Monday, December 11, 2006

My Blues Aren’t Blue Enough

Poor Darby Crash. If the late Germs singer thought that his life was so insignificant that death was the only way to improve it, he might have changed his mind had he seen how less significant his death turned out to be. Darby Crash had the extreme misfortune of taking his life the day before Mark Chapman took John Lennon’s. And as poetically catastrophic and sickly epic suicide can be (see: Kurt Cobain) it’s nowhere near the ticket to instant martyrdom that murder is. Or a noble fight with a terminal disease. Crash didn’t even OD in the rock & roll way. Drug overdoses are supposed to be accidental, not deliberate. Gun deaths are far more glorious. For instance, you get Dave Grohl to immortalize you in perhaps the best lyric of his career: “One shot...nothing.” Crash was doubly cursed when months before, Ian Curtis of Joy Division, took his life by a far more poetic hanging, inadvertently spawning the best dance band of all time and creating about five or six genres at last count. Crash was just a loser punk who offed himself before he could record a decent version of Sex Bomb.

I mentioned Darby because it’s a hell of a thing when your own misfortune pales beside others. Not that I’m proud of misfortune or think it’s something to boast about, but in this new culture that celebrates victimhood and uses it to justify any behaviour, you can be declared irrelevant if your blues just aren’t blue enough. This must be why I sympathise with the straight white American male so much. Ever since political correctness declared him the villain of the story he has had no choice to but rush to the sidelines because all the people he kept down must now have their moment. Sure you’re an A student, but are you an A student from the ghetto? Sure you’re the top in your class but did you have to sell meth today just to buy a decent shirt to come to school? Your mom may be dean of studies but is she a crack-ho? Yeah you’re cool, but are you a poor black lesbian feminist who has been given a hard time by people just like you? Of course not. White boy, your blues just aren’t blue enough. I feel your pain. You’d be surprised how many black people do.

I could have traded on third world guilt if I wanted to, but that becomes less and less convincing when I type stories on a Mac Book pro or dine at Asia de Cuba. But that’s not even the point. Earlier this year I applied for a fellowship to a writer’s conference that shall remain nameless. I wasn’t expecting to win, because well, I’m a pessimist but thought I stood a chance, coming from a third world country still shaking off colonialism, political tribalism, globalism and every other ism I could think of. Of course I didn’t win but when I read the biography of who did I had this weird mix of guilt and envy. “My leaders are corrupt,” is just not as engrossing as “when the warlord torched our village, we could not find food to eat,” not even to me. I found myself asking how can I compete with that? I found myself asking myself why am I asking myself these questions? This was beyond politically incorrect. I was envying somebody his or her catastrophic misfortune because it made her resume look so much better.

Of course I had no right to such thoughts, but I know enough to realize that these setbacks also work in persuading who they need to persuade. Of course she could have won because she was simply better than me. After all, I’m not so stuck up my own butt to think I’m the be-all and end-all of fiction, but I kept finding myself asking questions that only my white male friends could understand. Is my suffering, suffering enough? I think my childhood was as crappy as the next misunderstood geek, but how can it compare to “last year they took our children, now our boys have come back to kill us”? My parents may have died from cancer but how does that compare to when they are massacred in their sleep? In a world that celebrates the victim, scars become stars. It’s even worse when the victim has genuine intellectual merit because you simply know that it then boils down to who suffered the most. And if you’re a white male it means that people think you’ve had things too easy. If you’re from the Caribbean middle class it means that you were one of the luckier blacks even if you don’t feel lucky at all.

This doesn’t mean that I think affirmative action or refugee programs are not necessary. It’s a myth to think the we will always do the right thing and measures such as these step in when we inevitably fail to be the nobler creatures we claim to be. But sometimes it does seem as if the playing field isn’t so much level as re-skewed, and if yours is the sinking side then you have no right to say as such. It means that I might never win an award if I go up against a Haitian or African and I should be damn ashamed for writing such a sentence. But I know better. At the end of the day we love storytellers and some people’s stories are simply better...especially if they are worse.