I am often asked if I will continue to bring up identity discussions in my novels, if I will continue to address issues of racism, or if I feel obliged to address them in my literary production. Or even: if I would write a novel whose characters are all white, without me being committed to representation.
This last question makes me think of the anxiety of whiteness in dealing with this discussion quickly and superficially, as if changing the color of characters were the great concern of black writers. I am still surprised by the need to suggest that our writings are locked up in an identity prison, reducing our creative force to the simple idea of representation. It’s weird because nobody thinks white writers are in a white identity prison.
I find such questions interesting because they reveal how much the discussion around identity still needs to be debated in order not to end up falling into common sense. It must be said that these guidelines are, above all, guidelines of the order of life. Because human experiences are crossed by these questions.
What I mean is that when I make literature, I don’t start from an identity. Black and black authors don’t wake up one fine day and think: I’m going to write a book about racism. We woke up one fine day and thought: I’m going to write a book about life, about death, about loss, about mourning, about beauty, but at the same time we are affected by identity guidelines, because existing in a collective is an eternal negotiation. with the identities.
If identity is perceived in my characters and in my plots, it is because there is a basic urgency in them for the right to a dignified and full life. A literature that does not contest life and society seems to me to be a shallow literature. Identitarianism is important, but it is not an end in itself. Of course representation matters, of course the type of black representation that escapes degradation and violence matters, but not those issues that define or guide literary quality.
The truth is that every time people try to tamper with power structures, there is a violent reaction that seeks to maintain these same structures. In this sense, the complex identity discourse that brings to light the struggles of groups that have experienced oppression and inequalities, such as the struggles of women, blacks, indigenous people and LGBTQI+, is simplified with the phrase “here comes these people from the identity agendas” or “now everything is is identitarian”, “identitarianism will end with art and with literature”. To these people I usually say: don’t worry, literature will not end just because we are claiming other narratives. Literature is bigger than its own time.
The critique of identity is actually the search for an ideological neutrality that never existed. Our modern social relations have always been mediated by issues of gender and race. In fact, recently, the inclusion of the word “race” in the application for the Jabuti award, one of the most traditional in the country, caused an uproar on social networks. There were speeches that the award would now use the writers’ color as a criterion rather than literary merit. Well, it must be said that the question is false. First of all, talking about meritocracy in Brazil, be it in any field, seems to me to be a great intellectual dishonesty.
And second, the literary system is not out of this discussion. Also, it is always worth noting that if the color of the writers was not requested, I believe that a quick search will serve to discover the color and gender of the majority of the awardees. So it is not difficult to understand that this has nothing to do with merit. Knowing the color of the authors does not say how good their production is or not, but it exposes the inequalities between black and white authors. Identitarianism is an invitation to reflect and change our perception of a complex and diverse world.