Should White Poets Write About Race? by Holly Karapetkova

It’s hard to face the fact that a white life (like mine) has been dominated by racism. This article explains that confusion and challenges us to do more. The poems we most need to write will be the hardest for us to write, and this means white women, too.

Reginald Dwayne Bettswrote in a recent issue of Poetry magazine,  “Don’t write about being white,” a quote the editors thought important enough to reprint on the back cover of the magazine. Certainly Betts and the editors wanted to raise a few eyebrows, and certainly a careful reader will relate the statement to a quote elsewhere in the essay: “I am not sure it is possible for a Negro to write well without making us aware he is a Negro; on the other hand, if being a Negro is the only subject, the writing is not important.” The comment, which Betts attributes to an unnamed “reviewer,” happens to belong to Louis Simpson discussing Gwendolyn Brooks’s Selected Poems in 1963, and it highlights the dilemma at the core of the American experience where whiteness is taken as the given and anything questioning (or even calling attention to) the centrality of…

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