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What is the genre of Alicia Elliott's essay "On Seeing and Being Seen: The Difference Between Writing With Empathy and Writing With Love"?

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The genre of the essay "On Seeing and Being Seen: the Difference Between Writing with Empathy and Writing with Love" by Alicia Elliot is that of a post-colonial familiar essay. The essay is post-colonial because it represents the viewpoint of a person from an oppressed group. It is a familiar essay because it blends a personal narrative using the "I" pronoun with research on her topic.

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In part, the genre of Alicia Elliot's "On Seeing and Being Seen: the Difference Between Writing with Empathy and Writing with Love" is a narrative essay. A narrative essay tells a personal story with a beginning, a middle, and an end and is often characterized by the use of the pronoun "I."

Elliot's essay is narrative in part because it tells the story of her development as a native writer and the obstacles that initially thwarted her path. At first, she had no Native writer role models, so she tried to write as if she were white. She comments that none of her fictional characters had:

a Haudenosaunee dad or white bipolar mother. Things were simple; things were normal. Rich boys and brand names were normal.

She felt both disadvantaged as a Native writer and the target of resentment from white writers who thought she would have an advantage as a Native American. It was only after she discovered other Native authors that Elliott was able to break through to her own voice and to understand that it takes more than mere empathy to write effectively.

Elliot's essay, however, crosses over from narrative essay into the more particular genre of familiar essay. A familiar essay blends personal reflection with research, as Eliot does in her essay. She does not simply write about her own experience as a native writer. Instead, for example, she includes Leanne Simpson’s Islands of Decolonial Love as a source for her own writing.

Elliot has done enough research into the issues Native writer's face to provide the following quote from Tania Canas' essay "Diversity is a White Word" in order to argue that diversity is about making:

sense, through the white lens, of difference by creating, curating and demanding palatable definitions of ‘diversity’ but only in relation to what this means in terms of whiteness

Finally, we can refine the genre of Elliot's essay even further, and note it is a post-colonial narrative familiar essay. It is post-colonial because it is focused on the perspective of a writer from an oppressed and marginalized group. For instance, Elliot records that she felt it was a problem when a white male wrote a story about her culture's potlach tradition in the context of "stereotypical drunken, dysfunctional Indians." She believed, too, that the story "misrepresented Indigenous ceremonies." As she writes at the end of her essay, articulating the postcolonial view of the oppressed, she feels that:

If you can’t write about us with a love for who we are as a people, what we’ve survived, what we’ve accomplished despite all attempts to keep us from doing so ... then why are you writing about us at all?

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