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‘Afro Picks,’ Publisher’s Weekly, & the Racialized Pun

By Craig Santos Perez

thx to all who commented on my first post here, & to all the well wishes i received thru facebook, email, & blog. however, i don’t appreciate all the negative emails i’ve received from those saying i ‘sold out’ by joining ‘the foundation.’ nor do i appreciate those even purer purists who tell me i should stop blogging and focus on the ‘real work’ of writing poetry. to all you haters, i say this: as i woke this morning several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a 21st century Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which I possess so enormously–I mean Negative Bloggability, that is, when a man is capable of blogging in uncertain opinions, mysterious logic, and doubtful conclusions, without any irritable reaching after supporting facts and reasonable arguments.

thus, my second post for this week follows below. i hope everyone will feel free to comment–i will, of course, respond–and will have my third post ready next monday.

*

i was alerted to this cover by a blogger–roxane gay–at the htmlgiant group blog (the PW article can be found here (“African American Books in the Marketplace”). gay writes:

I don’t even know where to begin in deconstructing this bizarre image. The black woman as the exotic, wild creature with crazy hair is not, perhaps, the wisest choice of images. Why not just have Venus Hottentot bare breasted and holding a book parading around the cover? Also, can we talk about the fact that black people haven’t had afros that required picking for roughly 20 years, save for a few people who like a little throwback and even then, they aren’t walking around with a head full of picks? The saddest detail of all may well be the black power fist at the end of each pick (see: Black Panthers, 1960s, things we have let go). What does this image have to do with writing? What is the message PW is trying to convey? This image is offensive and weird and creepy and that the people involved in the editorial process didn’t stop to ask themselves how this image might be perceived is kind of funny and very sad.

first, let’s be real: if PW used Venus Hottentot on the cover, she would not be holding the books in her hands, if you know what i mean. second, while i don’t find the image as offensive as gay does, i do think its use–and the accompanying “!” in “Afro Picks!”–to be annoying and offensive. why not just be serious have the main title read “New Books and Trends in African American Publishing”? why make such a racialized spectacle? clearly, the editorial board so fully fell in love with the aesthetics of the racialized pun that they didnt quite think through its ethics.

what do you think about the cover?

gay goes on to writes:

I understand, historically, why there was a need for the term African American books to exist and why the little section in the bookstore was (is) needed but at the same time, I personally think that when you start to segregate books what you’re saying is that some of these things are not like the others. I’m sure every black writer has a different opinion on the subject but I would prefer my books to be found in the fiction section because that’s what I write. My books would be cranky in the African American section because they would want to kick the asses of books written by Maya Angelou. There would be a RUMBLE in that aisle and then the Women’s Studies books would cluck their tongues and the Asian Books would shake their heads and soon, everyone would want to riot.

first, dont underestimate the ass-kicking ability of a maya angelou book. second, i actually like the fact that many bookstores have these racialized sections. makes it easier for me to find maya angelou’s latest books.

the real issue that gets my ethnic studies motor going is that there are no sections in major bookstores for white writers! i feel so bad for all my white writer friends because how can they get their books into readers’ hands if they have no section in the bookstore? white writers, if you start a petition on Facebook to demand that major bookstores sell your white wares, i will sign up! support the existence of white writers!

(tho i have heard rumors that there is a ‘back room’ in Borders where they keep all the books by white writers–imagine the bounty!–but you need a special password. my guess is that the password is ‘the American canon’.)

anyhoo, maybe someday Publisher’s Weekly will do a special issue on white writers. let me help. i have a few ideas on cover images and catchy titles.

my first suggestion is: “Premium Crackers! New Trends and Books in White Publishing.”

my second suggestion is: “Vanilla Extracts! New Trends and Books in White Publishing.”

and finally, my personal favorite: “Toasting White Bread: New Books and Trends in White Publishing.” my ideal cover:

and wouldnt it be cool if, instead of toast popping out of the toaster, they can photoshop in a copy of matthew and michael dickman’s books (two books i enjoyed reading last year)? there could be a speech tag above the man that reads: “look, honey, twins!”

which title/cover is your favorite?

