Tag: racial issues

Short story: “Degrees of Beauty”

“Degrees of Beauty,” by Cassandra Khaw

Appeared in Terraform, October 27th, 2016

950 words

Creepy. I was a little confused by the first paragraph, and I found the ending a little too hard to believe (given the nature of the surgeries described up to that point), but overall I liked it.


On how to be Asian enough

“The characters, especially the main character, just do not seem Asian enough. They act like everyone else. They don’t eat Korean food, they don’t speak Korean, and you have to think about ways to make these characters more ’ethnic,’ more different. We get too much of the minutiae of [the characters’] lives and none of the details that separate Koreans and Korean-Americans from the rest of us. For example, in the scene when she looks into the mirror, you don’t show how she sees her slanted eyes, or how she thinks of her Asianness.”

—a note to Leonard Chang on his novel The Lockpickers, from a “legendary” editor (x)

You’d think an editor would trust an Asian author to capture the Asian experience (or rather, his particular experience) accurately.

On becoming a lefty

“I went from being a liberal Peace Corps-type Democrat to a raging, maniacal lefty.”

—one of the volunteers for Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964 (Freedom Summer, Bruce Watson, 2010)

When you have actual contact with people affected by civil rights, can you help becoming a lefty? I ask this rhetorically.

Not this time

On finding out what kind of country we live in

“I’ve lived in a country that would vote for Donald Trump my entire life. And, as a black woman, I’ve felt it. That feeling of hurt and betrayal that many liberal white Americans are just now feeling? That’s what I and so many other people of color have felt their entire lives.”

—Ijeoma Oluo (x)

On who gets called narcissistic

“‘[N]arcissism’ is a word that’s sometimes used to assert a diagnostic power over someone, or a group of people, who are perceived as having too much, or asking for too much. When I started reading, I noticed that Freud’s narcissists were women and gay men. As I was writing, others published deeper research about this. The historian Elizabeth Lunbeck’s The Americanization of Narcissism tracks how, in psychoanalysis, ‘narcissism’ was a construct that helped to pathologize homosexuality and femininity. In her review of that book, Vivian Gornick wrote about marching for equal rights, in the 70s, and then having Christopher Lasch condemn feminism as narcissistic. You say ‘we’re here, too,’ and someone whose power is threatened is going to say ‘you’re too self-absorbed.’ The book launch for The Selfishness of Others was in a historically African-American neighborhood, Ft. Greene, from which so many have been displaced, and the majority of people at the launch looked to be what we call ‘white.’ During the Q & A, a person of color in the audience pointed this out, and afterwards about twenty white people came up to tell me they thought that person was a narcissist, for ‘interrupting’ the event to talk about this. So in that way a valid intervention, an important one, is dismissed by claiming the person who makes it is vain, and self-absorbed, or worse, has a mental illness.”

—Kristin Dombek (x)

Short story: “Fredza, 1963”

“Fredza, 1963,” by Leia Menlove

Appeared in Harvard Review Online, August 9th, 2016

3015 words

Well-written and horrible. I like Jim’s hideous, all-too-human sense of innocence (“His feelings were hurt”). Reminds me of “Baby Girl,” a bit.

Holy crap, there’s another way to make people pay to vote

“Many people know that, in most states, those convicted of felonies lose their right to vote for a period of time—in some cases for life. Fewer realize that, in many states, a precondition for felons to regain their right to vote is that all of their criminal justice debt must first be paid.”

—Donna Murch in a provocative essay

On character race

From Lillian Li’s essay “Why Write Characters of Color?”:

“I’m currently working on a novel about a Chinese restaurant, and the biggest event, a fire, was originally added in as a placeholder, until I could find a better catalyst for the plot. Over a year later, this fire has become a load-bearing pillar for my novel; to replace it would be to rewrite the entire project. But the reason this fire is so integral is because I asked the question, at some point in the writing process, of why this story needed a fire. […] If I had never questioned my decision to include the fire, the event would have stood out, like a lump of flour unincorporated into the narrative gravy. The readers would be stuck asking the question for me, the arbitrariness of the fire distracting them until it had seized their attention entirely.

“When American writers arbitrarily decide the race of their characters, and then ignore the question of race, they are courting the same conundrum, even if they phrase it a different way. We often hear this baleful refrain, ‘Why can’t a character just be black, or Asian, or Hispanic? A white character can just be white, after all.'”

It’s a provocative essay, worth reading in full. I find it a little discouraging as a white writer, because I’m intimidated by writing characters significantly different from myself. But I think I also see the great potential Li is pointing towards—creative potential and potential for social change.


“[The officer who shot Tamir Rice] had no information to suggest the weapon was anything but a real handgun, and the speed with which the confrontation progressed would not give the officer time to focus on the weapon.”

—retired FBI agent Kimberly A. Crawford

No fucking shit, Sherlock! We all saw the speed at which the confrontation progressed. It progressed really fucking fast because the police officers, in their wisdom, chose to drive up to the boy really fucking fast and shoot him really fucking fast. As a matter of fact, there was no confrontation until the police drove up. The kid doesn’t even seem to notice them until they’re on top of him.

In the comments on the NPR article, I saw someone make a joke about how, if you want to take out a hit on someone, you can just call 911 and say, “I saw this old lady pointing a gun at people!” And then they have no information to suggest that her umbrella is anything but a disguised rifle, etc. But the fact is that Tamir Rice got shot because he was black. If he had been a white guy, the police would have tried to get more information and the confrontation would not have progressed quite so fast. That’s true regardless of whether some piece of shit ex-FBI agent thinks she can defend her cronies’ behavior, and regardless of how depraved the legal use of force has become in this country.