26 September 2013

on biases

Yesterday, when the David Gilmour "I don't teach women, or Chinese" thing exploded all over my social media feeds, I have to admit, I was enjoying it. The man was so clueless about his privilege, about his sexism, he was the talking embodiment of what's wrong with old white men (yes, old, Mr. Gilmour: 63 is not middle-aged). I found so much joy in watching him not understand why everyone was so mad. I mean, of course, he found absolutely nothing wrong with filling his course with "books he loved" that were only written by "guy-guys" and that he doesn't love any books written by women.

In the midst of my cackling and being snippy on twitter ("I'm going down the hall," I wrote and retweeted others like a crazy person), I was supposed to be going over my notes for my class that afternoon. I stopped as I reviewed the names of the poems I was teaching that day: all white. Yes, there were men and women (mostly women), and there were straight and queer (mostly straight) writers, but all white.

My stomach turned as flipped back over the previous three classes I taught. All white except two: Vikram Seth and Claude McKay. I flipped forward--a bit more diversity coming up: Natalie Diaz, Dionne Brand, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, anonymous Afghani women, Fred Wah, Rita Wong, Sachiko Murakami, LeRoi Jones (Amari Baraka). That's not many. That's not enough.

I'm frustrated with myself. I like to think of myself as not a racist, as an ally. But my bias is obvious: I favour white women. I mostly read white women poets. This has to change.

I'm in a very privileged position in exposing a dynamic, interesting group of young writers to "advanced forms and techniques of poetry"--I get to introduce writers they may haven't read yet. It's my duty to reflect a larger world to them than what's on their shelves and what's on mine.

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