August 6, 2014

Zine: Please Tell Me More About Myself

Please Tell Me More About Myself creates a vital dialogue on our perspectives of race.

The first volume of Please Tell Me More About Myself opens with a prescient statement:

This zine is for anyone who has ever wanted to have a conversation about race and was denied that opportunity. We wanted to create an accessible space where PoCs and friends of all backgrounds could voice their opinions on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, or any issues of self-definition without fear of being invalidated or ignored. We hope that you find something that challenges your perspective or brings awareness to a new one...we want you to join us in discussion and action to create a community that is more aware and accepting of both the similarities and differences among us.

I read the zine three times, and through doing that can attest to the fact that it did indeed challenge my perspective and did engage me in the dialogue.

The momentum of the zine was the vacillation between pieces that were intensely relatable and those that pushed me to see life from a completely different perspective. It was this polarization of feelings evoked by the pieces that made it both interesting and, as alluded to at the beginning, challenging.

According to creator JenĂ© Etheridge, the zine was formed by an open call for submissions primarily oriented toward students from the University of Washington in Seattle and people of color in the surrounding area. The zine does often reference the city of Seattle and the university in a way that situates the experiences within their environs. 

 There were a few pieces that particularly jumped off the page, including a piece on the push-back against Kanye West. It utilized a critical sociological lens to examine the generalized anger that so often seems directed at the singer, and the undercurrent of racism that often accompanies attacks against him to portray him as alternately crazy and completely self-obsessed. The piece uses the example of the brief conflict between Jimmy Kimmel and West as a jumping off point, but incorporates many different aspects of the public's volatile relationship with Kanye to illustrate how he has been misrepresented.

While some of the pieces present reactions to and interpretation of broad social issues, some are jarringly intimate and seek to highlight experiences as representative of larger truths and struggles. "Thoughts Following a Chance Encounter" details the reactionary moments after a confrontation in which writer Katrina Go is the object of a racial slur. Go replays the moment and considers all the different things she could have said in a maddeningly relatable self-questioning stream of consciousness. The piece concludes by stating that in spite of her discomfort following the encounter, "Collective apathy and indifference [toward racism] are more daunting than a racialized punch to my face."

This theme is referenced repeatedly throughout the zine: that it is better to address issues of racism and deal with the inflammation and awkwardness than to pretend they don't exist. "So next time you feel uneasy after a less-than-ideal racist encounter, think of it as an opportunity to explore these pretty fucked up expectations and ideas that have been normalized for centuries," Etheridge wrote in "An Opportunity for Dialogue."
As a writer I am drawn to opportunities to see the world through a different lens, one that is not my own, and often struggle with material and let it stick in my head until I find someway to ingratiate it into my mind and worldview. This zine presented a lot of opportunities to do that, and at times I did feel uncomfortable. I think that's a good thing though; if you don't ever feel uncomfortable you're probably not growing either. The zine emphasizes the importance of recognizing racism as it's institutionalized and pervasive in society, but to first focus on changes that can be made internally, in both thought and action.

The pieces in Please Tell Me More About Myself brought up issues like tokenism and micro-aggression, and plausible deniability in everyday racial acts. It seemed like many of the pieces were cathartic to write, and I finished the zine remembering one of my favorite quotes about writing and creating stuff in general by Stephen Elliott:  "We came to writing from an earlier age, from an urge to release a scream that had stuck in our throats. Then we worked on our screams until we thought they were something someone might want to hear." 

Read the full issue of Please Tell Me More About Myself here.

Carolyn Lang, who likes to write and travel and spends most of her spare time in Middle Eastern restaurants. She is the combined effort of everyone she's ever known. Carolyn keeps track of things that fascinate her here.