Saturday, August 21, 2010

Of Ethics, Mores & Privilege of Poets & Poetry

I was recently made aware of a heated debate that is taking place on two related essays featured on PoetryFoundation.org.

The first essay, The Voices of Hurricane Katrina, Part I: What are the ethics of poetic appropriation? by Abe Louise Young, is a critique of Raymond McDaniel’s un-credited appropriation of personal stories documented on Alive in Truth: The New Orleans Disaster Oral History & Memory Project.

The second essay, The Voices of Hurricane Katrina, Part II: Reflections on found poetry and the creative process by Raymond McDaniel, is a response to the aforementioned critique and an explanation of McDaniel’s process of pulling from Alive in Truth to construct Convention Centers of the New World, a poem in the author’s recently published collection Saltwater Empire.

Below is my contribution to said debate:

Having spent years in graduate school studying ethics and the application of this science to various scenarios, I never ran across poetry as a potential circumstance. In fact, I never ran across any scenario that applied the science of ethics to questions of privilege either. Instead, the entire program focused on law, policy and moral imperatives.

Rather than insist students critique the relationship between law/policy/morality and ethics, there was an underlying assumption that these terms and their practice were unquestionably synonymous. As a queer person of color living in the occupied region known as the Southwestern United States, consideration of synonymity of these terms and practices debilitated the importance and applicability of ethics as a whole.

For instance, to say that law equals ethics would mean that the presence of my family in the United States is inherently unethical given that the first to relocate here did so without legal consent from the United States government. Although born in the United States, applying this framework could deem my presence here unethical because of the manner in which I came to be born within the confines of this nationstate. Lately, conservatives have attempted to resurrect such thinking and intend to challenge the legality of birthright citizenship for those born to parents who have “illegally” or, in the case of synonymous terminology, “unethically” “entered” this country.

Perhaps this argument makes sense from the simple Right/Wrong, Law = Ethics framework. Yet, if one were to turn to the very words considered synonymous with ethical matters and questioned the integrity of such words, would ethics lose their intrinsic and seemingly sacred value? Arguing against undocumented immigration makes sense only in the amnesic consciousness of a country that has legally practiced slavery, genocide, displacement and occupation from its genesis and beyond. It is because of the historically inhumane founding of this country that my family practiced the undocumented crossing of a border built to uphold the immorality of white supremacy.

If morality is synonymous to ethics, the very existence of the United States is unethical. At which point, one must adjust the notion of law/policy/morality being synonymous to ethics in order to apply ethical criteria circumstantially and whimsically-adjusted to our personal and/or collective moral imperatives.

It appears the thread of comments arguing for and against ethical application to Convention Centers of the New World are wandering the surfaces of definition.

Abe Louise Young has brilliantly executed an argument that applies the rule of ethics through a lens critically examining poetic acts of privilege and racism. As someone who agrees with the assertion that anti-racism is a moral imperative, I recognize that the ethical criterion applied to this poem is based on a particular definition of morality. In a world void of context, Abe’s question of ethics in relation to the aforementioned poem could be contested through other definitions of morality.

In reading Raymond McDaniel’s essay, I perceive him as a poet attempting to draw light onto the experiences of “those for whom justice has always been in short supply.” If I were to make truth of my assumption and take it a step further to consider McDaniel a poet committed to social justice ideology, I would unquestionably apply a social justice morality to the discussion of Saltwater Empire. Said notions of morality, then, would inform my ethical lens in relation to the poet’s intention and its resulting products.

Because we live in a world replete with complex, layered and interwoven contexts, I concur with Abe’s asservation that McDaniel plagiarized and appropriated the stories of others. In McDaniel’s defense, the poet states: “I assumed that the records were public, that they existed to be public.” Not so simple.

People of privilege enter dangerous territory when they engage in the extremely difficult and slippery act of writing about or “for” those on whom one’s own privilege is built upon. In this particular case, Abe Louise Young, a white, anti-racist, activist and poet, is putting the white poet to task. For many folks of color, this is what we understand to be one of the many critical roles white allies play in our shared efforts to dismantle and eradicate white supremacy.

Any poet attempting to write in the name of justice must (yes, I said “must”) critically and harshly self-examine their intention, practice and product. Privilege is built on the most pervasive of human atrocities. As such, poetry written to evoke a just consciousness inevitably fails if it itself lacks consciousness of privilege, the history on which it is built, and the structures that sustain it.

From the place of academic and literary integrity, the expropriation of others’ words without proper credit is plagiarism. From the place of social justice movements and values, the appropriation of others’ stories is an act of injustice.

Let us not forget that just as the “isolated phrases, sentences and clusters of sentences” were allegedly found, so to were the land, the people, the stories and the spirits that for centuries have called home what many now call the United States of America.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Is it possible to overanalyze something?


