Writing Race & Privilege

What does creative writing have to do with race or privilege?

Many writers are okay with discussing class because many writers feel they are or were working class, middle class, or poor, which renders them underdogs, makes them part of the people so to speak.

However, Addonizio is the first white American writer I’ve encountered who talks about race, class, and privilege so candidly. This doesn’t include non-fiction writers (read journalists) who make it their business to talk about politics, class, race, gender, sexuality, news, etc. I mean all the novelists, fiction writers, and poets who think their creative work is above the influence of a racialized world.

Here’s what Kim Addonizio writes in chapter 20 of her book:

“Because I am Caucasian-American in a culture that is predominantly white, I have blind spots. Sometimes I know what they are, and I can try to see them in a side mirror. But sometimes, I think, I don’t even notice them. I can usually afford not to notice. This is the privilege of my skin color.

What does all this mean for my writing? It means I already have a whole boatload, so to speak, of cultural identities and assumptions. It means that those attitudes might be revealed in my writing, whether or not I’m aware of them.”

She quotes Tony Hoagland in this chapter as saying:

“To speak in a voice equal to reality in this case will mean the loss of observer-immunity-status, will mean admitting that one is not on the sidelines of our racial realities, but actually in the tangled middle of them, in very personal ways.”

And yes, these quotes are taken from a book on writing.

Addonizio gives ten exercises to “help you approach ‘other Americas’ or to consider race and class as they intersect with your own experiences.” I’ll share my favorite one.

Write about the messages you got about “other people” as a child. Did you hear of people being better off or worse off? Were some people lazier, smarter, more deserving? Did you hear about people starving in third-world countries? Try to remember a specific encounter when these ideas were either confirmed or overturned.

This is the final lesson I’m sharing from Ordinary Genius by Kim Addonizio, so be sure to get your own copy of the book!