• kqd.

A Black Feminist Comment on “American Dirt”

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

I just had a moment. “American Dirt”

Feminist Art in Peru. Courtesy of Oni Hawkins.

is on the New York Times Best Sellers List. My immediate reaction, shock followed by disappointment. Now, I’m asking myself with a bit of incredulity, am I disappointed that folx still bought the book or in myself for believing they wouldn’t. I’ve decided that like all things in life, it’s a bit of both.

The drama around “American Dirt” has been circling for a few weeks and while almost everything that needs to be said probably has been, I feel compelled to weigh in as an Afro-Latinx, first generation daughter of immigrants parents from Central America who spent time undocumented themselves (and who by the way, came here by plane), Feminist bookstore owner. How’s that for intersectionality!

It’s important to name my particular social identities as it is what informs just about every decision I make on a daily basis to include this blog, why I decided to open a bookstore and more specifically, a Feminist one. To get granular, my specific identity informs what books I choose to buy with my limited capital and of those, which ones are forward facing. Yes, it’s that serious. Representation matters. More on this later.

My Standpoint:

I belong to the camp that asserts Jeanine Cummins should not have written “American Dirt” in its current form. I am also of the of the camp who believes Jeanine Cummins should have the right to pursue her wildest dreams. I believe she, like all womxn, should be rewarded spectacularly for telling rich stories of nuanced and complicated womxn and if qualified, womxn of color. I believe stories written by and about womxn should all have rigorous marketing plans to include leveraging cultural influencers. I stand in militant solidarity with womxn; I will not dehumanize or invisibilize another a sister comrade. However, I also will not ignore when harm has been done. Solidarity means holding our sisters accountable while recognizing their full humanity. I hope to accomplish that here.

I am not afraid to say that stories as specific as the one written by Jeanine Cummins should not be written by white-identified folx or those who recently discovered they're people of color or kin to one. There is a privilege and a hubris in thinking that as a white-identified person; as an outsider who historically has been socialized to see folx of color as “the other,” writing our stories is a better option than supporting writers of color in doing so. The surge of emotions welling up as I think of white identified folx believing that they can write our stories better, more authentically, is unbearable.

To add insult to injury, some have had the absolute audacity to ask “does this mean people of color can’t write white characters and stories?” Lets be clear, despite our resistance, there is an entire machine designed to socialize people of color to see the world and even ourselves through the lens of dominant culture. So, I feel comfortable in saying we’ve been exposed to and may have internalized enough of the oppressor, that writing from the dominant culture’s perspective can come as second nature. So yes, James Baldwin slayed in “Giovanni’s Room” and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

The general lack of regard and respect for the voices and experiences of people of color in either scenario can be debilitating at times. Except this time.

Cancel Culture: