Poobah of the English Speaking World Of Brown People That Live Over There Working For The Removals Of Stereotypical Writing Of Brown People In The Western World. When I call out the Muslim Village of No Good Horrible Very Bad Things With Legions of White Peacocks, it’s not a moral or political judgment. I call it out because I think it’s stupid. I think it’s stupid and I think it made your story stupid. That’s just me. There is an incredibly high chance someone else would love it to pieces, publish it, make a movie and win you an Oscar. God knows it’s happened before. But I don’t feel the same way. This does not mean that when I read your piece, stigmata appeared on my hands and feet, blood ran from my eyes, the skies clouded over and I raised my sorrowful voice to the sky saying ‘WHY? WHY MUST THEY CONTINUE TO PERPETUATE STEREOTYPES AND FACTUAL ERRORS AND MAKE US SUFFER? WHY MUST WE SUFFER?’ That doesn’t happen because one, that’s really weird. Two, I call that shit out on both sides and I think some people may be under the impression that I am only into bashing and shaming "western people". Three, these reasons for thinking a piece is weak are no different in my eyes than reasons like stale characters or tone-deaf dialogue. I think all those things are stupid too but in many cases, other people have felt differently. They thought the dialogue was fine or the characters were awesome. And that is awesome. Really. That's what makes fiction so fabulous. Some people will like it. Some people won't.

So I'd just like to make it clear that my calling out the Muslim Villages of No Good Horrible Very Bad Things With Legions of White Peacocks is not a call to arms to kill middle-class white people who don't want to write about being white or middle class (this is very important. Please note this. I am brown, I have a weird name and I come from a country that starts with the letter 'I' so it is very important for people to understand that I am not telling anyone to kill anybody, particularly white people. Kuzhali Manickavel says don't kill white people.). It does not mean that I am saying nuh-uh no you can’t write this you can’t because I say you can’t because I’m a coloredz and you’re a whitez. It’s just me saying in my opinion, this story is a piece of poo. I think it’s a piece of poo for the following reasons.

I’m confused as to why when you call fiction out for stale characters, you barely get a whimper. Call fiction out for what the reader perceives as stereotyping and factual errors and suddenly Tattycoram is running crazy among the creatives! Why don’t people get defensive when you call them out for weak narrative structures? People should get this defensive about narrative structures.

So am I saying you can’t write you want? No! You must write anything and everything you wish! Please do! You should! You must! Am I saying you can’t write crap? Of course not! You must write crap! Some people won’t think it’s crap at all. Really. But I might not feel the same way and I might say so and that doesn’t mean I’m about to start a movement to break all your pencils and steal your laptop so you can’t write about Muslim Villages of No Good Horrible Very Bad Things With Legions of White Peacocks ever ever again.

So like I said in the beginning. I THOUGHT I should apologize. But I’m not going to. You are certainly free to write as and what you wish. And if I think your story is a bag of limp dicks because of what I perceive to be stereotypes or factual errors, hopefully that same right extends to me to say so without getting branded a terrorist looking to kill all those darling buds of creativity.

okbai.

ps- I realize that the title of the blog post said this was a letter of apology and I guess it isn't. So I apologize for lying in my blog post title.

pps- this is a longass blog post

14 comments:

Aishwarya said...

*applause*

Not that any of this should need to be said.

kuzhali manickavel said...

thanks for reading aishwarya, i am appreciating very much

Blaft Publications said...

You know what's really awesome, is now when you google "Kuzhali Manickavel", the first thing that comes up is "Kuzhali Manickavel says don't kill white people." I have never understood how these artificially intelligent search engine rankings work but I am glad they have a sense of humour.

kuzhali manickavel said...

oh my god, that IS awesome!

i should make t-shirts with that line on it

E.P. Chiew said...

K, I love how you wrote this. You certainly made me think about this issue more deeply : is the dialogue between White People Writing About Brown People and Brown People Writing About Brown People inherently a political debate? Can it ever be free of politics? Even in this day and age when the internet democratizes writing from fuckwits to idiot savants, it seems the white/yellow or the white/brown dialectics haven't changed much.

In a perverse sense, or maybe ideal sense, see how this world is topsy turvy, you actually do want White People Writing Brown People and vice versa. Presumably the act of writing about the Other changes you from within.

I've been thinking about this: everybody professes to want freedom to write everything, even to write it badly, even when they perpetuate wrong shit about Brown People or Yellow People. The minute anyone points out that something smells bad about a piece of writing along these racial lines, a war cry of freedom is heard.

I wonder if freedom was ever under siege. Does anyone saying anything about anything ever stop White People from doing whatever they want? Would a Brown Person feel just as free to write some gobshit about White People and then defend that right as the equivalent of democracy itself? I am writing about White People now. And I tell you, I make sure I do my research. And there might well be factual errors, and if there are, I am prepared to stand in the firing line, and get shot. But I do not cross racial lines blithely or irresponsibly. I cross with awareness and foreknowledge.

kuzhali manickavel said...

hi elaine, thank you so much for this comment, i really appreciate it.

i found this really interesting post called 'White people, its not all about you, but for this post it is' (http://deepad.dreamwidth.org/29598.html) which says,

"When you imply that POC are disallowing you from writing something, what you are really saying is their disapproval affects you to a degree that you are willing to pretend that they have the power to alter your choices. This is disingenuous."

you rightly say -I do not cross racial lines blithely or irresponsibly. I cross with awareness and foreknowledge.- and i am flabbergasted that a person would NOT do this. I am flabbergasted that a person would not do this, face criticism and then play the victim, pointing fingers at the criticizer and scream censorship without even bothering to assess where the criticism is coming from and why.

Sara Crowley said...

Elaine, is there any chance you would repeat that on my blog post? I think it's really important.

http://tiny.cc/asalted479

Kuzhali - can I link to you again or would you rather I didn't? I understand totally if you'd prefer me not to.

kuzhali manickavel said...

hey sara :) i don't mind if you link. i probably won't jump into any discussions though, i think whatever i have to say and will ever have to say on this subject is in this post

Aishwarya said...

I don't know if anyone here was involved in/observing the long, long online debate on race in writing that took place in the science fiction and fantasy online community last year? (Here is a useful summary with links if anyone's interested, but it really is overwhelmingly big) I ask because there were a number of people saying things that are useful to this discussion, and also because the Deepa D post Kuzhali links to above (incidentally, how amazing is Deepa D?) was written in context of this larger discussion.

kuzhali manickavel said...

i wasn't aware of this, thanks a lot for the link aishwarya. the summary looks interesting, hopefully i'll have a chance to look at it more tomorrow

deepa d is truly amazing. she is full of win :)

Anonymous said...

Yesss!(just how the wonderful Napoleon Dynamite says it)and to think I was fretting over what to do with my Encyclopedia Britannica's (WINK! WINK!)I really actually want to make a film just for jolly and creative fun about a group of mixed South Asian travelers who get ship wrecked and marooned and land up on this Island inhabited by the lost savages of...WATCH THIS SPACE FOR MORE!

kuzhali manickavel said...

anonymous, we are all waiting with the bated breaths i say! we wait on the tenterhooks of the bated breaths!

ramblingperfectionist said...

RaceFail09 was really, really big and really, really tedious and even though you cared enough to write all this up if you jump into it now you're going to find it incredibly exhausting, I think.

Also, your blog is all kinds of awesome.

kuzhali manickavel said...

hi ramblingperfectionist, thanks for the kind words :)

i'm just beginning to appreciate how big RaceFail09 was. i am going to try and plow through it though. hopefully i won't keel over somewhere in the middle

 

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