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12:58 AM
@NapoleonWilson going to regret posting this, but (1) I never told people don't try to understand this, and the fact that I posted the answer in the first place should really be proof that I'm open to helping to understanding the book.
I did say that people should work their way up to the story, which is quite different.
As far as people getting offended... I don't think they'll find the question nearly as offensive as this answer.
4
A: Why are pronouns used in this way in Nalo Hopkinson's "Shift"?

Christophe StrobbeNalo Hopkinson's story "Shift" reuses characters from Shakespeare's play The Tempest, a play that has frequently been discussed with a specific focus on colonialism/post-colonialism, race and identity. The story reuses several words, phrases and elements from the play. For example: Hopkinson's ...

Specifically this part
> (In this answer, I will use the terms "European" and "colonizers/colonialism" rather than "West/Western", since from the point of view of Jamaica, where Nalo Hopkinson was born, or Bermuda, which is reference in The Tempest, Europe, where the colonizers came from, is not in the West. Because of the references to Milan in the play and to Algiers in both the play and the story, the island is more likely located in the Mediterranean, anyway.)
Oh my god that last sentence...
So since you asked for examples, and against my better judgement I'll break down why its so bad.
First of all, The island is clearly Jamaica. There's the Jamaican slang. There's the fact that Sycorax is British, and is exiled to an island -- Jamaica was a british colony so it fits.
And there's the matter of the identity of the author.
But what people would truly find offensive is the justification for claiming the island is in the mediteranian.
The answer treats the references Hopkinson makes to Shakespeare as a "well-read" author making their story better by referencing the work of a so-called "canonical", "great", well established author
... like Shakespeare, and other authors in the so-called "western canon".
But that's not actually what she does with those references to Shakespeare. They aren't really references. What she's really doing is rewriting and retelling those "canonical" stories.
Canonical authors like shakespeare are often invoked as justifications for the existence of "western civilization". The thinking goes, if civilization burns down, just grab a copy of shakespeare and other great works from the library and you can rebuild.
The story Hopkinson is writing is undeniably western. Caliban and Ariel aren't indigenous to Jamaica. Their mother, who is the only parent who they spent time with, is white and british. (Their father is black and died, at which point their mother was exciled).
Sorry, western isn't the right word, because even as Caliban and Ariel live in a western colonial/white supremacist regime they are abused and rejected by it.
The thing about authors like Shakespeare is that while Shakespeare is amazing, and has written some really insightful things about race. But you have to consider the wider context in which Shakespeare is taught and used in western culture.
Most people's experience with Shakespeare is in state sponsored educational institutions, where he's taught in english class.
At best english classes are places where you can play with big ideas. But all english classes are about teaching people how to speak "proper" english, i.e. you learn to "chat like something out of some Englishman book."
The second function shakespeare performs in society is if you can quote or reference shakespeare, who is an intelligent and great author, then you yourself are intelligent and great. Because certain social groups are more likely to quote shakespeare in this way, it serves as a way of gatekeeping.
And then there's the very idea of the western canon -- it's the justification for western's civilization's existance, if civilization collapses we can save the books, etc. etc. etc.
So to recap, what you've done in that sentence is:
(1) Taken a story set in Jamaica, which was oppressed by Europe, and moved the story over to Europe.
(2) Did so on the basis of Shakespeare, a white male author who, while I think his writing is amazing, has a social function that primarily serves to enforce the power of the western civilizations that oppress places like Jamaica.
(3) This is a story about how a character is defined by white people's image of him and the negative effect that causes on his life. The irony of defining a story by what a white author (shakespeare) says about it will not be lost on people.
(4) Whether intentional or not, it seems like the interest in the Shakespeare references is because you think oh, cool, she referenced Shakespeare, a canonical author, in a very clever way. But the problem is (1) that's not why Hopkinson is referencing Shakespeare, and (2) that form of referencing Shakespeare is mostly associated with a form of gatekeeping designed to identify who was in the social class that had access to that kind of school.
I really could write this kind of critique about 50% of the questions and answers about Hopkinson that are on this site.
It's important to keep in mind that people find this stuff upsetting because unspeakable amounts of harm have been done to their families and friends and communities for generations.
I'm not trying to blame you for not knowing this stuff. But.
I'm not trying to say you can't discuss this stuff. On the contrary, I think given the political situation everyone has an obligation to think about this.
But.
Not doing anything about this is likely to land this site in a lot of hot water sooner or later. If you do nothing about this, the best case scenario is this site fades into irrelevance.
Happy to answer questions if they're asked politely. Some of you have been polite and seem to have learned something from my answer. Some of you have not been polite.
(I'm here because of the polite people).
I will say that you're asking a lot from me. It's much harder to verify or correct something than it is to say something without doing the research. It takes no effort for me to say "Shakespeare was a pseudonym," but it will take a lot of effort to fact-check it.
So what I will recommend, is not to never read Hopkinson, but to spend some time as a community working your way up to Hopkinson.
This really is the only way you'll build up the knowledge needed to talk about these topics the way they need to be talked about.
Again, I'm not saying "never talk about this". But the way you're talking about this isn't working. Step back, regroup, win some smaller battles first, and then return.
I apologize if there are parts of this that are unclear; I wasn't able to edit the messages. Good luck and good bye.
 
