Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Polish your craft, that small boat

In Premonitions: the Kaya anthology of new Asian North American poetry edited by Walter K. Lew I came across a nice acid satire of multicultural paternalism by Thelma Seto. The poem’s speaker, winner of an arts grant from the Canadian government, wishes to enlist Seto (or some other person-of-color artist) into their project.

First, the speaker offers a couple pieces of advice for the future, and maybe Asian artist will get her own grant next time:

Polish your craft, that small boat.
Learn our structure, that mausoleum.

Later the speaker gets confiding:

We’re glad you were born here
instead of there
which is why we offer you this token
of our esteem,
in payment for making it possible
for us to remain white.

White, not better.
We aren’t the dominant culture,
just mainstream. So dull,
which is why we adore your work.
It adds such color!
How could we be white without your color?

White, as a race, was only imagined once it was necessary to make stark the difference between the master and the slave, the civilized and the native. Up till then your people were your people, those who spoke your language, who lived nearby, who worshipped the same gods, and everybody else, whatever the color, was Them, nice enough maybe, enemies often, but Us was not a color and neither was Them.

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