I am several months late to the debate sparked by this young poet last June, when he asked, earnestly, whether he, as a 'white man', would do best to stop writing, and to cede whatever space he might have taken up to someone who fits a different description. My answer to this sad specimen is this: if you can't write something that does anything more than convey your perspective as a 'white man', then you definitely should not be writing, not because you're a 'white man', but because you lack the expressive range and the imagination to call yourself a writer of any sort. There is no literature worth reading that does nothing more than tell you what it is like to be its author. If all you're getting from a book is the message that it was written by a 'white man', then put it down and read something else, perhaps by a 'white man', perhaps not. Read a better book. None of the books I value were written by 'white men' in a way that is relevant to the books themselves. They were written by channelers of the universe. If that's not what you aspire to be, then give up, now, and end the embarrassing spectacle of your public hand-wringing.
I do not count among these channelers the usual 'white male' suspects, the Jonathans Franzen, Lethem, Safran Foer. I have never read them. I have never read David Foster Wallace, or any other Chad or Brad who has generated chatter over the past few decades. Why not? Because life is short, and there are parts of The Human Comedy, and parts of The Divine Comedy, I have yet to discover. My Sanskrit is still lower-intermediate and I can't enjoy the Upanishads without a dictionary; my Sakha is lower-beginner and I can get nothing out of the great oral epic of this language except in Russian translation.
The Upanishads? Sakha? Even if I were to live a thousand years, and to finish all the canonical 'white men', I would not move on to the Jonathans and to the other 'white men' who are writing at present and thus might meaningfully be asked to stop writing. The reason for this is that although I am working through the canon and am anchored in it, I also want to see it blasted open, reconceptualized not as a thread that moves through history from bright point to bright point, but as the true exhaustive treasury of the expressive power of homo narrans. I deplore Saul Bellow's comment to the effect that he will read the Tolstoy of the Zulus when they produce one, since I know that they have produced countless Tolstoys.
My canon would include, thus, all the textual traditions of all the world, at a minimum, but it would also include all the oral traditions that have yet to be written down or are only beginning to be written down: the Serbian bards, the Yakut Olonkho-reciters. This is literature, and the western canon is a sort of outcropping of it, or a cloud-chamber trace of what is in fact going on all the time, everywhere: beautiful, useful for study, historically important for the way it has shaped debates and dogmas about what literature is, but still just a trace.
Not only has most of the world's literature not been part of this trace, and not only has most of it not been produced by 'white men'. Most of it has been produced by people who would not have understood the question whether they were 'white men' or not. This is what I read, and this is what inspires me to channel, to the extent that I am able, the human narrative power myself. I do not write as a 'white man', and I do not want to participate in a literary culture that would require me to be one. But I will keep writing, and translating, and channeling (which is in the end just another form of translation), and I will stay in my present spiritual and aesthetic cosmos, light years away from the degenerate literary Macklemores, the hangers-on, trying to save whatever they can of their minor careers by disingenuous public performances of renunciation.