by your inspired TBL Journal Administrator
When someone/a reader says “I don’t see color. I see everyone the same,” it’s probably an attempt made by them to mean that they see people equally. Most readers, school age and above, are familiar with Lois Lowry’s The Giver. Most know the consequences of sameness and should understand what happens when one denies difference or things unfamiliar. The idea of sameness in literature, in which narratives, specifically written narratives, perpetuate the same tropes, the same plots, the same clichéd characters, the same assumptions made on a character’s ethnicity based on their name, for example, is not a new one.
After a quick Google search of “sameness in literature”, results show that The Giver is a popular example for explaining sameness. The story about Jonas, and his and his society’s literal inability to see color or difference, is a physical representation of authority and control over what is considered worthy of attention and what is considered dangerous if given any new attention. Jonas’s inability to see color is very much in the like of those who claim to be “color blind” or to see “everyone the same.”
Yet sameness in literature should not be limited to The Giver or to children’s literature, especially when there is a larger literary conversation that calls for the inclusion of stronger, more diverse words about what is deemed the same and what is viewed as different.
Lunch Ticket’s “Now More Than Ever” article speaks about Cultural Appropriation and the dismantling of the dominant narrative–that of “white, modern, Western-European- influenced culture, that is sometimes called America.” Powerful words that mirror literature’s canonistic connection of authenticity and legitimacy—of limiting the presence and frequency of utterances that are different, or, more so, unfamiliar.
Sameness in literature occurs when the opportunity to regurgitate the literary canon is given precedence over unfamiliar points of view or world views. It’s often an inherent expectation that both upholds and contributes to canonistic goodness. And perhaps it is also the idea of the canon and what the canon represents. Putting value toward voices that uphold a certain kind of sameness, a whiteness or “color blind” assent, withholds opportunities for readers (and publishers) to value other types of stories from various writers/artists/communicators who have different cultural backgrounds.
“There must be a value to what is selected and how that selection is framed. Publishing, in this sense, is a political act,” so I said in a note on TBL Journal’s Facebook page, @theblacklionjournal. And in light of so much going around in the media about disenfranchised and overly enfranchised voices, the lack of equality and representation of the former, and the inconceivable (and shameful) xenophobic and prejudicial discrimination revealed in various levels of conversation—it is now more than ever that communication, by means of the written word, images, or any combination thereof, must have the power to change and enfranchise disenfranchised voices.
Valuing difference, valuing voices that have been marginalized, valuing individuals who have lived their/our entire lives feeling unworthy of expression, unworthy of legitimate awareness, is one way to positively contribute toward ending marginalized oppression in all forms of literature (and in history too). Another is for those who consciously/unconsciously reiterate sameness to become aware of, and acknowledge, their participation to the larger context of literature. And hopefully, to participate in the valuing of literature that is different from what they are familiar with.
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