Art should be enhanced by minority experiences, not defined by it

March 8, 2019 — by Mathew Luo

Model minorities. Oppression. Hanging on to foreign cultures. A plethora of identity-focused writing seems to dominate literati circles, from writing submissions to speech and debate competitions to the editorial sections of national newspapers.

This focus on identity politics in writing has churned out tirades of the same problems and complaints shared by minorities of sex, race or orientation. Even the most stunning works about identity politics seem tainted because of its inclusion of repetitive and unimaginative themes.

But writing about politics is not the problem. The problem occurs when projecting anger and struggle into the story overtakes literary creation or objective documentation.
Writing solely for the purpose of identity politics is repressive to writing. To stem all writing from one’s struggles and identity politics takes much of the artistry out of the art. These works are focused on documenting the writer’s experience but also pushing their agenda. That fiction is focused less on imaginative world and character creation and more on projecting themselves onto their characters.

For example, take Jenny Zhang’s BuzzFeed article “They pretend to be us while pretending we don’t exist.” Zhang writes about her annoyance at white authors who envy her for being a minority author. She suggests white authors should stick to writing about their own identity politics.

Zhang’s piece generalizes all white people in the same way that she claims whites generalize minorities like her. She refutes the claim that minorities need to write about a narrative of suffering, but holds a track record of often writing about her suffering as an Asian American.

These narratives of identity politics and personal struggles are too often carbon copies of each other, rarely providing a new perspective. The value of memoirs stem from the triumph, uniqueness and power of the writer’s experiences.

To write solely about identity politics is to inherently make an imitation that is neither fiction nor memoir. That writing is limited by the writer’s political views and anger but not validated by the writer’s experiences.

There are some modern-day Malcolm Xs or Booker T. Washingtons, but the vast majority of writers do not share the same poignant experiences and insights that made these men and their memoirs so great.

The quarter-African French writer Alexandre Dumas focused his writing on high adventure, creating the lovable protagonists D’Artagnan and Valois, distinct from himself. Dumas is the most read French novelist, not because he is part-black but because his novels are unique and interesting on their own.

To create something beautiful and enjoyable is the best form of validation. Rather than writing works that cry out for pity, a theme too often found in the personal works of minority artists, writers should send the message that, despite their struggles and background, they were able to create something meaningful.

The best forms of art and writing have an elegance and flow to them. To strive to create beauty, rather than to push an agenda, counterintuitively allows the influence and perspective of the author to shine through.

Quality art stands alone. The experiences of the artist should enhance their work, not define it.

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