*

i shall end this post with another attempt to get kent johnson to join facebook. besides good gossip, FB is a great place to find funny jokes. one of my recent faves comes from a poet who lives in new york. this was his status update during the winter snow storm:

“It’s so white outside, I’m going to nominate the weather for a National Book Award.”

C’mon son!

*

Comments (64)

  • On January 6, 2010 at 12:22 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Go Craig!

  • On January 6, 2010 at 12:41 pm Joshua wrote:

    Does it matter that the PW editor who chose the image and pun is black?

  • On January 6, 2010 at 12:59 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    >i shall end this post with another attempt to get kent johnson to join facebook. besides good gossip, FB is a great place to find funny jokes.

    Thanks, Craig.

    I get it, I can take it, and I’m chuckling.

    But the poetry world *in general*, you know, de propia naturaleza, was already “a great place to find funny jokes” long before Facebook appeared.

    • On January 6, 2010 at 1:06 pm csperez wrote:

      you are quite right. curses.

  • On January 6, 2010 at 1:05 pm csperez wrote:

    joshua, good question! does it matter to you? would it matter if a prominent republican senator was black?

    • On January 6, 2010 at 3:56 pm Joshua wrote:

      Or that the president is black? I honestly don’t know. I think the initial trouble about it assumed that Publisher’s Weekly was staffed by all white people, just as when they published there best novels of the year and had all men people assumed the editors were all male. And that turned out not to be true. The balance of the equation rests on power, so if a disenfranchised group has more or less power in the situation matters. Doesn’t it?

      • On January 6, 2010 at 4:13 pm csperez wrote:

        hey joshua, good point about the prez. i would agree that it matters in the sense of minorities holding positions of editorial power…but my point was that the identity of those in power doesnt guarantee a particular politic.

        and i dont think i assumed the editorial board was white (if that’s what you meant).

        • On January 9, 2010 at 7:45 pm pam lu wrote:

          Of course our black prez is also white, with an Asian sibling and in-laws. Looking a lot like the families I meet/encounter lately. It’s going to be increasingly difficult to draw hard-and-fast distinctions based on race/ethnicity in this country. Of course there will always be pressure on the individual to “choose” their identification, but more and more people will be sharing Wendy’s dilemma above, if it is even a dilemma.

          • On January 9, 2010 at 9:07 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

            Pam Lu said:

            “Of course our black prez is also white, with an Asian sibling and in-laws. Looking a lot like the families I meet/encounter lately. It’s going to be increasingly difficult to draw hard-and-fast distinctions based on race/ethnicity in this country.”

            Hey…I’ve got a crazy idea. Let’s all just be Americans!

          • On January 9, 2010 at 10:54 pm Wendy Babiak wrote:

            Definitely not a dilemma. Those of us who are nicely mixed usually have hybrid vigor! As a teenager, though, and very young adult, I felt much more mixed up than nicely mixed. I think it depends on where one finds oneself, and how perceptive the prevailing culture is of not-quite-whiteness. Generally, the further south one is, the more likely one’s neighbors will ask the question, “What are you?”

            Which really invites some smart-ass responses, I must confess.

  • On January 6, 2010 at 1:09 pm Wendy Babiak wrote:

    I’m starting to wonder if PW imagines that ANY publicity is good publicity? Did they not, as children, get the good attention/bad attention lecture?

    And where will my books go, being myself descended from a huge mix of ethnicities? Is there a section for Not-Quite-White writers? Oh, that’s right, since it’s poetry, they won’t even BE at Borders, since they had to make room for more books about vampires and zombies.

