I realize that seeing all this Nayyirah Waheed discussion on your dash might be upsetting or triggering because of some of her answers regarding her stance on trans issues. I am absolutely not without critique of her for all of that. Make no mistake. However, this whole thing with the white girl having a Nayyirah quote tatttooed on her arm and the subsequent racist backlash at Nayyirah for calling the girl out on her bastartdisation of Nayyirah’s work has my blood boiling and I believe it cannot be ignored. So, from here on out, I will be sure to tag everything pertaining to her with “Nayyirah Waheed talk” so that you can blacklist it if you so desire. Again, I do not at all support Nayyirah’s trans criticism.
So, am I to actually believe that some white girl got a quote from Nayyirah Waheed’s Tourist tattooed on her arm. Completely missing the clear-as-day, not even remotely up for interpretation point of the poem. Her explanation being that it encompasses her love for seeing new countries, but then moving on when their beauty begins to wear thin??
And people are defending her???
We complain that there is no media that represents us. You tell us to make our own if we want it so badly. So we do. And then you take that from us, too.
White people, this is why no one takes you seriously. This is why we are wary of you.
Here we are, terrified of baring our souls because we know you’ll take our words, douse them in bleach, twist them through your colonizing machine, and spew them back out with your own trademark on it. And to add insult to injury, you’ll take our fear as respect and keep it moving.
You don’t even realize that all you keep doing…is proving our point for us
Except, of course, that’s not all that happened.
You claim that the meaning of the poem is “clear-as-day” and “not even remotely up for interpretation”. I have two problems with this.
A) Everything is up for interpretation. Once a work is out in the world, it is never truly the author’s again. No two readers will have the same interpretation of the text. And while Word of God is interesting to take into consideration, it ultimately means nothing in comparison to the actual text. (For example, Word of God says that Dumbledore is gay, but all we get in the books is Dumbles and Grindelwald being vaguely slashy, thus people are upset: Word of God < the text.)
B) Let’s look at the text.
On the one hand, I agree with you. To me, this poem is about white kids who go to India and don’t shower and eat.pray.love. their way to fake enlightenment. But the fun thing about literature/fiction is, to a certain extent, it’s up to interpretation. Did Hamlet ever love Ophelia? Is the woman in “Hills Like White Elephants” getting an abortion or a lobotomy? Is Arnold Friend in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” actually the devil or just a serial killer? Is Leonardo DiCaprio still in the dream world at the end of Inception? Are Mako Mori and Raleigh Becket in platonic or romantic love? If you can prove it using the text, your theory is valid.
Furthermore, art for art’s sake is not just about what the work says, but also about what it means to the audience. The first time I read “The Yellow Wallpaper”, I was fourteen and I thought it was okay. The second time I read it, I was nineteen and severely depressed and I must have underline half of that story, it resonated with me so. The first time I saw Much Ado About Nothing, it was the Kenneth Branagh version with sympathetic-as-possible Claudio played by young and adorable
James WilsonRobert Sean Leonard, and every time I read the play I have to remind myself that Claudio does a lot of dick things because I just think of RSL’s floppy hair and big eyes.
Let’s also be clear about what happened here. The girl with the tattoo posted a picture. Ms. Waheed asked her why she got it. The girl explained what it meant to her. Ms. Waheed made a very critical post decrying this girl’s opinion.
I understand why Ms. Waheed is upset. To her, this girl’s tattoo spits in the face of what she was trying to express through her poetry. But all she’s done is get very angry at a girl who just answered her question.
“it is incredibly distressing that you would change my words to fit your philosophy”, Ms. Waheed writes. But, as I said earlier, once the words are out there, they are up for interpretation. Ms. Waheed also says this girl is “is incredibly disrespectful, smacking of white privilege, and the essence of the very colonizing thoughts/behaviors i am speaking out against in the poem”. This girl says that she has been traveling through Europe, that for the next few years she will be visiting more countries, and that she likes to go, have fun, then leave when she gets bored. That’s… pretty much the definition of tourism. Nowhere does she mention finding brown people inspirational or even “finding herself” or anything. I mean, I get what’s wrong with cultural tourism, but I don’t understand what’s wrong with tourism in general.
And finally, while I understand that this girl has offended Ms. Waheed by completely missing the intended point of her poem. But I also think it’s rude of authors to insult people for misinterpreting their works. And before anyone says I’m trying to object to a woman of color expressing her opinion, I find it rude when George R. R. Martin talks shit about fanfic writers, I find it rude when Neil Gaiman gets huffy with people who want him to explain his problematic answers to questions about Doctor Who.
