White Poet Has to Pass as Asian to Get Published: Where is White Privilege?

If white privilege is so powerful, why would a white pretend to be Asian-American in order to get his poetry published.

Here is an amazing headline from the Washington Post: “A white guy named Michael couldn’t get his poem published. Then he became Yi-Fen Chou.”

Sherman Alexie read hundreds, maybe thousands, of poems last year while editing the 2015 edition of Best American Poetry, an annual anthology that comes out Tuesday. Just over six dozen of them made the final cut, including “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve” by Yi-Fen Chou, 20 brief, cynical lines on the absurdity of desire.

But after Alexie had chosen the poem for the collection, he promptly got a note from the author, who turned out not to be the rueful, witty Chinese American poet he’d imagined while reading the piece.

It was written by Michael Derrick Hudson of Fort Wayne, Ind., a genealogist at the Allen County Public Library who, given his field of expertise, could probably easily explain that he is not of Asian descent.

So here you have a white author posing as an Asian American. He didn’t succeed in even getting his poetry published until he adopted the fake name. It isn’t uncommon for people to write under pseudonyms, but some are really upset.

In a matter of about a day, the scandal was all over “Poetry Twitter,” which can be just as rancorous and swift to outrage as regular Twitter, but with a wider vocabulary. And, perhaps because of its Rachel Dolezal-esque tangle of questions about identity, authenticity, political correctness and “affirmative action,” it didn’t take much longer for the wider world to notice.

Yes but at least Hudson didn’t claim to “identify” as an Asian.

“When you’re doing this from a position of entitlement, you’re appropriating an ethnic identity that’s one, imaginary, and two, doesn’t have access to the literary world,” poet and Chapman University professor Victoria Chang told The Washington Post. “And it diminishes categorically all of our accomplishments. He sort of implies that minorities are published because we’re minorities, not because of our work. That’s just insulting because it strips everything we’ve worked so hard for.”

If he was writing from such a “position of entitlement” then why did he have to hide that fact in order to get published? The bottom line here is that poetry can’t be objectively measured so naturally other considerations come into play. The desire to recognize minority talent unquestionably is the reason why some percentage of minorities get published.

The bottom line here is that poets need to stop being concerned about whether or not they get published. If they are confident in their work and enjoy writing poetry, that needs to be enough. Poetry if not a day job.

Getting offended because someone has figured out that there is higher demand for ethnic minorities is not rational.