    • On January 6, 2010 at 1:17 pm csperez wrote:

      Wendy, indeed. maybe there should be a section in bookstores called “Ambiguously Ethnic Writers” ;)

  • On January 6, 2010 at 1:15 pm evie wrote:

    i love the photo and the cover pun for the pw issue. it comes from a book (that was featured in the issue) called *posing beauty,* edited by deborah willis, a wonderful photographer and historian of african american photography and art. sorry, craig, but this is not an offensive image — and you know i love puns! : )

    i also love that you’re blogging here! good luck and happy surviving…

  • On January 6, 2010 at 1:15 pm Meg Withers wrote:

    Dear Pal: Hele on, bradah! I always get ants under my skin when someone tries to tell me what I should be doing with my time. Idiotas! A writer writes. What happens if we use our time to write stuff other than our other-assigned homework (the stuff others (obviously self-proclaimed gurus) tell us we should be writing)? We miss out on every bit of the private and very important letters, journals, notebooks etc, that provide a fuller understanding of writers whose work we love or love to hate. Is blogging any different than journaling? I’m reminded of a very famous writer who once told a class that we were a bunch of infidels for using ball point pens (way before blogging-the value of old age speaking here)rather than typewriters – or better yet ink-staining liquid pens with nibs – why not go really nuts here and go out and pluck a chicken for a quill? What a load of crap! And, that’s just the folks who criticize the fact that you blog. Maybe I’ll comment on the cover later, but gotta go write “my real stuff” now – FB chismes. Love, Meg

  • On January 6, 2010 at 1:20 pm csperez wrote:

    hey evie, great to hear from you! well, as i said, i dont find the image itself offensive–but i find the spectacle annoying. and as you can tell, i love puns too!

  • On January 6, 2010 at 1:21 pm bjanepr wrote:

    Hey Craig, you know, I saw the image and didn’t find it offensive or belittling. I don’t know that I needed the “Afro Picks!” to be stated. I mean, I got that from the picture.

    I say this, suspecting that if any kind of Fil Am poetry were featured in PW with a “Flip Out!” kind of pun, I’d probably be miffed, and simultaneously grateful that my community would be garnering some amount of mainstream attention.

    • On January 6, 2010 at 4:07 pm csperez wrote:

      hey b, thx for drawing our attention to that tension between feeling miffed & grateful. the ‘flip out’ is a great comparison–so true. oops, i forgot the exclamation point in ‘flip out!’

      xo
      c

  • On January 6, 2010 at 1:24 pm Anselm wrote:

    The great thing about selling out is you get to experience the pure isolation of no integrity and you get to blow your check on comic books and cheap wine.

    • On January 7, 2010 at 3:09 pm Steven Fama wrote:

      Hi Anselm,

      I appreciate that you’ve, indirectly here, acknowledged getting paid.

      This super-monied organization had better be paying the poets, and in fact, paying for these blog posts is a good way to get poets a share of its enormous Lilly gift.

      However, I advise you blogger-poets to DEMAND an immediate doubling or tripling of the payment, given what I’ve read the last couple days about the size of money at hand, and the plans to build a 25 million dollar building.

      • On January 7, 2010 at 3:22 pm Bill Deng wrote:

        Hey, commenters should get paid, too!

        • On January 8, 2010 at 1:17 am Steven Fama wrote:

          I do not support POETRY paying commenters, UNLESS they are poets!

          I might be half-joking about paying poet-commenters, but I ain’t at all joking about the Blogger-Poets getting some of the Lily-gift. This here web-site, per the Chicago Tribune, was a million dollar (!) POETRY project. Frankly I find that figure hard to believe, but even if it was a tenth of that, it’d be an enormous outlay.

          • On January 8, 2010 at 1:44 am john wrote:

            “[T]he foundation now pays out $2 million per year just in payroll for its 20 employees.”

            Average salary of $100,000 per year is some pretty nice groceries!

            http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/chi-poetry-foundation-31-dec31,0,2069939,full.story

            I don’t envy the deciders who have to deal with the bequest — it’s a crazy amount of money. Paying the bloggers more makes sense though.

          • On January 8, 2010 at 10:23 am Bill Deng wrote:

            I see that the Tribune has a website, too. Wonder what it cost ‘em. And woo, what a building they have!

            • On January 8, 2010 at 11:02 am john wrote:

              Yeah, and they’re in bankruptcy.

              ‘Tis a beautiful building though.

