the letter

So I’ve been dreading writing this all week, because once ~the letter~ happened, I knew I’d have to write about it, even though we’re all so sick of discussing it. But stuff like ~the letter~ is exactly why I started this blog — because I know I have friends/subscribers who probably have no idea what I’m talking about right now, and I want to take a stab at explaining it. So if you are ~extremely online~ please feel free to skip what I’m about to write.

If you have no idea what’s going on — basically a bunch of mostly prominent authors and journalists signed a letter in Harper’s Magazine deriding “cancel culture” — in response to the change many have called for at journalistic institutions and in pop culture since George Floyd was killed. Though they didn’t name any specific incidents, they’re almost certainly referring to incidents such as James Bennet stepping down from the New York Times after publishing an opinion piece from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) calling for the use of military force against protesters — or Bon Appetit’s editor-in-chief stepping down after his staff spoke out about the way he treated people of color — and after a photo of him in brownface resurfaced.

The signees included v. famous people like Margaret Atwood, J.K. Rowling (who continues to make extremely awful transphobic statements), and Gloria Steinem (which tbh was a huge disappointment for me as I finally watched Mrs. America this week and Rose Byrne’s Gloria Steinem is a RADICAL ICON, OKAY).

Here’s part of the letter:

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. 
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The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.

Controversy swirled around the letter immediately — both because of some of the offensive people who signed it (though a lot of the people who signed the letter claimed they didn’t know who else was signing it), and also because the people writing the letter CLEARLY STILL HAVE A VOICE in journalism and the arts, despite the “cancel culture” they write about.

Later in the week, critics fired back with another letter — making the point that the Harpers letter seems to have a problem with the fact that marginalized voices are able to speak out and affect change.

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. What’s perhaps even more grating to many of the signatories is that a critique of their long held views is persuasive. 
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Under the guise of free speech and free exchange of ideas, the letter appears to be asking for unrestricted freedom to espouse their points of view free from consequence or criticism. There are only so many outlets, and while these individuals have the ability to write in them, they have no intention of sharing that space or acknowledging their role in perpetuating a culture of fear and silence among writers who, for the most part, do not look like the majority of the signatories. When they demand debates, it is on their terms, on their turf. 

This topic is really complicated — and there probably can be a legitimate debate about what happens if cancel culture ever goes too far. But what made “the letter” so frustrating was that it took space away from very real problems marginalized communities continue to face every day.

Anyways, I hope this at least shed some light on the conversation for those of you who haven’t been reading about it every day.

what else i’ve been reading:

The New York Times, Intense Arctic Wildfires Set a Pollution Record, by Somini Sengupta

For those of you who’ve known me for a while, you know the environment is usually my biggest topic, and I’ve honestly been very distracted from it since the beginning of the pandemic. Unfortunately, global warming is still happening, and this headline is very scary:

The Arctic is warming at least two and a half times faster than the global average rate. Soils in the region are drier than before. Wildfires are spreading across a large swath. In June, fires released 59 million metric tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide, greater than all the carbon emissions produced by Norway, an oil-producing country, in a year.
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“Higher temperatures and drier surface conditions are providing ideal conditions for these fires to burn and to persist for so long over such a large area,” Mark Parrington, a fire specialist at the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, which issued the report, said in a statement.
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By releasing so much carbon dioxide, the fires are contributing to global warming. And scientists say the fires could also lead to more thawing of Arctic permafrost.

Variety Magazine: Lady A, the Singer, Claims Band ‘Used Wealth and Influence to Bully Me,’ Says ‘Co-Existence Will Not Work’, by Chris Willman

So the band Lady Antebellum changed their name to Lady A after they realized it wasn’t a good thing for their name to glorify the Confederate South. But the problem was that there was already an artist named Lady A, who’s been performing under that name for 30 years. Lady Antebellum apparently trademarked that name in 2010, and have argued that gives them the rights to it. But by rebranding, they’ve essentially erased the actual Lady A, a Black woman. And they’re not backing down, which is a really bad look. Here’s part of Lady A’s statement from this weekend:

Due to Lady Antebellum’s massive rebranding efforts, Lady Antebellum has erased me from every platform. Lady Antebellum has used their wealth and influence to intimidate and bully me into submission without offering any real recompense for appropriating my name. It is now clear that their apologies, friendly texts, and playing on my love of God were just insincere gestures aimed at quieting me. Well, I will not be quiet any longer.
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I will not allow Lady Antebellum to obliterate me and my career so they can look ‘woke’ to their fans.”

what i’ve been listening to:

Emmi Elliot: Spring Summer 2020
Margo Price: That’s How Rumors Get Started
Donna Missal: Lighter
The Beths: Jump Rope Gazers

Hope you all have a good week!