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Not White Enough, Not Asian Enough – or a Square Peg Seeking a Square Hole

by Lynne E. Blackwood

I hate boxes. I hate being put in a box, being defined by restrictions and having labels stuck on my forehead. I hate being prejudged as a person and as a writer.

My view of the world when setting out on this literary journey was one of wide-reaching acceptation. I thought I would be stepping into a community where each interacted with the other without prejudice. This is what my father taught me as a child. How wrong I was.

When first setting out, I was confronted with subtle pressures to conform to a ‘normalised’ perspective; then gained enough confidence through meeting and networking with BAME peers to realise my writing was typical of the Black and Asian sensitivities. I found my ‘voice’ under Leone Ross’ mentoring and then discovered I had problems fitting into any of the predefined ‘boxes’ for emerging writers. Why?

Was it because I wasn’t white enough, nor Asian enough - a mixed bag with the added disadvantage of being physically challenged and unable to participate according to norms?

Was I guilty of not enough networking? Meeting people, ‘belonging’ socially, allowing people to see me, to hear me when I perform, to appreciate my personality (and talent) as a writer?

Was I a ‘voice’ that is often too brave and different and not mainstream enough?

I was published in anthologies, yet remained an invisible and eager writer gravitating on the outer reaches of the literary universe, waiting for opportunities to read my work and engage with audiences - something I love doing and which I miss immensely.

Two events happened early this year which quite frankly gutted me and made me give up writing for several months. I was passed over, left at the wayside, wondering if it was worth all the struggles entailed to keep on trying.

The usual heart-leap at a new idea, the enthusiasm and love for writing, dissipated in an instant. Like a jilted lover, I couldn’t bear to touch my pen or laptop. I blocked my mind to the characters and stories populating my dreams, wielded the surgeon’s scalpel to amputate a gangrenous arm. After so much pain (literally) and effort to keep up with the crowd, the realisation hit me that I didn’t belong to either culture, or any wider community for that matter.

When learning of these two omissions and announcing my decision to halt efforts and struggles to continue writing, someone believed in me enough to pick up the phone and give much appreciated encouragement. But the gusto, the enthusiasm and the hope that carried me forward in the past has gone. I no longer spend hours and sometimes days seeking out and organising the logistics for possible events because most don’t cater for wheelchairs and I couldn’t be bothered to make the effort and play around with Google Earth to check if I could enter premises. I was told I have talent but am not recognised nor included in mainstream promotions or events because I lack visibility, unable to attend events regularly.

I now understand and accept this sad state of affairs – unless I cram myself into the last labelled box available – disabled. I don’t even like this word. Yet I was recently told that I shouldn’t broadcast this fact if I wanted to succeed in getting my work published. So there are no boxes left. Stripped bare of all ‘identity’. Just me, the raw version, with no literary ‘home’ to go to, wandering amongst my unheard and unread words, one foot in each of my heritages yet drawn to and breathing that of my Indian roots. A square peg confronted with round holes.

I never wanted to ‘belong’ to one category or another, wanting to be appreciated as a writer and not as a ‘disabled Anglo-Indian’. I wanted to believe in, and continually correct, the definition of diversity as an all-encompassing community.

There is, at present, an immense surge of organisations promoting diverse voices in the literary industry, but what is the mainstream definition of ‘diversity’? It appears to be mainly about colour and culture, which I agree, must be promoted, but what about people who not only lack the physical, sometimes mental and financial means to enter mainstream communities, but are a mix of cultural heritages? The standard expectations of the literary world do not apply.

We are all labelled, shoved into boxes without any interconnection with others, just as writers of colour have fought back and organised their own festivals and events. Yet, shouldn’t we regard each other as simply ‘writers’, ‘authors’, on equal footing and deserving of the same chances as everyone else? Are we not all worthy pen wielders and wordsmiths whose various differences shouldn’t matter?

I’m like many a writer, straddling two conflicting cultures, and in my case, with deep connections to my father’s Parsi-Indian roots. I’m part of a dying Anglo-Indian community who never quite knew where they belonged, were betrayed both by their white masters and their Indian homeland. I stand on a tiny planet at the edge of the literary universe. Neither Anglo enough nor Asian enough; neither White enough nor Brown enough, yet I still believe in no boxes and no labels, preferring to look at the world through a kaleidoscope of shifting colours and patterns.

Image: Pixabay

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