I DON'T HAVE A HOME
I don't know if I know what's home. What I thought was home never was, and what I'm running toward and trying to catch always seems out of reach. I try to find home within me, but that eludes me too.
All this is bubbling up as my trip to Russia draws nearer and nearer. The conversations on whether or not I can write a black character made me think hard about my own identity and how I'm trying to run away from it because I don't know what it is anymore. Gissel Escudero has sent me this very helpful post by Kristin Nelson of Nelson Agency: Can White Authors Write Characters of Color? Within this post there are links to more posts, each expanding on this topic, so I've read them all, and all the posts linked within those other posts, and so on, and every one of them talked about what many of you and what my writing mentor has been trying to tell me for years (those who know me tried telling me gently, those who don't harshly)—write my truth. As I've seen with TUBE, no matter how hard I try to adopt this new me, the American me, I'm not American. I'm Russian-American, in terms of my ethno-racial group, and I'm Russian by nationality since I was born in Russia and came to America in my twenties and have lived here for almost twenty years (fours years out of those in Germany). But inside me I don't know who I am, really. And I didn't realize what kind of responsibility a black writer's request of me to write a black character would present. And that's facing my own fear of telling my true stories.
When I tried telling them as a child, no one would listen. But when I changed the facts and made them into fiction or made them funny, people did listen. And so when I came here and tried to chuck my Russianness to the point of writing and thinking in another language, trying to pretend to be like everyone else, trying not to look like an immigrant, trying to look and sound like I belong, I thought I could do it. I thought I ought to write American stories. I thought nobody would be interested in my Russian stories. I'm used to being shunned and told to shut my mouth, or told I'm a liar and should know better than telling things that didn't happen. And so I thought that by assimilating in a new country I could somehow escape.
I've gotten so good at pretending, people who meet me for the first time believe I'm one of them. They think I'm American. I even legally changed my last name so no one would guess I'm Russian. And I've succeeded. But when I shared online my post on diversity and was criticized for it on Twitter, it hardly crossed people's minds that I'm not the white American writer who's either out of ignorance or out of arrogance has decided to appropriate the black culture and marginalize black people even more by playing on stereotypes and aiming to capitalize on my white privilege by stealing the voice of those who know first-hand what it's like to be black in America, when I don't. Hardly anyone thought that I'm a foreigner. If my skin color were different, or my facial features, it would've been more apparent. But I look like your regular American girl, my only prominent Russian feature my square jaw, and the lashing I got was aimed at what people thought I'm in their minds.