In the past couple of weeks I have seen many jokes on Facebook about the year 2015 being the year that people were offended by everything. I have to admit it is hard to keep up with all that is offensive to others. Recently, a white poet, used an Asian pseudonym to try to get some poems that he was having difficulty placing, published. It worked. He got the poems published and he was included in the prestigious anthology of Best American Poetry of 2015. The poetry world is currently in an uproar and calling this incident “yellow-face” named after the very racist costumes some people wear and paint their faces black (called black-face). Some poets are saying he should be taken out of the Best American Poetry anthology. There are articles about it on many blogs and it even made it into the Washington Post. Many writers think this poet’s choice of an Asian pen name is insulting, wrong, and many other negative things.
When I was much younger, and before I got sick, I used a man’s name to write some articles for a journal that I published. I knew that throughout history women had taken the names of men in order to write. I thought nothing of the practice, and I doubt anyone would question me if I did the same today, but if you chose an ethnic name, you very well may destroy your career if you are found out.
Personally, I am not outraged by this poet. I don’t see what he did as wrong or as a major offense, but I can assure you, I am in the minority of writers on this issue.
I do, however, feel the same offense many writers are feeling about this issue, in regards to much of what I read about mental illness (like the article I posted yesterday, that didn’t offend many but made me so angry I couldn’t respond until the next day).
I could try to write an article that defended that poet, but I am not jumping into the ring on this one. I am not Asian. It is not for me to say whether or not using an Asian name to try to increase your chances of publication is offensive. If it is offensive to Asian people, I trust their experience. It is not offensive to me personally, but that doesn’t mean it is not offensive.
This is the battle I go through every day. Many articles that I come across that are written about the mentally ill are extremely offensive to me. I don’t expect everyone to take the same level of offense as I do (often they don’t hit my husband as hard as they hit me, and I know many other people who feel the same way). But it is my voice, and the voice of other people who are mentally ill, that matter in that situation. Just because you are not personally offended doesn’t mean the content isn’t offensive to the group it is describing.
The thing that makes me sad, is that most groups, have a very large voice, and so many people jump on board when offense is taken (Asian writers have found much support among people of color, and among white writers regarding the situation I referred to). For those of us who are mentally ill, we are often not taken seriously and silenced through one channel or another. We often don’t have the power of many voices, and people, and large media outlets to back us up.
There are times when it feels like we are a solitary voice. One voice among hundreds of millions and that we make no sound at all.