One of my favorites to cite: Suheir Hammad’s This is the work. Arab identities are complex, vast, multiple; as are other races and ethnicities. The Arab body is the mistaken body: mistaken for an endless list of other bodies, always Other, even when passing or presenting as white. In this country it is as if one only a body if it exists on a form, and the Arab body seems always to be writing itself in. And often when the Arab body is written in—and my years studying and practicing in the field of journalism confirm this—it is as a brief headline. The trap of identity only remains a trap if the structures we work within support it.
The Arab body is the unlisted and unconsidered body: a choice missing from most forms, absent from the U. Which brings me to the establishment: All of those ‘editors,’ most of them ill-equipped to judge our work, who readily and easily give space to poetry celebrities, often men, who have been, already, widely published.
I have stopped reading the publications that partake in this commodification, but now I am looking at them with a shotgun pointed between their virtual eyes.
When I wrote about the non-profit organization Radius of Arab American Writers, Inc. And just as I ask that we interrogate the systems that give white translators ownership over our work and, thereby, our cultures, I ask the establishment: Why do you so readily see us when we are implying our ugliness (as in Joudah’s title), but not as we do in the pieces I pitched to the Poetry Foundation blog? It is selective seeing: seeing us, Arabs and people of color, when it benefits the status quo.
To review: This co-translator has no knowledge of the language or culture she is working from.
The editors trust her answers and do not fact check them.
I ask this translator via direct message if she is Arab.
This person has so successfully co-opted our language and culture that most Arabs assume she is Arab or, maybe, mixed.
An arithmetic, I will remind you, that extends into every facet of the system that consistently puts our bodies, our language, our culture, our children at risk.
In a recent interview the Libyan-British writer Hisham Matar says, “International literature remains hugely underrated and, as a side effect, English books are often overrated.