What are White Writers For?


“We still live in a culture in which white people are very seldom stopped from doing anything they want to do, and when they are stopped or challenged, get extraordinarily upset about it. I’m one of them. I inherited this attitude and have inhabited it all my life. My term for it is “white dreamtime.” And waking up in the middle of a dream, as we all know, is an unpleasant experience. Shriver seems to believe that white writers—and white people generally—are entitled to a kind of public dreamtime, in which nothing they imagine or fantasize should be challenged, critiqued, or even interpreted; Franzen, on the other hand, describes how fastidiously he limits his powers of imagination and empathy. The white writer, in this Shriver/Franzen formulation, is entitled to a zone of absolute privacy and limitless artistic autonomy; if a critic makes an observation about their work on the order of, “this person is depicted stereotypically,” or “this wide-ranging, ambitious urban American social novel lacks a single nonwhite character,” that critic is attacking their private imaginative process, their dream-life, rather than simply reading the work itself. “


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