September 09, 2015

Get Your BAPs Out

If you're one of those people who likes to keep on top of the latest poetry controversies (and who isn't!), you might be having conflicted feelings right now about Yi-Fen Chou, aka Michael Derrick Hudson, aka some white dude who occasionally submits poems using an Asian nom de plume in order to increase his chances of getting published, and who was (un?)lucky enough to have one of those pseudonymous poems picked for Best American Poetry this year (by a Native American, just to really throw a racial politics spanner in the works), thereby catapulting him into the realm of internet infamy.

But did Hudson actually do anything wrong? And who is allowed to say so? And does agreeing/disagreeing with other white/Asian people on the topic make me racist/enlightened myself? These are the questions that observers have been endlessly, hand-wringingly asking about the affair for several days now—so to try and set everyone's mind at ease, I present here a handy Guide to Calibrating Your Moral Outrage:

SCENARIO: Asian Poet Is Published In Prestigious Publication


1. Was he actually Asian?
YES: Great! No moral outrage necessary
NO: WTF? Go to 2.

2. But at least he was non-white, right?
YES: Phew! Let's talk about hierarchies of oppression.
NO: WTF? Go to 3.

3. Did he actually pretend to be Asian beyond using an Asian name?
YES: Probably safe to commence moral outrage. (See supplementary guide 37A: How Racist Is My Impression of an Asian Person?)
NO: Hmm. Go to 4.

4. Was he submitting to a publication reserved exclusively for Asian authors, or one that privileges Asian authors over non-Asian ones?
YES: That's pretty messed up. Commence moral outrage.
NO, he was submitting to the literary journal at the University of fucking Nebraska: Go to 5.

5. Did he self-identify as Asian?
YES: Good point. Who said he was a ciswhite man anyway? Let him be whoever he wants to be.
NO: Go to 6.

6. Wait, was he even a man?
YES: Great! Let's talk about intersectionality.
NO: Fuck it, let's talk about intersectionality anyway.

7. Did the person selecting the poem look at the author's name ahead of time?
YES: Commence moral outrage. (I think?)
NO: Jeez, is it getting hot in here or is it just me?

8. Was the poem selected by another Asian?
YES: Was it? Or was it someone pretending to be an Asian? Go to 1.
NO: Go to 9.

9. Was his poem selected by another person of colour?
YES: Wait, can I say "person of colour"?
NO: Of course it wasn't, because the chances of a person of colour being in a position of power in the publishing industry are offensively small. Unless we're talking about Sherman Alexie or Roxane Gay or Ta-Nehisi Coates.

10. Wait, are we talking about Sherman Alexie or Roxane Gay or Ta-Nehisi Coates?
YES: To Twitter!
NO: Toni Morrison?

11. Did the person selecting the poem realise it was actually written by a white dude?
YES: Go to 10.
NO: Go to 12.

12. Did the person selecting the poem not initially realise it was actually written by a white dude but then found out and decided to publish it anyway?
NO: Great! The system works.

13. Has anyone thought about the fact that some poet felt so strongly about getting his work into print that he was willing to submit it with a pseudonym that he could never credibly or noncontroversially take ownership of?
YES: Poignant, huh?
NO: Oh, boo-hoo, the white man's burden.

14. Was the poem so irredeemably shitty that it would never have been published if the author didn't have an Asian name?
YES: Commence artistic outrage. (Unless... Did we decide whether he was actually Asian? Because this is a pretty dicey statement otherwise.)
NO: Great! The system works.

15. Isn't there some major humanitarian crisis happening in Europe right now?
YES: But fucking poetry, man.
NO: Great! The system works.