As a child, I did not believe that girls like me could be represented on the printed page in any form. We could not be authors or editors. We could not even be characters.
I was so convinced of this that I believed Cho Chang was a white girl for years—after all, Harry Potter thinks of her as a “pretty girl” rather than a “pretty Asian girl,” and only the beauty of white girls are allowed to be unqualified. It was only until the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Firemovie trailer came out that I realized—jarringly, discordantly—that Cho was Asian.
Despite the vital friendship between Lorde and Rich, or perhaps because of it, both poets were able to question their own everyday practices of collusion with the very systems that oppressed them. As self-identified lesbian feminists, they openly negotiated the difficulties of their very different racial and economic realities. Stunningly, they showed us that, if you listen closely enough, language “is no longer personal,” as Rich writes in “Meditations for a Savage Child,” but stains and is stained by the political.
At a reading for new works by Seattle Public Schools’ teaching artists, a white woman reads a poem on police brutality and the racism her black students face. Earlier that month Freddie Gray had been arrested and killed in police custody.
A second white woman takes the stage and echoes: Black Lives Matter.
There are no black writers in the lineup. There are no writers of color.
This is the story college administrators like to tell when they’re asked to explain why, over the past 35 years, college tuition at public universities has nearly quadrupled, to $9,139 in 2014 dollars. It is a fairy tale in the worst sense, in that it is not merely false, but rather almost the inverse of the truth.
This is not memoir, but politics. With this transition, we feel Hernández’s feminism sharply. She is not going to ease her reader through what it means to be queer by asking her audience to accept queerness as normal. She is going to talk to her readers like they are adult humans who should, by now, have learned about queerness through their own interest in being decent.
I didn’t realize education was such a privilege until I had one. Realizing then that a great education is a secular blessing. Even though I got there because of sports, I’d shortly be offered a skeleton key to the world of opportunity built behind locked doors. Those in my images and I are different in that I was raised in a community where, somehow or other, everybody had these keys. Alternately, they are raised in a community where not only do most not have keys, not so long ago, everybody had shackles.
In her novel The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri was lauded for her specificity, for writing about clementines instead of mere oranges. But could I get away with specifying the Alphonso mango, or anwar ratol, or langhra, or chaunsa instead of just saying mango? (And if so, to italicize or not?) I put the mango in. I took the mango out. I spent four months playing in/out. It was tiresome and annoying.
Here’s the thing, there is a big difference between actual human people having feelings about their actual lives and experiences of disability (which I’m not here to criticize) and a fictionalized account written by someone who isn’t disabled and which heavily romanticizes very problematic stereotypes about disability (which I am absolutely here to criticize). I am also here to criticize the fact that the nondisabled media heavily over-represents disability discourses that fit into ableist stereotypes, which makes it harder for the viewer to differentiate between the feelings of individuals and the experiences and feelings of all disabled people. So if you find yourself asking that question, also ask whether you are hearing other opinions and whether those opinions are coming from actual disabled people or are they the fictionalized imaginings of nondisabled people.