[Libs-Or] American Dirt

Tony Greiner tony_greiner at hotmail.com
Fri Feb 7 21:14:32 PST 2020

I said I was going to bow out, but will say this about the term "Social Justice Warrior."  There are some who use it perjoratively, and others who embrace it.  In the entrance to the library I work at are posters from activist groups calling for a rally of "Social Justice Warriors."  I was recently asked to write a letter of recommendation for a student who is applying for a grant to attend a conference of Social Justice Warriors (the term used by the organizers) in Washington DC. The term can be read both ways.  "Liberal" is another term that can be seen as self-descriptive or a perjorative, as can "right-wing." If I had anticipated that my use of the term "Social Justice Warrior" would have clouded my statement of concern about the attacks on this book, I would have phrased it differently. So whitle using the term was a mistake, it was an insult only for people looking for one.

There has been complaints that Cummins, who's father Puerto-Rican, identified herself as white a few years ago, but Hispanic or Latina for this novel, implying she is lying or some sort of hypocrite.  But there are many people who are from Latin-America and call themselves white. Check the census records for Miami if you doubt that.

I stick my point: Writing negative reviews of a book are part of the publishing world. But tearing down "American Dirt" or any book because of the author's skin color is brutish, and an attempt to still future voices. Writers with a Latin-American heritage who think that heritage has limited their careers and readership should speak up and be active. However, attacking another author's work because of her race is something librarians should oppose. It makes me sad that some don't.

**tony_greiner at hotmail.com**

From: Nicholas Schiller <infoliberty at gmail.com>
Sent: Friday, February 7, 2020 11:42 AM
To: Tony Greiner <tony_greiner at hotmail.com>
Cc: libs-or at listsmart.osl.state.or.us <libs-or at listsmart.osl.state.or.us>
Subject: Re: [Libs-Or] American Dirt

Tony, at risk of prolonging this discussion, I can't accept any thanks. As I re-read the posts in all of these threads, a few things become clear to me. First, by addressing you with more respect and politeness than you addressed Latina and other critics, I am participating in the microaggression of treating the perspective of a white man with established professional standing with more respect and politeness than the Latina perspectives being unprofessionally and rudely criticized. I have *reasons* for doing this: e.g., wanting to respect the list-serve audience and make the conversation useful, but I erred and tacitly approved of criticizing the tone of an argument and not its content.

Secondly, this seems obvious to me, but I can't "keep a discussion a discussion" when the thread originally was far too impolite to be called a discussion. The thread begins with a slur towards those who don't share its assumptions calling them "Social Justice Warriors". SJW is often used as a way to ignore the intellectual content of a position and instead criticize the tone or the stridency with which the position is communication. It's also used as a misogynist way to ignore the intellectual content of an argument and thus dismiss it as only emotion or the act of an unthinking mob. It is demonstrable and obvious that the reviewers and critics, even ones who chose to expose their anger, based their critique in reasons and justifications. Calling negative reviews "attacks", calling critics "social justice warriors", and calling the popularity of these views a "mob" are all rhetorical techniques that dismiss the intellectual content of their arguments while drawing attention to their tone, their gender, and their ethnicity. I don't think any of these rhetorical techniques have a place in a list-serve conversation. At best they are microaggressions, at worst they are straight-forward tactics of white-supremacy. Finally, by ignoring the words written in the negative reviews and complaints and instead mis-attributing their motivations to simple racial antagonism, the thread began as more of a scolding than a discussion.

So, if by responding in a restrained and civil manner I have cooperated in further marginalizing the voices of these Latina critics and their allies, then I have erred greatly. To be fair, I believe the voice, tone, and stridency of Myriam Gurba's critical review you shared is appropriate for it's context (a blog--or historiography for the masses.) These are things that are worth getting angry about. From what I have read, both here and in other places, the core of the problem is found in ignoring, marginalizing, or stealing the words and thoughts of Latina thinkers and replacing them with the voices of people empowered by the status quo. There's a real risk that I could do that here, so I want to take care to explicitly avoid doing that. My tone does not make my arguments any better.

This list-serve may not be the best place to continue the conversation, but as a middle-aged cishet white man with tenure, I can expect my words to be given more credence than they deserve based on their merits. I want to make sure I'm not furthering the harm already done by ignoring the intellectual content of Flatiron's critics and focusing instead on the tone and how they are expressed. Maybe on a list-serve the righteous anger is expressed as sub-text, but it is real and deserves to be noticed and respected.

The core problem here appears to be ignoring one set of perspectives and replacing them with another, more comfortable set. I don't want my echoing of the Latina opinions I have read to replace their original (and superior) expression.

On Thu, Feb 6, 2020 at 5:17 PM Tony Greiner <tony_greiner at hotmail.com<mailto:tony_greiner at hotmail.com>> wrote:

I want to thank Nicholas Schiller for keeping the discussion as a discussion, instead of participating in attacks on me personally. But I want to add one more bit in response to his latest post. To quote him: "There appears to be no reason to label negative reviews of the book as "attacks." People are allowed to have negative opinions about author's work. There does not appear to by any valid justification to support the claims that a white author is being silenced. (at least none that have been offered in this list-serve thread)."

It was my mistake not to share links to some of those attacks on Cummins personally, and statements that white people should not write about any other race.  Here is one, an essay by Myriam Gurba that demonstrates both of those things, and in a particularily nasty way.

Pendeja, You Ain't no Steinbeck: My Bronca with Fake-Ass Social Justice Literature.<https://tropicsofmeta.com/2019/12/12/pendeja-you-aint-steinbeck-my-bronca-with-fake-ass-social-justice-literature/>

Since much of the online discussion of the "American Dirt" controversy has degenerated into name-callling and ficticious biographies of my life, I'm not going to participate publically anymore.  I have a pretty thick skin, but I think I have made my point, and doubt that many people other than the participants are reading these anymore.

**tony_greiner at hotmail.com<mailto:tony_greiner at hotmail.com>**
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