            • On January 8, 2010 at 12:10 pm Steven Fama wrote:

              Dear Bill,

              Do you agree that POETRY, with its one to two hundred million “in the bank” should pay a goodly amount to the poets who blog for its million dollar web-site?

              Thanks,

              Steve

  • On January 6, 2010 at 1:35 pm roz wrote:

    c st. p,

    sometimes ya gotta sell some to reach the masses. good to see you making trouble here.

  • On January 6, 2010 at 2:18 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Actually, in regards to this matter of “Ambiguously Ethnic Writers,” and since racial terms are getting proposed, however lightheartedly:

    If, for example, a “White” writer had a Great-great grandmother who was 100% Penobscot (central Maine), would this qualify the writer as a legitimately Ethnic writer? As merely “more Ethnic” than someone with a pure Western European background? As such and such percentage Ethnic? As a “potentially Ethnic” writer, the determination contingent on how he or she chose to write (i.e., writing judged as appropriately Ethnic or not by other self-identified Ethnic writers)?

    Or is it primarily a matter of self-definition and self-fashioning? That any person with some direct non-White lineage may choose to be an Ethnic writer?

    I realize these questions might seem naive to Craig and others who have been actively involved in thinking about related issues. But I ask them sincerely and seriously.

    • On January 6, 2010 at 3:47 pm sassjemleon wrote:

      kent, not sure how naive you’re being, but if you’re serious, here goes nothing:

      if we are talking from a marketing standpoint, we are mainly talking about genres, and various mixes of genres. in the bookstore, they ask, where will this writer sell best? how has the publisher presented the work? what aisle, so to speak? there are general bookstores, then there are speciality shoppes, ie (gay and lesbian book stores), and then there are general bookstores that may cater to their various localities or neighborhoods.

      for that matter, there is always room for one more genre. poetry, for the most part, is its own genre and rarely does it get broken down by ethnicity in a bookstore unless the bookstore is specializing in that sort of presentation.

      public libraries have also gotten on the genre wagon more and more, especially when they feel they are in direct competition with local bookstores. when that happens, a library utilizing the dewey decimal system may provide a combination of official pre-existing cataloging language subject terms and shelving space within the dewey decimal system, which usually break downs by type of literature, era, and country, etc. in combination with that “traditional” method of shelving, additional shelf space may be used to highlight say, for example, a collection that is going to be of greater importance to one of your niche user groups, such as christians or korean immigrants.

      an academic library will probably exhibit less leeway in its cataloging and shelving procedures. they still tend to utilize and adhere pretty strictly to the library of congress call # system, which, like dewey, catalogs according to the type of literature. with poetry, fiction, or drama, by era and birth-country of the author. however, recent cataloging trends may also include a synopsis of the book, or secondary subject headings that won’t really effect its place in the library, but make it potentially more accessible by adding more relevant subject headings to the record. for example, a play about the revolutionary war, in addition to its drama subject categories may also receive the appropriate history categories as well. this a relatively new development in cataloging procedures.

      now, from a critical standpoint, anybody can undertake a study about somebody’s ethinicity, but if the shoe doesn’t fit, it will probably be painful or fall off pretty quickly, no?

      in your example of the american indian great-grandmother, i would say how much attention is paid to the author’s ethnicity would all depend on the subject matter and the author’s presentation of that material.

      bit of a hodge and podge that was. let me know if that helps, or if i shouldn’t have responded at all.

    • On January 6, 2010 at 4:26 pm csperez wrote:

      hey kent,

      great comment & complex questions. part of the point i was trying to make is that “white” is also an ethnicity (tho i’m not an expert in “whiteness studies”–it is an important part of “ethnic studies” in general), not outside such racialized punning spectacles. of course whiteness–within the discourse of literary history–has not always been considered an ‘ethnic poetry’ (tho it sometimes has, if we think of studies in ‘jewish poetry’)–but even then, it’s not really considered ‘white poetics’.

      anyhoo, the difficulty in answering your question directly is the word “legitimately” when you write “would this qualify the writer as a legitimately Ethnic writer?” legitimacy (or authenticity) is socially, historically, culturally, and personally contingent in terms of racial formation.

      so i, personally, am open to the possibilities you suggest (tho, the usual joke is that someone discovers a Cherokee great grandmother and a year later their book appears in the Native American section).

