Saturday, July 23, 2016

"Listen II - The Hate Race" - A Second Response to Fiona Wright

In the past, my books have drawn mixed reviews, all of which I’ve been very grateful to receive: any interest in literary work is appreciated.

I have only ever responded to one review. In that case, I pointed out a number of factual errors which supposedly discredited my research for the short fiction collection Foreign Soil.

A letter of response, including corrections of numerous factual errors, can be found here.

I post a link to this previous letter because today I am again responding to that same critic’s review of both of my new books: the memoir The Hate Race, and the poetry collection Carrying The World.

The fact that this one review covers two books in very different genres is unusual practice.

In today’s review, in her critique of the memoir The Hate Race, Wright says:
 at times, the perspective she grants to her younger self seems a bit too precocious. The most striking example occurs when her second-grade class discusses the "discovery" of Australia as a part of bicentennial celebrations. Clarke's narrator, here, is six or seven years old, but nonetheless canny enough to question the version of history her teacher is telling...

This is the only example Wright provides in her review. She cites it as the 'most striking', yet, in line with the misreadings in her review of Foreign Soil, Wright has made an error of fact, on which she bases this criticism. In this chapter of the book, the narrator is not 6 years old, she is 9 years old. The narrator is born in 1979. The "Bicentenary" occurred in 1988. Both of these dates appear clearly in the narrative.

Wright also says of The Hate Race:
Clarke's suggestion is that she is particularly alert to the suffering of Indigenous Australians because of her own experiences of racism, but there's something deeply uncomfortable about this alignment that elides very real differences of historical context and oppression.

Here Wright implies not only that I lack an understanding of the nuances of history where colonisation is concerned, but that I have appropriated the struggles of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: an accusation I take very seriously indeed. Wright has not provided any evidence from The Hate Race which speaks to either assertion.

 The Hate Race specifically points out that the narrator’s experience is completely different from that of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Indeed, a great part of the book is dedicated to an understanding of this. As the child of migrants, I am a beneficiary of the colonisation of Australia – something The Hate Race makes explicit, and something I have always gone to great lengths to publicly point out in exactly these words.

Yet there is something very disturbing about Wright’s suggestion that a person of colour who has experienced racism would generally have no more understanding of the effects of  racism on another person of colour than someone who has not been negatively affected by it - or indeed, than someone who actively benefits from it.

The form of the combined review assists the critic’s insinuations. Wright now turns her attention to the poem Marngrook in Carrying The World. This poem is specifically about the experience of watching targeted racism unfold against Indigenous people. As an accomplished poet herself, Wright would be well aware that the black Africa-descended narrator in this poem is not absolved of responsibility, but is firmly and deliberately positioned with other non-Aboriginal people as bearing equal responsibility for the ongoing inequality suffered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, through the repeated use of ‘our', amongst many other devices.

...This land is not mine...

...I want to know the black nation
that could raise a man of such mettle...

...we are only ever as much
as what we teach our children
and so many of our children
have got it wrong...

...we are what we teach our children
and our children are wrong... is our responsibility..

In her review of this poem in The Age, Wright effectively cites the only lines in the poem which clearly identify the narrator as a black person of African descent (as opposed to an Anglo-Australian), then uses these lines as the basis for alleging appropriation of struggle. 

Wright’s underlying gripe - regarding these last two books, at least - seems to be that it is wrong and inaccurate for a person of colour to draw any correlation at all between their own history of colonisation, racism and oppression, and that of another racially oppressed group. Wright states this is the reason reading The Hate Race made her feel 'deeply uncomfortable'.

Ironically, this is the very whitewashed view of colonisation, imperialism, and world history to which The Hate Race speaks.

I invite readers to draw their own conclusions.