The Enduring Whiteness of Jane Austen

Recognizing the Enduring Whiteness of Jane Austen (Marcos Gonsalez)

Unmarked, and universal, whiteness structures this classroom, this university, this world.

But they don’t know what whiteness is because they have never had to see it before. To them, white students and white professors discussing white literature feels like nothing out of the ordinary; it’s just the way things are, the way things are meant to be.

Yet my suspicions linger over the politics of retellings because the dominating forces over our art and culture are notoriously guilty of telling those of us who are queer, disabled, trans, and of color, that our original stories are too particular and niche to reach a large enough audience. The stories these white writers craft are universal templates, apparently.

What does it look like to retell Lin Manuel-Miranda’s In the Heights? Nella Larsen’s Passing? Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior? The question becomes tricky because these works, like all works by any kind of writer, like Austen or Shakespeare, possess their specific social and cultural contexts, all of them their own beautiful specificity. Yet some of us are always more universal, always able to be just Art, just Literature, just Author, and never, lest we say it, lest we give up the ruse, white.

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