Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Why Do I Write?

I listened to an NPR segment the other day that asked this exact question.  Writing takes a great deal of effort and promises very little payoff at times, even if you devote your entire life to it.  So why do I do it, even in small spurts?  There are a number of reasons:

1. It helps me vent.  Now that I've reached the point in my life where writing is overwhelmingly more of a joy than a chore (at least when I'm not juggling three terms papers with a 12 AM deadline), I consult it as I would a close friend.  I put all my thoughts down on paper and let the appropriate tone and arrangement find their way to me as I go.  Don't get me wrong; I still do that whole burrying-my-face-in-my-hands-until-I-can-think-of-the-perfect-word-and-the-perfect-feeling-and-the-perfect-meaning thing, but that's all part of the process of creating something heretofore invisible.  Writing is my chance to turn raw, unadulterated stress, love, or fear into a compelling narrative.

2. It's in everyone's domain.  Writing does not discriminate.  Period.  Anyone can write because everyone has a voice.  This isn't just me being optimistic or humanity-loving; it's fact.  Anyone or anything with a mind has a say in how the world runs, and writing is the best way to capitalize on that.  Reading someone else's work gives us a direct link to his/her soul, and that's beautiful.

3. It's not always kind...and that only motivates me more.  For the most part, my writing makes me feel good about myself because I take ample time to develop it.  I put my heart in most everything I do, but other people don't always see that.  And that frustrates me.  So I write a reply...

Today I had a somewhat unnerving workshop experience in which I received an overwhelming proportion of criticism over compliment.  I wrote an attack against the use of Native American Mascots in U.S. sports, making clear that I do not claim Native American heritage, nor do I believe any oppressed group's harm to be more or less valid than any other's.  Nonetheless, there were a few unrelenting critics who argued that I was writing from a "privileged position," being a white woman with no direct stake in the matter.  They further argued that I was saying Native American mascots were worse than police brutality and murder.

I admit, I could have phrased my stance on the issue better.  In general, however, I think it was pretty clear that I was advocating for broad social justice initiatives on this particular issue and NOT barring remedies for any others.  I mentioned police brutality in my essay not to downplay its gravity but to acknowledge its continual and harmful presence.  I included the plights of other groups not to give them any sort of obligatory recognition, but to open the door to future essays discussing these topics.  There is only so much I can cover in mine.

I later anticipated a different counterargument, contending in my essay that while "The Fighting Irish" is a problematic name in its own right, people of Irish heritage have not faced the same sort of oppression in America that Native peoples continue to face.  Here, those same students who said I was writing from a privileged position told me that I couldn't say the Irish haven't been oppressed.  (Obviously they have, but not to the same extent or in the same way as Native Americans.)  If you're going to play the "you're white and can't relate to oppression" card, at least be consistent with it.

I don't often defend the white race (it's never been remotely high on my agenda), but I feel it is necessary with regard to those white people fighting for social reform.  By pigeonholing all white people into the category of "elitist" or "snob," we discount the opinions of those who really give a damn, and that's a form of discrimination in itself (of course much less severe than most other types).  It is white people themselves who are often most guilty of this view.  I myself have questioned my license to address certain problems that members of my race caused in the first place.  But silencing my own voice--just like silencing those of black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American people--on issues I really care about would be an injustice indeed.

No, I don't have a direct stake in the use of Native American mascots, but I do have many indirect ones.  I have a right to argue for a fairer, more equal, open-minded, and empathetic country and world.  Everyone does.  I do not wish to take agency away from anyone else by permitting it in myself.  The more voices we have, the closer we get to a consensus on what's right.  If that's not important, I don't know what is.

You have a right to believe whatever you want to; I would only suggest that you be respectful of others and constructive while believing it.

Thank you for listening,

Coat: Topshop.  Tights: Express.  Bag: Kate Spade.  Shoes: Banana Republic.

All photos thanks to Sean Su.