There are countless aspects to a self; race and sexual orientation are only two of them, it seems to me, neither the least nor the most important. It’s more accurate to say there’s a constant shifting of hierarchy, depending on any given moment in experience. Am I a gay black man when roasting a chicken at home for friends? Sure. But that’s not what I’m most conscious of at the time. Am I necessarily, then, stripped of political resonance at that moment? Or is not the sharing of food with others a small social contract analogous to the contract of giving and taking — of interaction — that we call citizenship in a democratic society? Is this a stretch? Can we only be political when we are speaking to specific issues of identity, exclusion, injustice?
Resistance might be the one thing that governs what we think of as political. And in that light, I’d hardly call roasting a chicken a political act (unless perhaps I were to roast a chicken and serve it defiantly to my vegetarian friends ... ). But who determines what the things we choose to resist should be? We’ve heard the term “politically correct” forever, it seems. But increasingly there seems a push to be correctly political. How this translates is that there are a small group of things that we — by which I mean poets of outsiderness, of whatever kind — are expected to write from and about, and it comes down to an even smaller group of identity markers (race, gender, sexual orientation, as I’ve mentioned), when in fact there are so many aspects by which identity gets both established and recognized. This is in no way to say that the identity markers I’ve mentioned aren’t immensely important; they just aren’t solely important.
- Carl Phillips, from his essay "A Politics of Mere Being" in the December 2016 issue of Poetry Magazine. You can read the whole thing here.