Monday, March 4, 2013

Reading for a Monday

This week's column at Strange Horizons, by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Woman's Work and Woman of Color at Work, grapples with the trickiness of certain aspects of identity issues for women in general and women of color in particular. She notes

In the chapter on aesthetics, Joanna Russ writes:
The re-evaluation and rediscovery of minority art (including the cultural minority of women) is often conceived as a matter of remedying injustice and exclusiveness through doing justice to individual artists by allowing their work into the canon, which will thereby be more complete, but fundamentally unchanged.
I have sometimes been told that the reason my work is accepted or published is because I am a woman of color. I stand out because I am from a third-world country and the field wants to be diverse and inclusive. If there were small boxes to fill in, I would fill in a lot of them.

I remember feeling quite taken aback the first time I heard this spoken out by someone whom I had thought of as a friend. My response at that time was to say that anything that got me published was certainly a plus.

For a while, I became even more critical of my own work, feeling that nothing I wrote was really good enough or worthy enough. It was only later, in looking back, that I recognized that criticism for what it was.

As a non-native English speaker, I find these remarks echoed in subtler ways: a) when people praise me for my command of the language and my ability to express myself well in English and b) when people tell me that as a non-native English speaker I miss the nuances of the language (the implication being that the work will never really measure up).
This is how complex it becomes when we speak of the work of women and the work of women who come from outside of the US or the UK. If the work of women is pressed into the margins, how much more pressed into the margins are the works of women of color? How much more pressed into the margins are the works of women who do not come from within the native English-speaking hegemony?

You'll want to read the whole piece, of course. 

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