“But I wasn’t sure that I considered myself a Latino writer, though not because I didn’t think of myself as “qualifying” as one. I was undecided about the term “Latino writers” – indeed, about all such plural designations when applied to work as solitary and individual as fiction writing—words seeming to affirm an affinity with other writers of certain backgrounds, and that might instead be obscuring what I was trying to do was a novelist rather than illuminating any aspect actually worth taking note of.”
Francisco Goldman: State of the Art: Latino Writers, 1999, The Washington Post
We are altogether and we are individuals. Yet, rarely is any issue solely about the one. I know it’s impossible to ignore patterns, but we are all part of a bigger bang. How can we un-tease ourselves from the limitation of seeing the world through one single filter? Can we be anything else, than who we are, ranked and filed? Yes, damn it. We are all desperate to be done with it, once and for all—the Tower of Babel. Down with it!
Let’s take a look at how we use language to perpetuate this obsession with identity. It enslaves some and communicates a false sense of neutrality or “standard” from which all others must compare (Howard Zinn spent his whole life talking, writing and educating people about this). Look at what you read and ask what is the impact on your thinking? Are there subtleties that stop us from expansive thinking?
Too often characters in books, for example, that are described simply as, “The woman,” “The man,” or “The girl” followed by an action such as, “who carried the envelope across the room” are by default… white? Characters that are of the “other,” persuasion are always described as, “The black woman (African American) woman, “The Latino male,” or the “Asian child” even though the book is set in America (which begs the question of whether or not the Latino or Asian character were even born here). But, yes. Say this as Lawrence Fishburne says this in the Matrix. Y e s. Characters in books are never identified as white, they are simply. The notion of racial or ethnic “identity” is only relevant for non-white characters, as if this identity must and should be central to our understanding of who they are. How can we get past identity and just focus on the work that must be done if we are given these filters, etched out in our literature? Literature is how we teach children to see the world.
Critical literacy is to first understand how we are taught to see the world through the lens of a dominant narrative and admit it. If we do this, we can tear it down and free ourselves from it. We must un-tease ourselves from the illusion and begin to see each other and ourselves as characters in a play, with directors and producers and if you are into “class warfare,” admit to a pre-determined budget. Who is the playwright? And what is the moral? Don’t be afraid to ask whether God has intended the Tower of Babel to teach us something.
This is a marvelous and important question: Does identity “obscure” what we are really trying to do in life, as Goldman states? If so: What are we really trying to do?
Don’t be stuck. Some stay so miserably stuck for a lifetime. Why is it that we cannot get past that which prevents us from moving on? Be responsible for the power and privilege behind your pen. Breathe a revolution into your writing and freedom into your teaching of literature.