Both Harris and Gates discuss the invisible line that is meant to be challenged by a tantrum against imposed limitations. The invisible line in Harris’s criticism is that which sets off the security alarm that holds The Color Purple on a pedestal, deemed untouchable by popular media. Popularity seems to make a work impermeable to criticism. In support of this idea, Harris states, “We [black women,] were all faced with the idea that to criticize a novel that had been so universally complimented was somehow a desertion of the race and the black woman writer” (155). In my opinion, if a novel deserves praise, it also deserves criticism and challenges to delve into its issues; to silence certain issues is to deny the existence of controversial truths. There is such pressure in being so specific as to say “the black woman writer.” If the “black woman” identity of authorship is erased, and Walker is just considered “writer,” I wonder if the novel would still receive reluctance from black women to present their opinion openly. Harris describes the double edged sword of popularity also falls on Walker when she states that “Walker is put in the peculiar position of crying out against her own popularity or watching the onslaught of distortion continue” (159). The Author function begs consideration when discussing criticism for The Color Purple.
The discussion of race in Gates’s criticism reminded me of the following article I had read last year, when I first started to understand how to predetermined categories.
Allan G. Johnson’s essay, “Privilege as Paradox” presents how perceptions are shaped by social arrangements, or “reference groups”. The reference to Viola in Shakespeare in Love, a woman who aspires to act on stage, despite the fact that acting was a privilege reserved for men, supports Johnson’s argument. She achieves her goal by “successfully presenting herself as [a man]” (118). The reference communicates that in order to achieve objectives that are deemed more suitable for the more privileged group, “successfully presenting” oneself as belonging or able to take on the role that is reserved for the privileged group can prove effective. This example, along with the succinctly put statement, “what matters [when it comes to privilege,] is who other people think we are, not who we really are” signifies that being perceived to belong to certain categories can be the key to accessing, or being denied of, privileges.
Johnson encourages the consideration of both individual as well as communal experiences with privilege and discrimination. On page 119, Johnson references a reflection he sometimes hears a woman say: “I’ve never been oppressed as a woman.” In response to this, Johnson presents a diction thread in the same paragraph to analyze how one woman’s subjective experience could allow for such a reflection. The diction thread in “avoided,” “overcome,” “denial,” “unaware,” and “internalized” communicate the ways someone may deal with or experience social realities. “It’s like living in a rainy climate and somehow avoiding being rained our yourself. It’s still a rainy place to be” (120). The metaphor captures the idea that there are individual experiences and then there are larger social realities, both of which are shaped by predetermined categories.
From the standpoint of being Asian, I have recognized both privilege and the lack of it. When I studied abroad, I went on a four day trek through the jungles of Chiang Mai, Thailand with 39 other Loyola students. On the last night of the trek, we stayed with the Lahu tribe. During dinner, the trek guide invited me to eat, drink, and relax in the kitchen with the other trek guides, the cook, and a few other people who live at the village. “You get VIP access,” the trek guide said, smiling. “It’s because we should look out for each other. Your people and my people, same same,” he said. I considered it to be a great privilege to have been able to have had experienced that warm, sense of belonging, with good company, drinking and listening to Lahu songs with a fire in the middle room and a full moon above.
On the other side of the spectrum, at Loyola, I don’t quite get the “VIP access” I had when I was abroad. Like the woman’s reflection in Johnson’s essay who states, “I’ve never been oppressed as a woman,” I’m wondering if I can say, “I’ve never been oppressed as an Asian.” I’m still trying to put my finger on it. I wonder which method among Johnson’s presented diction thread of dealing-with-things I’m doing, if any (the aforementioned diction thread being “avoided,” “overcome,” “denial,” “unaware,” and “internalized”). To be honest, coming from a racially/culturally diverse high school, and having been raised in the Philippines, and living in a racially/culturally diverse neighborhood, attending a predominantly white college took me out of my comfort zone. Loyola talks about studying abroad to “get out of your comfort zone,” but for me, studying abroad nestled me back into it. I think it is the privilege of the warm sense of belonging that I feel I’m denied here perhaps because of me being Asian, or maybe there’s just something wrong with me that hinders me from experiencing that sense of belonging here. I’m still trying to figure that out, because before Loyola, I’ve always felt an ease navigating socially. *shrugs* I don’t know; I’m struggling with this. Does Johnson suggest that I present myself as white to feel a sense of belonging?