 
6 hours later…
8:27 AM
@LitProf Uh...are you sure the answer is claiming the island from this very story to be in the mediterranian? I agree that doesn't make too much sense, but I never thought that's what the answer is saying. Wasn't that just a side remark about the Shakespeare play?
 
8:53 AM
Excellent answer...if only the patronizing parts were toned down a little. I already noticed it in the middle, but the last paragraph is really condescending and doesn't have anything to do in this answer. — Cahir Mawr Dyffryn æp Ceallach yesterday
@CahirMawrDyffrynæpCeallach with all due respect, the question made at least three incorrect statements about the short story. I'm not trying to blame the author of the question for this, but it is my responsibility to correct these statements -- if I haven't done that then I haven't fulfilled my responsibility as a writer of the answer. — LitProf yesterday
@CahirMawrDyffrynæpCeallach the last paragraph is a warning that the way the question is written will, in a best case scenario, turn people away from this site, and in a worse case scenario, cause people to feel hurt. You and the author think my warning is rude, but for some reason I haven't seen any thought given to the idea that the way this question is worded might not be very welcoming. I don't think that's a good way of approaching topics like race and it makes me question my participation here. — LitProf yesterday
Still, it doesn't belong into the answer. It might have been a comment on the question. Maybe with your help the asker can find a way to improve the wording of the question to adress some of the shortcomings you see with it. — Cahir Mawr Dyffryn æp Ceallach yesterday
@CahirMawrDyffrynæpCeallach if the approach the author took to this question is changed then I will consider removing the final (now three, I made some edits) paragraphs. I have edited the three paragraphs totie them into the ideas and experiences of "Shift", which ironically is in many ways about some of the ways the author approached the story. Perhaps this question can serve as an example and the three paragraphs as an explanation for what this question is an example of. I feel quite strongly that, at this moment, the final portion of this answer should remain. — LitProf yesterday
The first part of the last three paragraphs is indeed quite reasonable and better tied in with the actual question and its answer. However, the middle part still doesn't belong into this answer rather than a discussion for improving the question. Frankly, I fail to see "hurtful stereotypes" the question supposedly falls back on in its text, but I guess I'm as well "part of the problem". If anything, though, this should be worked out with the asker in a related discussion rather than as part of this answer... — Cahir Mawr Dyffryn æp Ceallach 24 hours ago
...And the last paragraph is just highly problematic in its attitude of utterly discouraging the asker to even engage the topic and stories about it. At no point I felt he didn't approach the topic with care and respect. If anything, this question is a testament of his tries to understand the underlying problems. Downright saying "you shouldn't even try" helps noone. If there's problems with the wording of the question and how it could be made better, I'm sure he would appreciate some details about that (again, though, not in the answer, where this discussion really doesn't belong). — Cahir Mawr Dyffryn æp Ceallach 24 hours ago
Anyway, I'll refrain from suggesting further edits to this answer. I acknowledge that you're bringing up genuine concerns here. I just wished there was more mutual work towards improving the question rather than telling the asker not to even ask questions like this anymore. It would be unfortunate to lose both his future questions as well as your future answers. And it just hurts not being able to upvote this answer for the excellent insights it gives on the actual question. ;-) — Cahir Mawr Dyffryn æp Ceallach 23 hours ago
@CahirMawrDyffrynæpCeallach I certainly would ask this question in a different way had I been the author. I would perhaps be willing to suggest ways of rewording the question to the author, but given that the author tells me that people who find the way the question asked uncomfortable are likely people who "wouldn't've been a good contributor" and are unable "to discuss politely and rationally," (chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/46292769#46292769‌​), its not clear this would be a good use of my time. — LitProf 12 hours ago
@CahirMawrDyffrynæpCeallach "Downright saying "you shouldn't even try"" I didn't say that. I suggested that the author of the question work their way up to a short short story like this one, by reading some stories that do a better job introducing these topics. It's a perfectly reasonable suggestion, and most fields have some sort of system where people are encouraged to work their way up to harder topics. I fail to see how this suggestion is condescending at all, and I especially fail to see how what I've said warrants much more criticism than anything the author of this question said — LitProf 12 hours ago
@CahirMawrDyffrynæpCeallach I should clarify, and perhaps this is something I am at fault for, that I don't think this question went as far as to rely on the stereotypes and myths that the story speaks out against. I will say that in my experience, its very easy for people who are asking questions in good faith but who lack the proper knowledge to accidentally invoke these stereotypes. The problem is made worse by the amount of people asking questions in bad faith. So please take the second paragraph as a warning, but one based on quite a bit of experience. — LitProf 11 hours ago
This isn't to say that the question is fine -- its not offensive but it definitely is a bit off putting the way its written. I'm not trying to fault the writer of the question for being interested in these things, and I think its important to learn about these topics. My answer certainly threw a lot at them which probably made it difficult. — LitProf 11 hours ago
41 messages moved from The Reading Room
 
