Failed Attempt at Turning in My Essay
I clicked on an Electric Literature essay that showed up on my FB timeline. The essay was written by a white woman who was attempting to own how she was complicit when confronted with racism. Imagine my surprise when I saw an entire paragraph of one of my essays quoted and I, the author, was referred to as “a writer you know from Facebook.” The essay ended with a line from my essay. “Where. The. Fuck. Were. You?”
Facing what many believe is shaping up to be a neo-fascist regime, we can expect the suppression of dissent to become a huge issue in the coming years. We should expect this from right- as well as left-leaning politicians and media, who, as we saw during the election, are equally eager to of . One of our jobs as writers concerned with social justice will be protecting the rights of individuals to—much like I did in my essay—criticize and question institutions and their practices. A failure to do so will mean real suffering for the most vulnerable members of society.
This points to perhaps the biggest failure of The Offing’s response: their inability in distinguishing the rights and responsibilities of individuals versus those of institutions, as well as their own power as an institution. Though they are relatively new and run mostly by minorities, they possess power compared to individuals, even though it may be less power than other institutions. The Offing, as an organization, has more power than I do as a writer, and more than Joanna C. Valente and Yasmin Belkhyr, two editors who they called out by name. These actions, instead of righting a perceived injustice, only compounded the very same institutional power I condemned in my essay, by turning it against minorities whose only crime was to voice dissent.I do not mean to use free speech – as so many on the right do – as a cudgel, to attempt to emptily punish The Offing’s editors for taking issue with my words. Rather, I use it to orient us towards our goals as writers concerned with equality. The language of social justice is an important tool in the pursuit of justice and truth, but as Ahmad points out in his essay, when it is used to exclude and silence, it becomes a tool of oppression. This is where criticism—of the kind I sought to partake in with my first essay, and now with this one—comes in.