I think a lot of white writers see lineage as a trap—which could be true, you know, but it becomes a prescriptive gaze on lineage in which some people (often men) say, “Lineage, who cares about lineage. I don’t see a line—I see a sort of soup of influence.” And they don’t want to be pinned down to schools. All that is valuable—for you, right? But writers of color do need a lineage because sometimes the thin, narrow bridge is the only place we can use to cross, to access when everything else is precariously dangerous. When you can walk freely where you wish, lineage is not necessary—and perhaps it shouldn’t be. But for othered bodies, the fostering of elders, the seeking of paths, the linking from one word to another, to further and nurture our own voices, is vital. Although it seems nice as an artistic practice to shatter a linear trajectory of influence, POCs don’t have the luxury of throwing lineage out the window. The institution of erasure was not built with democratic intent; it cannot be dismantled using democratic ideals. It sounds nice, and I hope we can get there. But not yet.
Perhaps lineage is less pressing for white writers because the foundation is already solid: Whitman and Dickinson, not to mention the European canon, whereas for writers of color the foundation is not solid. There is no ground. There are only tethers. Those tethers need to be fostered, and I think we’re getting there. And its just not POCs—white writers are playing an important part in realizing that a future of inclusion is one that benefits and enriches all of us who care for this work, for each other.
From this interview with poet Ocean Vuong