a review of Inga Muscio’s Autobiography of a Blue-Eyed Devil: My Life and Times in a Racist, Imperialist Society
I was doing acid with my boyfriend in B Dorm at The Evergreen State College in the nineteen nineties when I wondered out loud why there were so few black riot grrrls, so few prominent, young women of color for me to look up to who played music and wrote zines. My boyfriend was a very nice white boy who was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and I was a Brooklyn, N.Y., transplant who struggled with my exotic status as a dark olive-skinned anomaly that could not be pinned down to a race box to check, who still grappled with the legacy of race-related aggression and institutionalized segregation in my Coney Island high school, who wrestled with the passive and ambiguous cultural diversity narratives in Olympia, Washington, and the complete lack of such conversations in Seattle, where I traveled for work at a peep show. So I decided to pick a fight with my boyfriend about our feminist, punk rock, and decidedly white-bred community while Roseanne Barr’s face was melting on a zig-zaggy TV screen and my feet felt like melting cheesecakes. Absolutely nothing came of my complaining that day. Absolutely nothing has come of most any conversations I have had about racism and prejudice over the years since, sober, supplemented by a stack of bell hooks and Howard Zinn tomes, in eager and fray-nerved classrooms where we struggled to seem dignified and humble while pondering how our pigment and upbringing dictate our futures in this country. Inga Muscio tries so hard to describe this through a subversive lens of probing, revealing, mocking, and elevating to a hopeful status in Autobiography of a Blue-Eyed Devil.
Muscio wrote her radical manifesto Cunt: A Declaration of Independence while living in Olympia in the nineties, as well. She gave young women a poignant, humorous, confessional, and hands-on approach to perceiving, negotiating and, dare I say, empowering themselves about the body part they have learned to think of a scary, hairy, stinky mess that needs to be guarded from rape and unwanted pregnancy like a leaky basement against termites. Inga’s nonfiction voice is that of a loving sister, a fighter, a vulnerable and contradictory being who is willing to be dorky and ask seemingly obvious questions in order to move the needle on the skipping record further along for us girls who have shouted our voices hoarse. Inga Muscio doesn’t fear coming off too earnest and gullible in Blue-Eyed Devil. She wants change that has been slow coming in America and the task is overwhelming for her, as well as her readers, to take in.
According to Muscio, everything we have been taught before we got to college was a lie. And good luck getting to college if you’re poor, or not white, or if you didn’t get some debilitating disease from pesticides while picking fruit for next-to-no-money. And you exist to read this in good health while in graduate school, or after graduate school, that will put you in debt from which you won’t recover because corporate greed has changed the landscape of opportunity, maybe permanently, or until we die of global warming, because someone who is possibly very ill and hungry made you this computer and the shirt you are wearing, and the coffee you need to wake up in the morning. How far have we really moved as a nation since Charles Drew, a black man, invented blood plasma preservation but would not be allowed to either give or receive blood from a white person, Muscio asks us?
Inga Muscio reads and listens and synthesizes what I desperately need a sheet of acid to digest and still feel so unprepared to speak on with any authority. I needed her digging, her mistakes, her risks and her research to pay off in this book because I still don’t have the words. Kathi Acker’s, “I was unspeakable, so I ran into the language of others,” takes on new meaning when I think about stealing, borrowing and remaking into my own what this author has put forth. Now that Blue-Eyed Devil has been re-printed for us to pass down to our children and adolescents, who I believe to be the true target audience for her urgent and ironic voice, Inga is planning on taking our breath away by writing fiction. Blue-Eyed Devil and Cunt will find their way in there somehow, as well, I bet.
Autobiography of a Blue-Eyed Devil: My Life and Times in a Racist, Imperialist Society
by Inga Muscio
This review can be found in our Spring 2014 issue.