On the power of words

Fantastic poet, editor, and professor Matthew Zapruder checks himself and his poetry at Harper’s and finds room for improvement. A powerful piece about responsibility in writing. Required reading for me and my white, straight, able, male (etc) counterparts.

Is it possible, or necessary, or helpful, to discuss these issues as a white person, without doing more damage, creating more misunderstanding? Or, without making it all about white people yet again? Teju Cole (via Claudia Rankine, in the introduction to her play The White Card), writes: “The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.” Is that what the poem was doing? Is that the secret agenda of this very essay?
Often I think the answer is for white people to just be quiet. It’s a nice idea, and a relief to consider. Unfortunately, obviously, racism and white supremacy live in white people. One solution is to declare that, unlike other people, one does not have a racist bone in one’s body (begging the question of whether it is bones that are racist, rather than assumptions or words or actions). Or, like so many aggrieved writers, to loudly assert one’s “rights” to imagine the lives of others, as if those rights are in danger of being taken away.
The question is not whether I as a white person am completely innocent, or whether I am “allowed” to say certain things. The question is, what can I do, as a writer and person, to help? And what are the possible consequences of my efforts?

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