don't paint yourself yellow
Illustration by Gita Labrador. 

“Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, and riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character,” said Horace Greeley, co-founder of the New Yorker and founder of the New York Tribune.

With this strong journalistic background, one would think that he knew a thing or two about writing and being published. Michael Derrick Hudson, you might want to take a few notes from him.

Hudson, for those that don’t know,  calls himself  Yi-Fen Chu whenever his poems don’t get published under his own name.

“…this has been quite successful for me,” he writes, but people have since heavily criticized him, especially after the poem “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve” was placed in the Best American Poetry Anthology 2015. When someone plays the system like this, it puts everyone in a terrible situation. Hudson was just looking for the selfish desire to be published, and he undervalued the work of an entire ethnicity as he did it. Don’t get me wrong; I’m infuriated at his actions. I have had to leave this keyboard fifteen hundred times because I’ve wanted to punch him in the face so much.

Native American Best American Poetry Anthology editor Sherman Alexie defended the placement, which has also caused quite an uproar. When Alexie isn’t trying to survive in the publishing circles, he writes National Book Award winning novels (like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian), essays, and poems that speak so truthfully about the plights of the Natives that they get banned from school districts, even though they offer a fresh, honest insight that makes people re-think Native American portrayals. For this, he is taken quite seriously and is commended as a hero of the community.


Alexie wrote in a response essay that upon learning the true identity of Chu, he was “…angry at the subterfuge and at myself for being fooled by this guy. I silently cursed him and wondered how I would deal with this colonial theft,” but that to remove the poem, he would “…have cast doubt on every poem I have chosen for BAP. It would have implied that I chose poems based only on identity.” His main reason for keeping it was because the removal of the poem would have deep roots in his own sense of embarrassment, not in lack of quality for a poem. However, he also claimed that his nepotism towards another non-white poet was a justice and an injustice at once.

So where does that leave us?

Alexie had to navigate not only a cerebral publication crowd that has for years been whitewashed to death, but also a more racially aware nation. Hudson was no more than an author seeking publication in any way that he could. Everyone was put in an awkward place, and it confused some of the greatest publishers as to how to handle situations like these.

But this entire situation actually held in it something of value, I think. It raised awareness that there are racial divides in the publishing industry today. It made people think about how to resolve the situation, and we learned, one way or another, that colorblindness will not work. Though Hudson acted in vanity to avoid eventual oblivion as we all do, I cannot help but think about the fact that he did not want his words to be put with his name. How strange. Was what he said in this poem that important? You be the judge. The idea that he thought so is infinitely fascinating to me.

However the price of passing wisdom still has a limit, just as the price of a car or a canoe. Demeaning a people group for one’s own game is disgusting; it does not matter at all what group or how it was done. It is not to be done. It is an unspoken rule that he selfishly broke.

 

Gold and fame are to be happened upon, as Greeley said, not to be painted at the expense of an entire people group.