Below is a brief analysis contributed to a comments thread on one of Change.org's Gay Rights articles. In the thread, readers were complaining over the fact that the article was overanalyzing, being over critical and making a fuss over nothing. I am posting the comment because the discussion got me thinking about the ways in which dialogue gets shut down when someone is unable to engage in a deep exchange. The person then cuts the conversation off by claiming the other side is being too politically correct or hypersensitive. These accusations are typical in race conversations, so I found it interesting to see them within a race-neutral queer space.

Below is the link to the article:


And here are some thoughts I contributed to the discussion:

It is troubling to read that this article "goes too deep." Is that not the purpose of analysis and intellectual debate? It would be one thing to disagree with the analysis. It is completely different to disagree with the fact that the analysis even took place. Depth of analysis is relative to our individual sets of values, ideologies and consciousness. If you disagree with the existence of a topic, why engage?  

I find it both fascinating and critical that we engage in conversations that push our values, ideologies and consciousness. If over analyzing a topic, issue, theory or moment is unnecessary, why are doctoral programs considered among the highest academic achievements in this country? After all, all we do there is analyze our analysis.

As someone living in a "democratic society," I am deeply troubled by the idea that someone might not want to think deeper. I much prefer someone spend days lost in the rabbit hole of theoretical possibilities, than for this person to not apply any intellectual effort at all. After all, this might be the same person that turns around and goes to the ballot booth to weigh their opinion on reproductive health, queer, anti-violence and poverty measures (to name a few). It is our collective responsibility to over-analyze and be critical of the critical. Contributing to a debate by saying it should not be taking place in the first place is hardly a practice of intellectual engagement. 

Lastly, that children laugh at the sight of Ken wearing red heels is alarming. Children might not understand the repercussions of their laughter, but they do know that boys in girls clothes is bad. Misogyny is pervasive. The hatred of the feminine is integrated into and informing the cultural mores, institutions and practices in our society (yes, in other countries too, but I'm talking U.S.). "Boys" lines and "Girls" lines are excellent ways to enforce early on that there is a clear-cut division between "two" genders, and that crossing this line is not tolerated.

What of the little boy who longs to wear his mother's heels? What is this child to feel/think/experience when sitting in an audience that laughs hysterically at the sight of a man in heels?

Am I overanalyzing? Damn right I am.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Call for submissions: An Anthology of Queer Chicano Poetry





Recognizing the critical need for Queer Chicano men to document their stories, break bread with one another and create artifacts for generations to come, this fall Kórima Press will be releasing its first anthology: joto (ho-toh) v. 

Embodying a complex and ever-evolving identity, Queer Chicanos hold stories that emanate from the intersections that permeate, constitute and surround our bodies. This anthology seeks to live as a codex of such stories.

Kórima Press seeks poetry submissions from Queer Chicano men writing from and about the spaces of (un)documented desires, racialized nation-states, contested and reclaimed tongues, and overcrowded kitchen tables. Imagined as an amalgamation of Polaroid snapshots, all poetry written from, about, resisting and/or reacting to Queer Chicanismo are welcome. Submissions of any language and combination thereof are accepted. 

Submission: Please e-mail submissions@korimapress.com with a single Word (.doc or .docx) or Rich Text Format (.rtf) attachment containing the following:

- Contact information
- 150 - 300 word bio
- A high resolution photograph
- List of pieces submitted
- Up to 10 poems

Please be sure to write the following in the subject line of the email: “Joto Submission: YourLastName”

Deadline: September 30, 2010

Compensation: As a small press, Kórima is unable to provide monetary compensation for submissions. Contributors will receive 3 copies of the anthology and will be able to purchase additional copies at-cost. 


NOTE: At-cost amount to be determined upon completion of publication as this is determined by the final dimensions of the anthology.

For more about Kórima Press, visit: korimapress.com

Friday, August 6, 2010

to marry or not to marry

A good friend recently responded to a post I wrote for Change.org regarding the complexities of marriage equality, the marriage equality movement and lgbt communities of color. The comment was related to the problems of queer folks of color fighting for marriage as if it were equally as important and/or transformative for us as it might be perceived for white gay men. Below are some thoughts...


I think we tread dangerous waters in looking to marriage as the pinnacle of our rights (or the pinnacle of anything for that matter). The stories of women of color, in particular, should be enough for us to know better than to think it is an institution that supports, affirms and honors self-determination or other forms of liberated consciousness and being.

That said, I think it's important to not overlook the basic benefits that come with marriage, which poor and working class folks of color might not have access to. For instance, hospital visitation rights can be secured through certain legal processes, but these require access to resources and information. Of course, this assumes folks can even get into the hospital for care to begin with.

I agree and have written about the ways in which the LGBT movement seems intent on reinstating the privileges that white gay men lost by virtue of being gay. People of color, then, become the conduits and obstacles to, and occasionally unintentional beneficiaries of what rights (and privileges) are secured.

With all that.. would I get married? Yup.



Here's the post we were originally reacting to:
What the Marriage Equality Movement Means To LGBT People of Color