The Atlantic

What Stories About Racial Trauma Leave Out

The poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong depicts the everyday effects of prejudice in a way readers can’t leave behind.
Source: Doug McLean

By Heart is a series in which authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature. See entries from Jonathan Franzen, Amy Tan, Khaled Hosseini, and more.

In Minor Feelings, her first book of nonfiction prose, Cathy Park Hong reflects on learning to write about race. Throughout, she describes herself as working against an unfortunate archetype: the narrative that presents racial trauma as a kind of catalyst for personal growth. In Hong’s telling, this framing falsely portrays racism as a force that individuals can surmount if they work hard enough. It also capitulates to a perceived white audience that seeks to feel some of the pain that racism inflicts without ever getting too uncomfortable.

In a conversation for this series, Hong discussed how she struggled with the process of representing her own pain on the page. She described how Susan Sontag’s remarkable book helped her understand that depictions of suffering can be almost pornographic in nature, a source of complicated

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