@LitProf If you have constructive suggestions regarding the wording of my question, I'm happy to listen. I already changed the sentence about "taste in girls" which you took issue with. But a lot of your comments now seem to be critical without being specific, which makes them hard to respond to.
Regarding this comment, that wasn't exactly what I said. I can't find my original comment now, but my point was that people who ragequit over a question like mine (not a stream of racist invective, but a genuine query from someone looking to learn more about race issues in a work of literature) might not be the type of person likely to remain calm in a world/community which has a lot of less careful phrasers than me.
 
9:30 AM
> I get the impression that you're coming at this story, and the cultural knowledge in this story, in a bit of an academic sense. What I mean by this is the impression I got from this is that the cultural knowledge about things like racist stereotypes is merely another bit of knowledge for you to learn, similar to your ability to recognize the references to The Tempest in the story.
@LitProf I think what you're missing is that this is essentially a site for questions born of academic curiosity. It's a Q&A site for people to learn about literature, not a forum for in-depth discussion of racism, politics, etc. Those topics are relevant to us only inasmuch as they're relevant to literature. (I dunno if things are different in America or elsewhere, but the black people I know would laugh at the idea that a well-meaning discussion of literature could be offensive to them.)
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1 hour later…
10:49 AM
In The Tempest, the island is in the Mediterranean. In Hopkinson's story, the language sounds like Jamaican Patois, so one may infer it is Jamaica. Unless, the island and the creole language in the story stand for the many countries and islands where Europeans imported African slaves, colonised the country and where over the years, a creole emerged.
Also, none of the questions about "Shift" that has been asked so far, ask for an exhaustive analysis of the story. In addition, seeing everything exclusively in the light of colonialism or postcolonialism seems reductive to me.
 

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