Friday Ephemeraren’t
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Damned If You Do

Being a “queer feminist poet” schooled in “critical race theory,” Ms Alison Whittaker is, of course, unhappy:

We’re in the midst of a renaissance in First Nations literature. I should be elated… So why do I feel this restlessness? 

Appearing as a headline guest at Australia’s recent Stella Prize longlist party, “a celebration of women’s writing,” Ms Whittaker felt a need to air her “itching discontent” and “confront” the “majority white audience” for the sin of pretentious enthusiasm – namely, their enthusiasm for works by people such as herself:

I talked about the “endless, patronising praise” I got from white audiences, and how I salve it with the frank reading of Indigenous women who “do you the dignity of taking you seriously.”

Fun night. We must do this again.

We’re told that being a “coloured” or “Indigenous” writer is fraught with “structural oppression,” on account of being “marginalised” – as when being invited to literary award parties and then swooned over by pretentious pale-skinned lefties. “Whiteness” and “white men” are particular burdens to Ms Whittaker and her peers, whose suffering – their “collective plight” - is seemingly endless and endlessly fascinating, at least among those for whom such woes are currency. As Ms Whittaker’s world is one of practised self-involvement, her point is at times unobvious. However, our unhappy poet appears to be annoyed both by “underwhelming responses” to her own writing and by insufficiently convincing displays of approval. All that “endless patronising praise.”

At which point, the words high maintenance spring to mind.

Having bemoaned the “culture of infantilisation that meets our work,” Ms Whittaker promptly makes demands regarding which races of humankind would be suited to review said work, as if the ability to tell how bad a play or poem is were dependent on one’s physiognomy and melanin levels. Other peeves include a “hollow white anxiety about a Blak literary golden age.” The term Blak is seemingly steeped in significance and deployed repeatedly, yet pointedly unexplained, and the “hollow white anxiety” about which we’re expected to care is similarly mysterious. And while Ms Whittaker’s disdain for “white reviews” and the “mostly white Stella longlist audience” is pretty obvious, the largely melanin-deficient readership of the Guardian, in which her irritations are aired, passes without comment.

Instead, we’re told, 

Blak literature is in a golden age. Our white audiences, who are majorities in both literary industry and buying power, are deep in an unseen crisis of how to deal with it. It’s taboo for us to acknowledge this crisis; instead Blak writers are expected to meekly show gratitude for the small white gestures that get us onto the page or stage where we belong.

Readers who were unaware of any such “crisis” – perhaps on account of having negligible interest in racially-fixated feminist poetry and overwrought essays on “Aboriginality and queerness” – should note that the upheaval in question “permeates the whole industry” of niche literature:

White audiences move quickly between what they do publicly and what they do privately. Their response becomes its own performance, where reading Blak literature or watching a Blak play makes a good reconciliatory act. White middle-class readers, not all of them but enough, love to touch us and heap praise on us when someone’s watching. Without invitation, they grasp our arms at writers’ festivals. They tell us about their Aboriginal friends or how much they hated the latest racist gaffe, 

In short, when white lefties enthuse, or feign enthusiasm, it’s all very tiresome.

Well, such is the world of identity politics and playing Browner Than Thou. And if you base your written output and literary persona, and your claim of artistic importance, on being Brown And Therefore Fascinating™ - or as Ms Whittaker puts it, “Blak literature” by “Indigenous creatives” - this will happen. To complain about pretension – “white fawning” – while in the very same paragraph demanding race-fixated, self-agonised appraisals – “criticism that is responsible for the race of its giver” – is incoherent and faintly ludicrous. To bemoan woke piety as insincere and unsatisfying, which it is by definition, while simultaneously milking it for all it’s worth and encouraging those same pretensions, is unlikely to evoke much in the way of sympathy. At least not sympathy that’s sincere.

Via Franklin, who adds, “One rather detects an effort to remain in a permanent state of grievance.”

In terms of psychology, somewhat related