      • On January 6, 2010 at 5:47 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

        Regarding ethnicity, you’re all fooked!

        If you’re not Irish, you should abandon your feeble efforts at poetry altogether.

        :-D :-) :-D :-) :-D :-) :-D :-) :-D

  • On January 6, 2010 at 2:23 pm Edwin Torres wrote:

    Dude, you’re on fire, another brilliant post. I don’t find the cover offensive just dumb and easy, regardless of who the editor is—though my edges have been blurred by years of falling through the white cracks. Here’s to comic books and cheap wine!

    • On January 6, 2010 at 4:05 pm csperez wrote:

      thx edwin! yeah, i dont think the identity of the editor(s) matters all that much. but i will talk more about that in my next post. p.s. hope to meet you someday: i missed your reading the last time you came thru the bay area. peace, c

  • On January 6, 2010 at 3:09 pm Cathy Park Hong wrote:

    Eye-catching, yes. Easy spectacle, maybe. Offensive, I don’t think so, especially when put into context (thanks Evie!). Anyway, rock on with your compulsively readable blogs, Craig. I’m glad to see you here.

    C

    • On January 6, 2010 at 4:03 pm csperez wrote:

      great to hear your opinion cathy! and for highlighting the importance of context. xo, c

  • On January 6, 2010 at 3:43 pm Oscar wrote:

    Thanks for highlighting this. The image initially raised my eyebrow a bit but I figured it was just P&W lumping all Afro writers into one pile. What folks need to do is find one header or banner that can encompass all our facets and let that be how we march forth into the literary light. If it was me, I would name that banner: Kraft!

    • On January 6, 2010 at 4:02 pm csperez wrote:

      omg oscar that’s hilarious! and brilliant cuz it highlights the common critique against why writers of color have not yet earned the ‘literary light’: that we are too busy writing our narrative identity poems that we dont have complex ‘kraft’. word.

  • On January 6, 2010 at 5:33 pm UHM wrote:

    PW has already demonstrated its social and cultural parameters, alas, with its top 10 exclusive Y picks and the editors’ explanation that they weren’t being politically correct, because of course the only reason you’d include a woman writer or two or three or four is b/c you’re being PC. So, yes, I’m not surprised at their continued quest for spectacle at the expense of “the other.” Who’s next up?

  • On January 6, 2010 at 5:38 pm john wrote:

    The PW cover strikes me as a deliberately provocative use — and trivialization — of an interesting image. As Evie points out, context is important! And how complex! It’s a great image, and I probably never would have seen it otherwise, so I’m glad to have seen it — but — who’s the photographer? And how does she/he feel about the ruckus? (I’m assuming Ms. Willis, who edited the book from which the image comes, did not make it, but I don’t know.) Did she/he get a good payday for it?

    Regarding Kent’s question, maybe you should ask members of the Penobscot Nation, which still exists. I don’t have a say in the matter, but I would wonder whether any of the great-great-grandmother’s Penobscot culture got passed down to the great-great-grandson or -daughter.

    As a white-bre[a]d guy, “Toasting White Bread” made me laugh out loud. Thanks.

  • On January 6, 2010 at 6:23 pm csperez wrote:

    a note to all: growing tired of scrolling up and down to respond to specific threads, i shall from now on post all my responses at the bottom of the comment field. others are welcome to do the same.

    @ john: good point about asking the Penobscot Nation. have you (or anyone) ever read leslie marmon silko’s essay “An Old Time Indian Attack”? she takes down just that kind of thing (specifically addressing Gary Snyder).

    @ gary, who wrote, “Regarding ethnicity, you’re all fooked!
    If you’re not Irish, you should abandon your feeble efforts at poetry altogether.”

    i could almost agree with that being a great appreciator of irish poetry. lucky for me, i just discovered that my great-great grandmother is Irish! i’m in like o’flynn baby!

