Not The Nation recently published a poem in which a homeless narrator speaks a complex, nuanced variety of English with a long and interesting history.
The variety of English is Black English, and the poet is Anders Carlson-Wee, a white man. In the wake of the controversy, The Nation’s poetry editors have appended a kind of trigger warning to the poem calling its language “disparaging.” (They also apologized for its “ableist language;” the poem used the word “crippled.”) Carlson-Wee has dutifully, and perhaps wisely, apologized that “treading anywhere close to blackface is horrifying to me” and declared that the poem “didn’t work.”
However, I suspect that many are quietly wondering just what Carlson-Wee did that was so wrong—and they should.
The primary source of offense, in a poem only 14 lines long, is passages such as this, in a work designed to highlight and sympathize with the plight of homeless people: “It’s about who they believe they is. You hardly even there.” The protagonist is referring to the condescending attitudes of white passersby who give her change. Yet Roxane Gay, for example, directs white writers to “know your lane,” and not depict the dialect.
To be sure, America long harbored a tradition of mocking black speech in exaggerated “minstrel” dialect. Minstrel shows highlighting this kind of talk, full of “am” used in all persons and numbers, and mangled words such as “regusted” for “disgusted” (that one used as late as the 1940s on the radio show Amos n’ Andy, in which white men portrayed black ones), were central to American entertainment well into the 20th century.
more recommended stories
Most dominant athlete of 2018: Simone Biles | The Undefeated
Daylight goes by fast in Doha..
Netflix To Distribute Spike Lee-Produced Film ‘See You Yesterday’ | Deadline
The script was co-written by Bristol.
FBI Confirms Gillum Is Not Corrupt And That DeSantis Lied | NEWSONE
The cloud of corruption finally lifted.
UChicago scholar helps identify 1898 film as earliest depiction of African-American affection | UChicago
They are on screen for less.
I’m Not African American… I’m Black | Ebony
What does it mean to be.
12 African Tailors You Should Know | Shoppe Black
Anyone who has tried to find.
Nancy Wilson, acclaimed ‘song stylist’ who defied musical boundaries, dies at 81 | The Washington Post
Her manager and publicist Devra Hall.
Brown Beauty Co-Op, Dupont Circle’s New Beauty Store, Is By And For Women Of Color | DCist
Musician Marlee Mitton was sure that.
Tristan Walker announces acquisition by Procter & Gamble, will remain as CEO and move company to Atlanta | Fast Company
Procter & Gamble, the consumer packaged.
Canadian teen tells UN ‘warrior up’ to protect water | CBC
It’s time to “warrior up,” stop.