I wouldn’t want to be a white male writer right now


Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash


“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac

Today’s my birthday so I’m going to offer up a gift — of truth. Blunt truth. It won’t be fashionably woke, but it will be sensitive to the reality of what we see around us.

Here goes.

Looking at the advert for Norwich’s “City of Literature” Festival, which starts next week, I was struck by how hard it must be for white male writers now. Click on that link and you’ll see for yourself. Almost every person on the list is female or a woman of colour. That’s good if it was part of an organic process of blind selection. Is it good if it was a deliberate act of exclusion of someone, anyone?

I don’t think so. While some element of affirmative action for marginalised groups may sometimes be needed to level up,  it’s important not to push others out.

Better perhaps to widen the tent?

It may sound odd for me — a woman of colour myself — to think of who wasn’t on the list, but shouldn’t the marginalised be acutely conscious of relegating others to the margins?

Many will say that white men don’t need support or sympathy, having had a simply wonderful run for hundreds of years, while still retaining a dominant position in business, politics, literature and just about everything else.

That’s a fair point but I still think it iniquitous to want to exclude anyone on the basis of their race and gender.

This is a minor way of revisiting a discussion that’s long been raging about gender, race, identity and literature.

Back in 2015, American poet and essayist Elisa Gabbert publicly responded to a note from a white male poet who asked if “the need for poems from a white, male perspective just isn’t there anymore”? Ms Gabbert’s advice to the man was given the following headline by ‘Electric Literature’: “Should White Men Stop Writing?”.

It stirred a social media storm but didn’t really solve anything because it correctly, in my view, acknowledged that being a white man didn’t automatically mean you were against broadening the field. Later, Ms Gabbert would note that serious debate was drowned out by concerns about “reverse racism” or prejudice against white men.

Well, what makes any sort of exclusivism right?