    @ UHM: thx for making the connection between this PW cover story & PW’s “Dick Picks”. the intersectionality betwn race & gender cant be ignored.

  • On January 6, 2010 at 8:45 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Hey Craig, no one told me about the steak knives, but I’m all for you taking the set.

  • On January 6, 2010 at 9:33 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    “@ gary, who wrote, ‘Regarding ethnicity, you’re all fooked!
    If you’re not Irish, you should abandon your feeble efforts at poetry altogether.’”

    Craig, you left out my last sentence:

    :-D :-) :-D :-) :-D :-) :-D :-) :-D

    (Knowing that you know, of course, that it’s a joke, especially since my favorite poets are Welsh, Chinese and American.)

  • On January 6, 2010 at 9:56 pm Richard Villar wrote:

    I know of one or two places where racialized plays-on-words for (and by) Latino poets can get ya written up in the New York Times. It ain’t Publisher’s Weakly, but I suppose it’ll do.

    In that vein, let me offer up a gem from “Abuela’s comal.”* Though not for poetry…

    HISPANIC AT THE DISCO: NEW TRENDS IN LATIN MUSIC AND SCARY ASS DRUM CIRCLES.

    *(c) Paul Martinez Pompa, from the poem “Commercial Break”

  • On January 6, 2010 at 10:04 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    >I don’t have a say in the matter, but I would wonder whether any of the great-great-grandmother’s Penobscot culture got passed down to the great-great-grandson or -daughter.

    John,

    No, not at all. The link is not as recent as my hypothetical made it sound: It goes back to the late 18th century, on my mother’s side.

  • On January 7, 2010 at 2:05 am csperez wrote:

    @ rich, i love that poem from mr. pompa. and your mention of those other instances is the topic of my next blogpost here…but that shall have to wait til monday.

    @ sina, haha i was joking about the steak knives. i’ve also told people that if my posts receive 100 comments i get a $20 bonus ;)

  • On January 7, 2010 at 1:08 pm Lehua wrote:

    Craig,

    Interesting commentary here. Though your graphic comparisons of the current PW cover and what the white counterpart of that cover might be are certainly lighthearted (and hilarious), I find a pertinent point being made here. We perceive “Premium Crackers” and “Vanilla Extract” (God, these really do bring a tear…) as comic because they represent the improbable farce. As readers, we would certainly not expect to view a PW cover with such images and take them seriously. Yet we are presented with the Afro Picks! imagery and are asked, perhaps, to do exactly that. Certainly the image is not intended as a joke, as it would undermine the message. I am interested in the binarism at work here as we process these images as viewers. What have we been taught (redundantly) that makes us dismiss derogatory humor toward whites as hyperbole, while we might make allowances for a certain amount of appropriation in depictions of people of color?

  • On January 7, 2010 at 4:50 pm Abigail Deutsch wrote:

    The puns in this post have made my day.

  • On January 7, 2010 at 5:04 pm csperez wrote:

    hey lehua,

    great to read your thoughts here. to be honest, i was apprehensive about posting “Premium Crackers” particularly because it seems quite offensive to me (as opposed to say, “vanilla extract” or “toasting white bread” which seem to me much more analogous to the rhetorical racial banality of ‘afro picks’).

    yet, no one (white or non-white) expressed that they were offended by “Premium Crackers” (tho that doesnt mean no one was offended). so, was anyone offended by this?

    my perception is that no one was really offended because it is not only an “improbable farce,” as you suggest, but i’d say that it’s also an impossible posture. that is, PW would never use such an image or title. so in a sense, why would anyone be truly offended by an impossible threat?

    this reminds me of an article titled “When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like “Avatar”?” (you can find it here: http://io9.com/5422666/when-will-white-people-stop-making-movies-like-avatar). The author, Annalee Newitz, writes:

    “These are movies about white guilt. Our main white characters realize that they are complicit in a system which is destroying aliens, AKA people of color – their cultures, their habitats, and their populations. The whites realize this when they begin to assimilate into the “alien” cultures and see things from a new perspective. To purge their overwhelming sense of guilt, they switch sides, become “race traitors,” and fight against their old comrades. But then they go beyond assimilation and become leaders of the people they once oppressed. This is the essence of the white guilt fantasy, laid bare. It’s not just a wish to be absolved of the crimes whites have committed against people of color; it’s not just a wish to join the side of moral justice in battle. It’s a wish to lead people of color from the inside rather than from the (oppressive, white) outside.

