To mostly white, cisgender people

A letter in response to the letter.

On Tuesday, 153 of the most prominent journalists, authors, and writers, including J. K. Rowling, Malcolm Gladwell, and David Brooks, published an open call for civility in Harper’s Magazine

First sentence; doesn’t bode well. Badly written. “the most” out of what?

Plus the 153 didn’t publish the letter, of course, they signed it. Big difference.

So from the very first sentence we know we’re dealing with sloppy writing and weak grasp of the facts.

The signatories, many of them white, wealthy, and endowed with massive platforms, argue that they are afraid of being silenced, that so-called cancel culture is out of control, and that they fear for their jobs and free exchange of ideas, even as they speak from one of the most prestigious magazines in the country.

The people in question are not endowed with platforms. The platforms are not an inheritance or a gift. They have them because of popularity or skill or both – usually both, because popularity in writing requires some kind of skill, even if not a particularly admirable one. David Brooks, for instance – he’s a signer, and I have never been able to figure out why he is such a hot ticket when he is so complacently dull, but he is. He must have a skill at appealing to media gatekeepers who like complacent dullness of his type.

In reality, their argument alludes to but does not clearly lay out specific examples, and undermines the very cause they have appointed themselves to uphold.

Say the people writing a letter in response, who have appointed themselves to do so. This snide accusation of self-appointing is just silly. We all appoint ourselves whenever we say anything, deal with it.

In truth, Black, brown, and LGBTQ+ people — particularly Black and trans people — can now critique elites publicly and hold them accountable socially; this seems to be the letter’s greatest concern.

Oh look who’s being left out; what a surprise.

The writers of the letter use seductive but nebulous concepts and coded language to obscure the actual meaning behind their words, in what seems like an attempt to control and derail the ongoing debate about who gets to have a platform. They are afforded the type of cultural capital from social media that institutions like Harper’s have traditionally conferred to mostly white, cisgender people.

Oops, you did it again!

While the Harper’s letter is couched in the events of the last few weeks, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

Ok this is one reason some people get platforms and others don’t. You have to know how to use the word “couch” correctly. I know it seems arbitrary, but I don’t make the rules.

Rowling, one of the signers, has spouted transphobic and transmisogynist rhetoric, mocking the idea that trans men could exist, and likening transition-related medical care such as hormone replacement therapy to conversion therapy. She directly interacts with fans on Twitter, publishes letters littered with transphobic rhetoric, and gets away with platforming violent anti-trans speakers to her 14 million followers.

Rowling “gets away with”…with what now? Platforming speakers to her followers? How can you “platform” someone on Twitter? Do they mean quote, cite, link to, talk to? Are they saying she shouldn’t be allowed to do that – shouldn’t “get away with” it? Yes, no doubt they are. She “spouts,” you see, she “litters,” she mustn’t “get away with it.”

Jesse Singal, another signer, is a cis man infamous for advancing his career by writing derogatorily about trans issues. In 2018, Singal had a cover story in The Atlantic expressing skepticism about the benefits of gender-affirming care for trans youth.

But what if he’s right? What if it really is not a great idea for teenagers to make radical changes to their bodies before their brains have fully developed? What if that is not “anti-trans” but pro-safety? What if skepticism about the benefits of drugs and surgeries is not hostile or malevolent but genuine concern and alarm? What if, even, it’s not wrong or anti-trans to argue that drastic changes to the body shouldn’t be necessary for people to have whatever personality and self-presentation they like?

The signatories call for a refusal of “any false choice between justice and freedom.” It seems at best obtuse and inappropriate, and at worst actively racist, to mention the ongoing protests calling for policing reform and abolition and then proceed to argue that it is the signatories who are “paying the price in greater risk aversion.” It’s particularly insulting that they’ve chosen now, a time marked by, as they describe, “powerful protests for racial and social justice,” to detract from the public conversation about who gets to have a platform. 

Now there I agree with them. I flatly disagree with that part of the letter.

Its conclusion however…

The intellectual freedom of cis white intellectuals has never been under threat en masse, especially when compared to how writers from marginalized groups have been treated for generations. In fact, they have never faced serious consequences — only momentary discomfort. 

Uh…Stalin’s USSR? Mussolini’s Italy? Hitler’s Deutschland? Occupied France? Quisling’s Norway? The postwar US? Greece under the colonels? Pinochet’s Chile?

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