Sunday, August 28, 2011

sensitive language


Here's a change-up pitch from the mound: instead of jumping off into a discussion of writing, this is a photograph of my watercolor painting, "Meditative Woman," which got a first prize in the current "Art in the Redwoods" exhibition at Gualala Art Center. The painting had its beginnings at a Life Drawing session held weekly at our local art center. Recognition for writers and artists can be so few and far between, so please allow this short and delicious vanity of including it in my blog.

The writings of V. S. Naipul interest me ("A House for Mr. Biwas","The Mystic Masseuse," et. al.), though Naipaul can be an enigma to me at times, too. I'm reminded of him from an article by Joseph O'Neill in the current issue of Atlantic Magazine. The novels I've read by Naipul are of life and people in his homeland of Trinidad, and the characterizations are vivid. Naipaul has had some bad press here and there from critics, but chiefly, it seems, about his colonial and racial attitudes, and his personal, marital life. His writing, after all, has earned him a Nobel Prize for Literature (and a knighthood). Some well intentioned people can be quick to censor others on a number of sensitive social issues, particularly those that may deal with race, class, or religion. I think that in the long run our First Amendment, dealing with Freedom of Expression, has it about right. We may not like what a person says or writes; still, we might gain something from it. There's at least a possibility that critics could be overly narrow, or too ideological themselves.

So as not to be too academic, I'd like to talk about a party I attended years ago at the home of my brother and his wife. She, and her brother who was also there, are first generation Asian-Indian-descent immigrants to the U.S. from a Caribbean nation, which is populated by mostly Asian-Indian and African-descent people, and all of them dark-skinned. My brother and I are white. In this party atmosphere the word 'nigger' was occasionally used in an affectionate manner. My brother-in-law probably noticed I was uncomfortable with his use of the word with his black friend. He laughed and said the word only meant 'ignorant,' and I shouldn't be worried about using it in a friendly way. Of course, the word has become too loaded with baggage in this country for me to do any such thing. Still, it's odd for a certain word to be accepted in good humor between certain people, and be sanctioned for use by other people. Naipaul would be quick to challenge any sanction.
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