    Think of it this way. Avatar is a fantasy about ceasing to be white, giving up the old human meatsack to join the blue people, but never losing white privilege. Jake never really knows what it’s like to be a Na’vi because he always has the option to switch back into human mode.”

    anyways, i’m thinking of the “privilege” to “switch back” as similar to the privilege of knowing that you will never have to confront such racialization.

    but perhaps i have gone too far. what do you & others think?

    c

    • On January 8, 2010 at 1:38 pm Wendy Babiak wrote:

      I think there is little that is as difficult to talk about as race, especially in an allegedly post-racial society.

    • On January 8, 2010 at 2:11 pm Matt wrote:

      i don’t think there are any white people that are offended by the word “cracker”.

      i don’t understand why this person assumes that blue aliens = non-white humans. sometimes a blue alien is just a blue alien.

      disclosures: i’m white, i don’t feel guilty, i haven’t seen avatar.

      • On January 8, 2010 at 4:00 pm Joshua wrote:

        Didn’t Terreson give some sort of disquisition on his cracker roots on Harriet a while ago? He found the term offensive, I think. Not that I want to read through all of it again (don’t re-type all that fiddle, Big T!), but if anyone’s interested I bet they could go back and find it and see exactly how someone could be offended by “Premium Crackers.” Not me. I just think it’s hilarious. And I’m white. Mostly. And I’ve seen Avatar, that tree-hugging Canadian racist lily-livered Dances With Wolves for the 21st century.

  • On January 7, 2010 at 10:42 pm john wrote:

    “Premium Crackers” didn’t offend me, quite likely for the reasons you suggest. Interesting question, that’s for sure!

    An anarchist bookstore I used to volunteer at (Left Bank Books, Seattle) used to have its fiction section separated by gender — “Men’s Fiction” and “Women’s Fiction” — no general fiction. I thought it was great and was disappointed when they did away with it (years after I volunteered there). Lots of bookstores have “Eastern Philosophy” and “Western Philosophy,” but no “Tropical Philosophy.” (Who was it that pointed out that the Beats rarely looked South for their trips/homages/appropriations? Michael Ventura maybe?)

    • On January 8, 2010 at 6:12 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

      The Beats got to Mexico often, and of course Tangiers. Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti made a famous trip to Santiago de Chile where they were hosted by Nicanor Parra. “El niño Ferlinghetti vino pa’ca,” Gonzalo Rojas, the youngest poet in Latin America (b. 1917), said to me.

      • On January 8, 2010 at 10:14 pm john wrote:

        Thanks for the correction. And also Kerouac, “Mexico City Blues.” My *impression* is that Buddhism and Hinduism made a bigger mark on the Beats than did, say, Vodun; but maybe I’m being overly swayed by the prominence of Snyder and Ginsberg.

        Thanks again.

  • On January 8, 2010 at 1:16 am csperez wrote:

    thanks for your comment john!

    wow i’ve never seen a gender division at a bookstore before…very interesting. i should also mention that ‘sass’ has a great post way up above about various categories used in bookstores and libraries.

  • On January 8, 2010 at 7:07 pm csperez wrote:

    @ wendy: indeed

    @ matt: thanks for your honesty. perhaps you are right that ‘cracker’ is not really offensive–or at least there’s no evidence there is from the comments here. in terms of the movie avatar (which i havent seen), i heard somewhere that all the voices of the blue aliens are played by actors of color. not sure if that’s actually true.

