"...Of course we were fair-minded, and would have instnatly let into the Circle (which was also Immortal, by the way) any who demonstrated Circular qualities, as long as they were just like ours.
Somehow they were not.
We did, actually, let a few in. (This made us feel generous).
Most, we did not. (This made us feel that we had high and important standards).
Some didn't even want to get in and stood about making rude remarks. (This made us feel scared).
But how on earth could we possibly let them in?
They were clumsy.
Their work was thin.
It wasn't about the right things.
It was -subsidiary-.
It had no 'universal values.' (These are shiny gold bells, worn on the head, which are indispensable to the art of frument, and which the practicing frumentor, by shaking the head back and forth, causes to go 'bing! bing!' in complicated rhythmic outbursts while performing the other actions proper to this delicate and complex art).
To drop the metaphor...when white critic Elly Burkin informed a room full of us white feminists...that we were racists and homophobes, I felt both angry and accused. After all, none of us had done anything that bad and we were hardly responsible that the Great Tradition of English literature was largely white, or that the others were subsidiary, or that so little had been done in these latter. I had certainly confronted homosexuality in women's writing, and so would I confront color--when and where it was appropriate to do so, of course.
To prove all this, I went to the library, got Black novelist Zora Neale Hursto's classic, -Their Eyes Were Watching God,- and read it.
It was episodic.
It was thin.
It was uninteresting.
The characters talked funny.
It was clearly inferior to the great central tradition of Western Literature (if you added these authors' wives', mothers', daughters', sisters', and colleagues' books). I'd been vindicated. Why go on?
But Elly must have put a virus in my tea or otherwise affected me, as shortly thereafter I returned from the library with one armful of books and from the bookstore with another, all these about women of color. There were novels, short-story collections, books containing literary criticism, literary journals, and a few slender pamphlets from small presses. Then I read John Langston's -Drylongso-, Gerda Lerner's -Black Women in White America-, Barbara Christian's pioneering study -Black Women Novelists-, -Conditions: Five, The Black Womens' Issue, Toni Cade Bambara's -The Black Woman: An Anthology-, Mary Helen Washington's -Black-Eyed Susans: Classic Stories by and about Black Women-, and Barbara Smith's -Toward a Black Feminist Criticism.-
Then I re-read -Their Eyes Were Watching God.-
It was astonishing how much the novel had improved in the interim.
Could it be that all these authors were not--as I had unthinkingly assumed--in subsidiary traditions, but -parallel ones?- And that the only thing unique, superior to all others, and especially important in my tradition-was that I was in it? Was centrality really a relative matter?..."
--Joanna Russ, "How To Suppress Women's Writing"