Poet Michael Hudson has a strategy for getting his poetry accepted. He explains it in a note attached to his contribution to The Best American Poetry.
“After a poem of mine has been rejected a multitude of times under my real name, I put Yi-Fen’s name on it and send it out again,” he wrote. “As a strategy for ‘placing’ poems this has been quite successful … The poem in question … was rejected under my real name forty times before I sent it out as Yi-Fen Chou (I keep detailed records). As Yi-Fen the poem was rejected nine times before Prairie Schooner took it. If indeed this is one of the best American poems of 2015, it took quite a bit of effort to get it into print, but I’m nothing if not persistent.”
The guest editor this annual collection, Sherman Alexie, was angered by Hudson’s bluff, but he kept the poem in the collection because Hudson’s rationale was looking him right in the eye. “If I’d pulled the poem then I would have been denying that I gave the poem special attention because of the poet’s Chinese pseudonym. If I’d pulled the poem then I would have been denying that I was consciously and deliberately seeking to address past racial, cultural, social, and aesthetic injustices in the poetry world.”
Naturally, this has stirred up a conversation about race and the merits of poetry.
Update: Hudson’s pseudonym is reportedly the name of one of his high school classmates. The Guardian states, “While the real-life Chou refused to speak to the paper directly, her sister said that the woman was furious at the appropriation of her name for this purpose.”
You might think any kid who can excel in school would have a few fans cheering him on, but for many black students across the country, academic achievement is equivalent to community betrayal. “[Other students] feel they’re supposed to be cool, and cool is not supposed to be making good grades in school,” reports a Norfolk, Virginia newspaper article from 2006, quoting Courtney Smith, who became a journalism major at Norfolk State. She didn’t care that the other students said she thought she was white and better than them. She just wanted to excel, but what does “acting white” have to do with that?
This idea, that some black students believe they have better things to do than to study hard, is the subject of Stuart Buck’s book, Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation, released this week from Yale University Press. The anecdotal evidence is overwhelming, and studies back it up. The idea of “acting white” abounds within evenly integrated schools. Where students are mostly white or mostly black, Buck says they are more-or-less forced to get along, but in schools with black vs. white student ratios that are close to even, black students tend to define themselves against the academic achievers.
Buck’s presentation of the groupthink dynamic makes the book for me. It’s fascinating to read how group psychology can emerge wherever young people can be divided, regardless the meaning of the groups. Instinctively, people will favor their group over other groups, even when there’s no intrinsic strength in their group. It’s us vs. them, whoever they are. That’s the dynamic at play when black students accuse other black students of “acting white.” Humans are tribal, Buck observes, and homophily or friendship with those like you is strong within races and ethnicity groups. I think it’s fairly strong among political parties too. Continue reading Is Black Achievement in School “Acting White”?
Sherry of Semicolon has a new URL for her blog and a review of Joseph C. Phillips’ new book about being a conservative black Christian living in Hollywood. She writes:
He is not a stereotypical black American, Joseph Phillips has faced misunderstanding and accusations of not being ‘black enough.” He has struggled to understand how much of his identity as a person depends on the color of his skin and how he can fit into American society as not just a man and an actor, but as a black man whose “race” is an inevitable part of what other people see when they see him, an inevitable part of the image he sees in the mirror.
You can read Phillips’ essays on his website.