    @ joshue: that is the funniest description i’ve read of avatar so far! haha

    • On January 11, 2010 at 11:30 am Joshua wrote:

      Here’s a bit further into Avatar raciness, not that this is exactly what we’re talking about here, but I think it’s interesting:

      http://www.seattlepi.com/national/1110ap_us_avatar_racism.html

      Why? Because we’re still sorting out the “post-racial” codes. Was the PW cover using the old code or the new code?

  • On January 9, 2010 at 3:58 am Vivek Narayanan wrote:

    Craig,

    Thanks, I split my sides laughing! Yes, “multiculturalism”–which is where all this came from– was flawed from the start, because it rests ultimately on tokenism. But multiculturalism also works so well because its emphasis on difference and specialisation fits in perfectly with the processes of post-fordist production and consumption.

    So I think the point that “Sassjemleon” makes above about marketing is really a crucial one. I’m wondering if what is offensive/irritating is not so much the image per se but its context; if, in a way, many other PW covers have been similarly irritating. What this cover– and your colour-coded bookstores– really tell us is how the signifiers of radical politics have become just another way to get people to buy stuff.

    • On January 9, 2010 at 10:31 pm sassjemleon wrote:

      vivek, you needn’t put multiculturalism or my name in quotes. we are both legimate names for very noble and interesting concepts. multiculturism began as a means of respecting other cultures and traditions by saying, hey, you know there is more than just the white male cannon available–which absolutely true. primarily speaking, multiculturalism was an educational movement. tokenism is a negative reaction to multiculturism. marketing the positive.

      • On January 11, 2010 at 2:44 am Vivek Narayanan wrote:

        Sassjemleon, I’m happy to call you whatever you wish to be called, but I reserve the right to put “multiculturalism” in quotes. This is to clearly indicate its very specific intellectual history and also to mark the gaps between its intentions, its practice, and me. I know where it began, but I worry about where it’s gotten us. To speak of “other cultures” is to speak from an unmarked point of view, a hidden centre; on the one hand, it seems to lump all them “other cultures” together, on the other hand it sometimes needs to imagine them as discrete, pure unmixed entities. This is the legacy of 50s cultural anthropology. For me as a speaker, the “white male canon” would anyway be the “other culture”– except that is not quite that either– I insist on claiming it as my own, and moreover, I’m more than stuck with it. Everything came to us, comes to us, already mixed.

  • On January 10, 2010 at 7:39 pm R.L. wrote:

    I have never walked into a major bookstore and found Maya Angelou in the “African American Literature” section. If she’s there at all, she’s always been in the Poetry section–that small, lonely bookshelf typically in a corner. It seems the Poetry section is the only section, I have found, where writers, regardless of their race, co-mingle: you may easily find Carl Phillips next to Emily Dickinson. It does, however, get on my nerves that Poetry is sectioned off from “Literature.” Did I miss something? Is poetry not literature?

    • On January 11, 2010 at 11:54 am Matt wrote:

      i think i would get annoyed if i had to hunt through thousands of big fat fiction books to find poetry books. if i’m looking for poetry books, i like to have them all next to each other.

      • On January 11, 2010 at 12:16 pm Jordan wrote:

        That was how they shelved at Books and Company, actually, and it was great — probably because the ratio of fiction to poetry was closer to two to one than to one hundred to one.

  • On January 14, 2010 at 4:48 pm Asher Ghaffar wrote:

    Craig! Just received your “from Unincorporated Territory” today. Can’t wait to dip into it, and looking forward to your posts…it’d be great to hear more about how you work through form (narrative, in particular), the relationship between form and colonialism etc. but, I know you have better things to talk about;)

    Asher

    P.S. if you haven’t already, check out “Good Hair.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Hair

  • On January 14, 2010 at 4:53 pm csperez wrote:

    thx asher! i hope you dig the book–yeah i will prob sometime talk about my own work here. i’ve heard interesting things about ‘good hair’–will have to check it out. anyhoo, i look forward to your future comments here at harriet.

    peace,
    c


Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, January 6th, 2010 by Craig Santos Perez.