Because White Men Can’t Police Their Imaginations…

Part One in a Series. The following writing prompts were produced by student poets from Williams College, in a workshop co-led by Beth Loffreda and Claudia Rankine. Two prompts were given and then students were asked to give each other prompts.

Because white man cant police

Because white men can’t police their imagination—

—You get a lot of repetitive literature on race by white people.

—We all interpreted this sentence differently.

—others have to police theirs.

—certain officers are bad-tempered.

—Brazilians speak Portuguese.

—the gap gets bigger.

—I feel most female.

—I walk down the street a little faster.

—everyone is a suspect.

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I Use My Privilege To…

Part Two in a Series. The following writing prompts were produced by student poets from Williams College, in a workshop co-led by Beth Loffreda and Claudia Rankine. Two prompts were given and then students were asked to give each other prompts.

I use my privilege

I use my privilege to…

—do lots of things.

—get in car accidents.

—be insured.

—take the time to think about.

—study Literary theory (my) privilege.

—get away with speeding tickets.

—solve world hunger—>instagramming.

—the gays get gay marriage.

—not realize its realizing.

—get a job.

—choose when to be visible.

—only speak for myself.

When Against a Stark White Background … I’m just the diversity they are looking for.

Part Three in a Series. The following writing prompts were produced by student poets from Williams College, in a workshop co-led by Beth Loffreda and Claudia Rankine. Two prompts were given and then students were asked to give each other prompts.

Because I'm

Because I’m _____, people assume I’m ______…

—female; fighting stereotypes, stronger than I am

—young; unwise

—human; scared to be alone

—educated; uppity, self-righteous, going to change the world

—fair; not like them

—black; on the wrong side of town

—mixed; don’t belong, confused, traitorous

—angry; irrational

—confident; right

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Teju Cole on Retracing Baldwin in Switzerland

“From all available evidence no black man had ever set foot in this tiny Swiss village before I came,” Baldwin wrote. But the village has grown considerably since his visits, more than sixty years ago. They’ve seen blacks now; I wasn’t a remarkable sight. There were a few glances at the hotel when I was checking in, and in the fine restaurant just up the road, but there are always glances. There are glances in Zurich, where I am spending the summer, and there are glances in New York City, which has been my home for fourteen years. There are glances all over Europe and in India, and anywhere I go outside Africa. The test is how long the glances last, whether they become stares, with what intent they occur, whether they contain any degree of hostility or mockery, and to what extent connections, money, or mode of dress shield me in these situations. To be a stranger is to be looked at, but to be black is to be looked at especially.

— Teju Cole, “Black Body: Rereading James Baldwin’s ‘Stranger in the Village,'” in The New Yorker, 8/19/14


Carolina Miranda on “Donelle Woolford”

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Carolina Miranda, in an L.A. Times article, unravels the controversies surrounding Joe Scanlan’s conceptual work of art, “Donelle Woolford,” featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennale. “Donelle Woolford” may be more accurately described as a collaborative piece between Scanlan, a Caucasian man, and theatre artist Jenn Kidwell, an African-American woman. Kidwell portrays the fictional Woolford as a real artist, with actual pieces in the Whitney exhibit. The museum lists Woolford as the sole creator of the pieces, when they are really the creations of Scanlan, or in the case of the performance art, a collaboration between Scanlan and Kidwell.

The piece has stirred all kinds of debate about what the artist’s motivations could have been: Was this a coy way of commenting on affirmative action, on the supposed “advantages” conferred on certain underrepresented minorities? Was it out-and-out cultural appropriation? Another example of the white mainstream taking on some aspect of African American life and using it for professional gain? Was it conceptual blackface?

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The New Yorker Reviews Citizen

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Rankine’s use of multiple negatives works here, as often in this book, to re-create the bizarro crisis of figuring out how to parse a moment that should never have occurred, a response that “doesn’t include acting like this moment isn’t inhabitable.” The moment defies reason and thwarts syntax, reason’s trusted viceroy. Generally, in lyric poems, we expect the past to return with uncanny vividness in the changed context of the present. You could argue that poetry is precisely about this return of the past, its many formal technologies—rhyme, meter, repeated verse and stanza forms—designed to make such recurrences possible and meaningful. In “Citizen,” the past has never receded in the first place. The needle is stuck, so the tune is lost.

— “Color Codes,” by Dan Chiasson, published in The New Yorker (10/27/2014)

Debating Ebola Fears on Race

Essay by Chuck Adams

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On Wednesday, Ebola took a different kind of leap — a psychological one — as concerns spiked nationally about how the threat of the virus might interfere with commerce, health and even daily routines.” (via Washington Post)

These “daily routines” is what drew me to the conversation on so-called “Ebola racism.” On the surface, we may not see a link between preventative measures to fight Ebola in the U.S. and racism or even nationalism. But in the unconscious mind, where we have not had to dwell on biological threats coming from the African continent since the AIDS epidemic in the ‘80s, our latent fears may indeed manifest in common areas of public interaction and discourse.

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Citizen Among Finalists for National Book Award

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National Public Radio has a neat showcase of the 20 books that are finalists for the National Book Award in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and young people’s literature. In addition to Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine, the finalists in poetry include Louise Glück’s Faithful and Virtuous Night, Fanny Howe’s Second Childhood, Maureen N. McLane’s This Blue, and Fred Moten’s The Feel Trio.

National Book Award winners will be announced on November 19.


Sandy Florian on Latina Representation in Academia

“If, as a writer, I accepted this ‘burden of representation,’ which part of me would I be expected to represent? The lazy Puerto Rican? The Colombian drug mogul? The infamous border crosser? Who put a worm in your tequila? I mean, come on. The word ‘primitive’ might be archaic, but these questions were barbaric.”

Sandy Florian, “The Inter-view,” in Drunken Boat, Issue 19

Claudia Rankine on the Scene in Ferguson

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Claudia Rankine recounts her visit to Ferguson, MO, in the Oct. 12 issue of The Guardian:

A woman with a toddler comes up to me. I have been taking pictures of the memorial with my iPhone. You can take his picture if you want, she says, as if he is part of the memorial. She pulls the toddler’s hands up in the air so as to inhabit Brown’s body while he was being saturated with bullets and I want to snatch the child away from her, even as I know this is the recognition all black bodies enter in the quotidian. In the incoherency of our citizenship, we don’t matter to here, and as Rodney King said, “We are stuck here for a while.”

Read the entire piece HERE.

(Image: Source)