As long as my poetry doesn’t make white people, especially white men, uncomfortable, it will be published.
I realized this a few months ago after I was invited to submit some poetry to a local publication. To be sure, the man who invited me to submit had, until that point, been actively helping to get my work published through his connections, and I was certainly grateful for the support, even if it was coming from a white man. (Women: surely you can understand the juxtaposition one feels in this situation. I need not explain further.) But I forgot that I was still under his thumb. The thumb of the white male literary circle. I forgot that I was still a woman. I forgot that because of this, my words have limits, that support would only be given as long as my poetry fell within the boundaries of what was deemed suitable and normal in the eyes of those behind the publications—in this case, of course, white men.
As I was choosing ten poems to submit, I was careful to choose the most “tame” ones—the ones I believed wouldn’t rock the boat too much. The feel-good ones. The vulnerable ones, but not the confrontational ones. And then, as I struggled to choose the last one, I made the conscious decision to include one I wrote in support of Black Lives Matter. One I titled, Say Their Names.
I pressed send and waited for weeks with bated breath to see if it would slide under the radar. It didn’t. Instead, it was met with apologies that they could not publish it; reassurances that they were not trying to censor my work but rather, made an editorial decision about “who we represent” and “appropriate content.” And then I did something I’m not proud of, something I’ve promised myself I’ll never do again. Instead of confronting this censorship, instead of speaking up for myself and subsequently, the issues housed in my poem, I stuck to the status quo and silenced myself. I told him I understood and wasn’t offended. I played the role of the good little girl and backed down, lest I be seen in a bad light and my reputation with these people tainted. Instantly, I regretted it. Because I was offended. Because what they did was wrong. [Cont’d in comments]