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The DIOP Circle V.6

July 28th, 2019

Brian Lin

Every Sunday, we publish a story from a member of the DIOP community. Because each and every one of you is on a journey and we're right there with you.

This week, we'd like to welcome Brian Lin. He is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Southern California and our 298th customer. He likes Pink Matter because he believes we should all wear more pink. And he's going to share how race and otherness shape his process.

Brian, go off:

I’m what they call an “emerging writer.” The label lies somewhere between description and slur, not unlike “SoundCloud rapper.”

Well, here’s some facts. I’m on the second draft of my novel, and it’s far more frightening than writing the first. I don’t have a creative writing master's. (Here’s my personalized rejection letter from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop—the Harvard of writing programs, as it were. In the writing world, a personally signed form letter counts as validation.)

I just finished my first year in a Ph.D. program in creative writing and literature, a blessing I stay counting.

How’d that happen? I did a lot of summer writing conferences.

What that means is that I’ve read a lot of works-in-progress by all kinds of people, most of them white.

This is a scary thing: access to the white imagination. I’m queer, East Asian, a cis man. For me, growing up in the Midwest meant pretending to be what I’m not.

It meant mastering the white imagination to belittle myself. It’s been a decade since getting out, a decade of unlearning every -ism. If only from self-examination, I’ve learned to detect bullshit pretty quick.

Most people, irrespective of race, write what we might call segregated stories, i.e. narratives in which all the characters are the same race.

Here’s the difference between segregated white stories and stories of color: the latter tends to knowingly be about the consequences of white supremacy, even in white people’s absence.

Think Moonlight, the Best Picture that the Academy tried to adele. In contrast, the former often suffers from a lack of self-awareness, not only of its own whiteness but also of the systems in place that would segregate its white characters from the people of color in its world.

So when white people write Asian characters, they’re foreign. When imagined at all, indigenous characters are mystics, and Latinx characters are servants.

Through the white gaze, black women are aggressive, and black men are criminal. These patterns are widely known. Right now, it should be intolerably obvious—a matter of fact—that how the culture imagines people of color (or fails to) is bound up with how the state treats people of color: in abuse.

Dehumanizing tropes endanger people of color. Bad writing is life or death.

Except of course whites stay whiting. I was at a writing conference in June. There were about fifty participants.

In my workshop, there was a story that identified only one character’s race: he was homeless on the subway. You can guess his race; you know how the white imaginary works. The same thing happened in a faculty reading. As this white woman told it, a black man (who she assumed to be homeless, drunk, and mentally ill) got on the subway to harass a group of white girls before cussing her out, the innocent bystander, and getting off the train.

This is the power and the tension in the title When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s Emmy-lauded film about the Exonerated 5.

White sight ruins lives. Even so, black people and people of color fight to make ourselves seen.

Within Asian American cultural politics, some point out that while East Asians complain about a lack of representation, South Asians and Southeast Asians are resisting criminalization and deportation.

I agree that the stakes are outrageously different. I would also underscore that narrative and policy are tethered.


The DIOP Circle V.6

July 28th, 2019


Brian Lin

Every Sunday, we publish a story from a member of the DIOP community. Because each and every one of you is on a journey and we're right there with you.

This week, we'd like to welcome Brian Lin. He is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Southern California and our 298th customer. He likes Pink Matter because he believes we should all wear more pink. And he's going to share how race and otherness shape his process.

Brian, go off:


I’m what they call an “emerging writer.”

The label lies somewhere between description and slur, not unlike “SoundCloud rapper.”


Well, here’s some facts. I’m on the second draft of my novel, and it’s far more frightening than writing the first. I don’t have a creative writing master's. (Below my personalized rejection letter from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop—the Harvard of writing programs, as it were. In the writing world, a personally signed form letter counts as validation.)

I just finished my first year in a Ph.D. program in creative writing and literature, a blessing I stay counting.

How’d that happen? I did a lot of summer writing conferences. What that means is that I’ve read a lot of works-in-progress by all kinds of people, most of them white.

Most people, irrespective of race, write what we might call segregated stories, i.e. narratives in which all the characters are the same race.

Here’s the difference between segregated white stories and stories of color: the latter tends to knowingly be about the consequences of white supremacy, even in white people’s absence.

Think Moonlight, the Best Picture that the Academy tried to adele. In contrast, the former often suffers from a lack of self-awareness, not only of its own whiteness but also of the systems in place that would segregate its white characters from the people of color in its world.

So when white people write Asian characters, they’re foreign. When imagined at all, indigenous characters are mystics, and Latinx characters are servants.

Through the white gaze, black women are aggressive, and black men are criminal. These patterns are widely known. Right now, it should be intolerably obvious—a matter of fact—that how the culture imagines people of color (or fails to) is bound up with how the state treats people of color: in abuse.

Dehumanizing tropes endanger people of color.

Bad writing is life or death.

Except of course whites stay whiting. I was at a writing conference in June. There were about fifty participants. In my workshop, there was a story that identified only one character’s race: he was homeless on the subway. You can guess his race; you know how the white imaginary works.

The same thing happened in a faculty reading. As this white woman told it, a black man (who she assumed to be homeless, drunk, and mentally ill) got on the subway to harass a group of white girls before cussing her out, the innocent bystander, and getting off the train.

This is the power and the tension in the title When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s Emmy-lauded film about the Exonerated 5. White sight ruins lives. Even so, black people and people of color fight to make ourselves seen.

To the liberating potential of disruptive storytelling, I want to shout out the Asian American rom-com Always Be My Maybe for its subtle subversions.

Both the protagonists are—pardon the millennial diction—creatives; no one here is a model minority. All the parents speak English fluently—all the characters do. As a matter of Bay Area fact, the characters, almost all of them Asian, differ in ethnicity. And far from perpetually foreign, the Randall Park character reps his city. The fact that comedian gem Michelle Buteau plays the black best friend shows that we have a ways to grow.

But when the baseline for Asian American storytelling is either cultural performance or political posturing, it is a gift to see ourselves messy and multiple.

This is my lodestar, how I seek to write and how I hope to find us written. We deserve to find ourselves human on every screen, stage, and page. However new, our wholeness is nothing to prove.

Our worthiness is a given, so give yourself that.

Only you can; we’re waiting.


By Brian Lin

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of DIOP.


To the liberating potential of disruptive storytelling, I want to shout out the Asian American rom-com Always Be My Maybe for its subtle subversions. Both the protagonists are—pardon the millennial diction—creatives; no one here is a model minority. All the parents speak English fluently—all the characters do.

As a matter of Bay Area fact, the characters, almost all of them Asian, differ in ethnicity. And far from perpetually foreign, the Randall Park character reps his city. The fact that comedian gem Michelle Buteau plays the black best friend shows that we have a ways to grow.

But when the baseline for Asian American storytelling is either cultural performance or political posturing, it is a gift to see ourselves messy and multiple.

This is my lodestar, how I seek to write and how I hope to find us written. We deserve to find ourselves human on every screen, stage, and page. However new, our wholeness is nothing to prove.

Our worthiness is a given, so give yourself that. Only you can; we’re waiting.

- By Brian Lin


The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of DIOP.