Do I think Ms. Waheed should have made a post about what her poem actually meant and how upset it made her to see someone misinterpreting it so greatly? Yeah, sure. Why not. But I don’t think she should have called out this girl publicly. If she really felt the need to tell this girl she was in the wrong, she could have done it via private message. I understand that Ms. Waheed is angry, but as an author she should know that her words are not her own once she lets them out into the world.
Here’s the posts referenced reblogged by wocinsolidarity, as the original post doesn’t seem to be there anymore.
First of all, this entire response rubs me the wrong way. It could be the playing of devil’s advocate, which in my opinion constitutes a shirking of responsibility for one’s words. That’s all I’ll say on that.
I think all this talk about an artist’s words no longer belonging to them once they are released into the ether is just ludicrous. If an artist says their work is up for interpretation, then so be it…but Nayyirah has not done that. Personally, I feel there is no other sentiment to be squeezed out of Tourist other than disdain and pain about colinization and one’s country/culture being picked over and used for white peoples’ entertainment and “enlightenment”.
Now, how could I come to that conclusion? Well, here’s this thing called context that makes it extremely easy for me to determine the meanings of her poems. I am also a fan of her work [though I do have critique for some of her words, but that’s neither here nor there], therefore I actually read her woeds. She constantly talks about the meaning and content of her work and a continuing insistance is that her work is not for white people. This is not like Inception at all [but thanks for trying]. She has said, and keeps saying, that she is not making art for white people.
She has literally put it in writing that this work is NOT for white people. Not for white people to gain enlightenment from and certainly not for them to appropriate or interpret for their own purposes…at all. AT ALL.
Now, you can whine all you want about being able to consume any media you want because it is public. You can also whine about interpreting it any way you’d like because of free speech. Well, the thing about free speech in public is that ‘free speech’ does not mean ‘freedom from critique’.
Opinions are not above critique; ESPECIALLY not the opinion of a black woman’s art formed by a white person who is doing exactly what the artist has asked them not to do with her work and who, in doing so, has caused more of the same pain that inspired the poem in the first place.
Now, about the call-out. I absolutely support people being called out on their racism [intended or not - remember, intent is not magic] in public. If you aren’t going to suggest that this girl silence or augment her public opinions, then perhaps you shouldn’t suggest Nayyirah do just that. Suggesting that Nayyirah should habve taken this to a private forum [when it was fine for this girl to flasunt her tattoo and her unwanted interpretation of Waheed’s work in public], you are getting into the politics of respectability, which you must know has long been a way to silence people of color, and black people in particular.
This whole blind protection of the comfort of young white women no matter what they say or do is in a word, exhausting.
Point blank, the girl did something fucked up and deserved to be called out on it…and who better to do that than the very artist whose words she twisted and whom she also allegedly admires so greatly?
Nayyirah did not knife the girl in the chest, she asserted herself and told her how she felt about what was done with her work.
Stop telling us our pain and anger should be dealt with in proivate! It’s insulting and oppressive.
It’s not up to me [or you] to dictate how harsh a call-out should be, but I do know that I will not deny a black woman her right to be angry about the effect that overt racism and microaggressions like this have had on her, and other People of Color.
It’s very interesting that you would mention being upset with Gaiman and Martin, two white men who have absolutely no history of systematic oppression and are in no danger of any sort of silencing because they enjoy the highest level of privilege one can possess. You must get how ridiculous it sounds to even attempt to compare the situation of a relatively unknown black woman artist to these two white male titans of the fantasy industry. You being angry at them is like a fly being swatted by a rhino’s tail. You critiquing an oppressed woman’s response to her own oppression is an entirely different, more sinister thing [even if that isn’t what you intended…that stuff still isn’t magic].
There’s also something to be said about how all the media you mentioned has been made for entertainment, while Nayyirah’s poetry is clearly not for that purpose at all, but is instead an oppressed woman’s outlet and for healing wounds, and that’s why it might be just a liiitle bit different for people to misinterpret those works than it is to do the same with Nayyirah’s but that’s an entirely different post and this is already quite wordy.
What you should do is really examine why you thought it necessary to play devil’s advocate in this situation. Why you needed to come to this girl’s aid? Why you don’t think she should just handle Nayyirah’s response, like you are suggesting Nayyirah just handle the pain caused by this girl’s tattoo?