I know that you care (most of you, at least; the ones who don’t will gain nothing from this blog post but might want to re-examine why they write in the first place). We are, after all, writers, striving to tell the powerful stories we know lurk behind even the post commonplace people or objects or events. Empathy is central to our craft, and because of this we cannot help but feel for those who suffer, who are forced to accept hardships they don’t deserve because of their race or creed or orientation. I know you care, just as I do, about these others face through no fault of their own, and that you want to help in the best way you know how, as I do.
It’s because we care that we will all write pieces, whether poetry or drama or prose, that genuinely attempts to address these issues. Some oft these pieces, however, will overreach, will appropriate or otherize or objectify, transforming our honest attempt to help into something that harms. Those we know who grapple with these issues far more personally and painfully that we do will tell us this, and we will try to revise the piece again and again. The process, though, will be long and difficult and frustrating, and sometimes, the piece will even have to be abandoned entirely, too flawed to warrant spending more time on. At some point during this process, there will be a moment in which we will wish we were more personally effected by the issue we’re writing about. We will wish that we did not have the privilege we currently enjoy, so that we had more access to these topics to write about. We will think, in other words, that our lives as writers would be easier if we were somehow disadvantaged.
This, to put it frankly, and perhaps more gently than it should be, is bullshit. It is the height of laziness to claim that it is our whiteness, maleness, or heterosexuality that prevents us from writing a powerful poem. It is the height of privilege to assume that our lives would be made better by taking on a lifetime of pain and ill-treatment simply make the writing of one piece a little bit easier. This, indeed, is the very essence of the privilege we benefit from: the ability to consider the pain another person suffers less important than something we want because it is not a pain we do not have to suffer. This desire for pain, this lazy and privileged thought, is unworthy of you. It deserves no place in your mind and should be banished in favor of more understanding, a focus on one’s own struggles, and as much revising and rewriting as it takes to produce a piece you can be proud of.
I know that many of you do not need me to tell you this, that you have struggled with such frustrations and realized just how unworthy such thoughts are of your time. But we are not the only ones who need to grapple with our own privilege. There are plenty who have it but claim that it is actually a burden, that it makes it harder for them to get into college or stifles their freedom of speech, and we must make it our goal to help them see otherwise. It is the heigh of laziness, the height of privilege to assume that what we would make our lives better by taking on the habitual pain some people are forced to feel because of their skin or god or loves, just because we believe it would help us in one particular endeavor. It is a thought that, if we are to truly write something worth being proud of, if we are to be people worth being proud of, we must banish.
With excitement and optimism,