Full disclaimer up front, I think Cindy Pon is an awesome person and I heart her across the board. She’s full of take no crap, eagerness for change and a “you can’t stop me” spirit. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to hang with her in person just having regular convo (how many of us get to do that with legit authors?). So yea now that my gushing is out of the way let me get to my thoughts on the novel.
SERPENTINE has many of the classic YA elements with its confused teenagers going through growing pains, physical awakenings, new loves and the likes. Which is all what you expect from a YA book and Cindy pulls off each of those with the skill of someone well seasoned in the genre. She’s a pro and it shows.
But what makes the novel soar for me is the authentic nature of the culture presented and the voice given to it. This is the thing I think the “you can write whatever you want” crowd fails to realize. Yes, you can and should write whatever you want but certain things have to be experienced to get the real flavor of them. They have to be endured to make it come to life on the written page. This novel is full of those moments that I think someone with an “outside gaze” would not have been able to pull off.
One part of the novel in particular really struck me as an #ownvoices sort of moment. The enigmatic character of Stone with his immortal powers was able to change the garments of the main character, Skybright. She notes that the fancy garments she’s been given are a century out of fashion. How many people not engrossed in this culture would know what’s in and out of style for people hundreds of years removed? That is an intimate detail. You don’t come across that with a quick Google search. It was a couple of lines but it added such a richness to the story.
There’s also a bit of subtext here about the collusive nature of religion in regards to keeping society in a certain state which I enjoyed a good bit. It didn’t get preachy and really is just simmering under the surface, but I caught a sniff of it. I enjoy that kind of subtle takedown in a work.
In short, this a story with layers. It doesn’t try to be flashy with its cultural elements and that’s because it is coming from someone who actually engrossed in it. That’s the difference. Those of us with marginalized identities treat those identities with normality and not something to be gazed at with wonder. SERPENTINE is all the better for it.
So something has sat heavy on my chest for a while now and it’s about time I cleanse my soul and get it out there. Forgive me in advance if I ramble, but hopefully this is coherent. White and Non-Black POC LGBT (more the former) are a growing disappointment for me. As a gay black man, I’ve always had such high hopes about our potential unity and ability to push for all forms of equality. I suppose I’ve always known that to be a pipe dream, but it has only become more apparent now.
Black Women are under attack on Twitter for daring to ask that they be allowed to exist. For daring to ask that they be represented fairly. For daring to ask that their stories be perhaps told by them before others. And I’ve seen a great deal of pushback coming from the LGBT community, a community which should inherently understand why Black Women are actively seeking these things. But what I’ve come to understand of white LGBT is that they aren’t after a more equal and representative society. They’re just trying to get their full-fledged white card back (Baldwin pointed this out years ago). Non-black POC LGBT are just trying to scoot in a little closer to whiteness and will tout that anti-blackness to do it.
I’ve seen it more times than I can count and if we’re going to just be frank, one of the foundations of popular LGBT culture is appropriation (see all the white gay men who refer to having an inner ghetto black woman) and simultaneous degradation of blackness.
I watched in horror a couple of weeks ago as an incredible black woman author was torn apart by racist, trolls, bigots and flat out disgusting people for daring to try and spread positivity. And what did white LGBT tweeters take the greater offense to? That the author’s hashtag came across as ignoring another marginalized group. This incredible author, graciously and humbly, changed the hashtag only to be attacked MORE VICIOUSLY. And there was a great void of silence as she and other black women were left to drown in this sea of hate.
But this is another insidious trend I’ve noticed amongst white LGBT Twitter. You far too often use your marginalization not as an identity to be uplifted and celebrated, but as something to pound the bad, non-compliant POC over the head with. And if you’re not pounding them over the head with it, you’re using it as a shield to deflect getting called out on your anti-blackness. Then you have the nerve to reap the benefits of all the work these black women have put in to make a way for all of us. You refer to black women making a point as dramatic, mobbish and hostile all the while you sit on the sidelines as they fight not just for themselves, but for your sorry, no good asses too. It’s pathetic. It’s disgusting. YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER.
You should understand it better than any white person, but I think you do understand it. You understand how treacherous a road it is and it’s why you so desperately want your full privileges of whiteness back. You drink the chalice of anti-blackness because it is safe. You let black women get attacked because it is safe. You run to your marginalizations as a hammer and shield because it is safe. In greater society, you form relationships with the police knowing good and well how they treat QPOC. You cozy up to the same people who oppress in the hopes that you can get them to focus their attention elsewhere.
I see you. You ain’t shit and I definitely see you.