In my MFA program, the fiction workshops included one classmate from Pakistan and one who was Asian-American. They did bring in helpful cross-cultural perspectives – especially the descriptions of the rain and urban relationships in Pakistan, which I will never forget.
In my own writing, though, I think I’ve gained more perspective on diversity from the Ph.D. program here at ISU than I gained from the MFA program at Hopkins. On the other hand, I feel that my writing style – especially the ability to really mine the depths, so–to-speak – really came out of the MFA. Where I struggle, I think, is in trying to hit those emotional depths while also addressing social issues that I see every day. No, I’m not in a marginalized group, but I am still part of a society that features marginalization. I can’t say hi to my neighbors without being aware of it. So why can’t I write about it? What’s so difficult about describing the fact of racism, for instance? I was rasied with it – we all were, even (especially?) in the 1980’s. And the same assumptions about race are coming out all over again on the air, over the radio, in online chat rooms. The rhetoric of difference never actually left – it only changed. It shifted. Biological determinism has given way to cultural determinism. “They’re poor because they’re lazy/stupid/ignorant” remains a popular refrain today, the easy way to avoid noting the kinds of social forces that have been used to block social mobility.
So why can’t I write about it? Why can’t I churn out a story about it? I’ve written stories that feature gay characters, and I have a few that touch on poverty – why not race? What is so hard about this? Is it because I’m afraid of the repercussions of getting it wrong? Or is it that I’m afraid someone will see that, hidden deep inside, I’m also struggling to face down my own preconceptions?