How Inclusive Writing Is Better Writing

How the ‘woke mob’ made me a better writer

Cedric Smith, The Writer, 2019

Some writers (whiters) complain that they can’t express themselves. The modern audience has too many identities, uses too many big words. The whiter cannot speak without fear of cancellation. These are just lazy writers.

Inclusiveness is both righting wrongs and writing truth

Writing is balancing audiences in your head. Writing is fumbling towards the truth. It’s funny that the guys getting paid the most also complain the most. If you can’t stand the heat, GTFO the kitchen.

This is life as a fry cook. People have definitely scolded me, and you know what? It helped me learn.

The Aztecs Are Woke Now?

Aztec Serpent Labret with Articulated Tongue. A.D. 1300–1521

I’ve been happily comparing American policies to Aztec human sacrifice for months now. I thought it was a sick burn, I’ve used it everywhere. Then I got a mail from Jim Latham telling me I was wrong. Comparing Americans and Aztecs was unfair. To the Aztecs.

C’mon, right? The Aztecs don’t even exist and I’m supposed to be sensitive to them. This is zombie wokeness.

But he was right. Jim sent me an article, referenced a deeper book, and told me what he’d learned from it. And, dammit, he was right. The Aztecs got painted as bloodthirsty by the people that actually killed 90% of people on the continent. I done them wrong. More to the point, I was wrong. So I went through a bunch of posts and corrected it.

Jim was very polite, but he didn’t have to be. If someone wants to be pissed off and rude about excluding them (or their historical homies), that doesn’t make them wrong. Wrongheaded perhaps, but not wrong on points.

This is the point of inclusiveness. As a writer, we are trying to fumble towards the truth. We are trying to get it right. Thus, inclusiveness is both righting wrongs and writing truth. Inclusiveness is not charity to forgotten people. The point is that we forgot. We’re the dumbasses, and sometimes people are kind enough to teach us. And if they’re not kind, tough. We were still wrong.

Here’s another example.

Why I Do Not Mess With Trinidad and/or Tobago

I once published a map dunking on the West for being dumb on COVID-19 and East Asia for being smart. Simple map, two circles. Good story, evocative image, I was happy.

People, however, kept contacting me, asking what about my country, what about this country, what about us. They wanted inclusion, and it was annoying AF. My simple map suddenly turned into spaghetti.

But they were right. As a writer I like to appear right, but being right is more important. Sometimes you have to just suck it up. One person, however, straight-up called me racist. That really got my goat. Me!?? Racist? My pearls.

When I read Herlene’s comment I had to close my laptop. My poor ego. But it kept gnawing at me, and I looked it up. Dammit again, she was right. I always have this reaction, in life as well as work. If someone corrects me I’m lazy — I just want it to go away. Unlike a whingey whiter, however, I’m professional. I work through that feeling, because I care about the craft.

I had to read a lot more, correct that article, and write an apology at the end. It was a pain in the ass. But I’m a writer. This is my work. Herlene wasn’t trolling me, she was helping me. She was right.

Inclusiveness isn’t about being polite, and it doesn’t need to be polite to you. Inclusiveness is about the truth.

All of these comments led me to research my COVID Underdogs series, covering Mongolia, Trinidad & Tobago, Ghana, etc. I found a story of a Global South that innovated and fought back COVID-19 while the West was drinking bleach. It was a good story, my most popular series so far. I would have never got it if people hadn’t demanded inclusivity from me, up to the point of calling me racist.

Could I have screamed “cancel culture” and retreated into defensiveness? Yes, but then where would I be? Chilling with my ignorance? I would have missed the story. People treat inclusiveness as a chore, but writing is just a series of chores. You have to do the work.

Nas, the poet laureate of Queens

The Truth

The truth is that there are many people in the world and nobody has a superior angle on humanity. My favorite poets come from Queensbridge, not Cambridge. The rich and white are not teachers, the poor and dark are not pupils. Men are not natural leaders (check your household) and women are not there for show.

The voices we call marginal have the same access to the human condition, deserve the same respect, and have as much to share. At this point, they have more to share, because they have been marginalized so long. Inclusivity is refreshing, it is interesting and — perhaps most importantly — these voices haven’t fucked things up so bad.

We’ve been eating white bread for hundreds of years and someone’s pointed out a cabinet full of spices, curries, vegetables, and fruits. We should be delighted. Inclusiveness is a gift.

As a writer is it harder being inclusive? Absolutely. Sometimes I want to say ‘your children’ but I have to think about the people that can’t/won’t have kids. It adds extra words, which I detest. I have to think hard when I talk about white people (what about Finland, we never colonized anyone!) and make a conscious decision to let that contradiction through (re: Noel Ignaetiv’s Abolish The White Race).

It’s not easy, it takes careful craft, and you will still definitely get it wrong. And people will be mean to you. But that’s the job. I find it funny that the people who get paid the most also complain the most. Columnists literally getting paid six-figures are complaining about plebes freely expressing that they suck.

Real cancel culture isn’t a tweet. It’s a government gun.

Freedom of expression is between you and the government. Writing is between you and the reader. It’s a conversation. Sometimes you have to listen. Not to what everyone says, but at least their existence. Sometimes you have to make room. This doesn’t limit your expression. It expands it, exponentially.

I often think of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), protesting that he was illiterate while the angel Jibril was yelling at him to read (or recite).

Recite: In the Name of your Lord who created.
Created man from a clot.
Recite: And your Lord is the Most Generous.
He who taught by the pen.
Taught man what he never knew.

Jibril was like, Yo! You blood clot! RECITE! I differ from Islam, of course, in that I’m describing a dunya flourishing, an endarkenment, where voices in the shadows are suddenly here, and loud. Trinibagonian, women, trans people, even Aztecs back from the dead. What a blessing, really, to be corrected. How else would we become correct?

*as a note, even this piece got corrections! Apparently Sweden did colonize their neighbors, so I changed that to Finland. And Trinidadian erases Tobagians, so I changed that to Trinibagonian. You learn something every day!