March 1, 2019Cold Iron – 197
I ran into this bit of a head-scratcher while surfing through one of my least-favorite news sites, Breitbart.com.
Dickinson College in Pennsylvania published an op-ed in its student newspaper arguing that “white boys” should no longer be “allowed to talk,” due to the lack of melanin in their skin…. The author, Leda Fisher, argues that males who have names such as “Jake, Chad, or Alex” have been taught that their voices are the “most important,” but that after listening to these individuals speak, Fisher has decided that not only do these voices lack value, they should also be silenced.
It is, of course, the sort of piece that a conservative site like Breitbart would revel in and, really, just about anybody should find it funny at least in an offbeat sort of way. It might even be some sort of collegiate spoof but I doubt that. As a white boy, too, who talks a lot, I took it personally enough to give it some serious thought. What I came up with is a bit disturbing; namely, Fisher’s wish might be much more real than she knows, and it doesn’t have to do with just white boys.
As a writer, I generally view my turf as the entirety of humankind, the earth, the seas, the stars, and the infinity of all that exists beyond what we can see. In other words, I’ll write about anything I damn well please because, well, that’s what I’m supposed to do.
But do I?
Have I, in accord, if unknowingly, with Ms. Fisher, already been silenced? Over the years I have, in my fiction, hatched hundreds of plots and situations, and countless characters with a plethora of backgrounds and personality traits. I’ve written about men, women, children, dogs, priests, lawyers, mayors, carpenters, witches; well, it’s a long list. In my nonfiction the story is similar, numerous topics and themes on social, political, and cultural issues. So it seems as though I’ve been pretty uninhibited. And yet …
… in recent years, well, I won’t call it a voice, it’s more like a feeling has begun lurking in the background. It’s nothing as obvious as the time I started writing a story about a Catholic priest arguing with a Muslim imam when suddenly – with a nod to Salman Rushdie – I had visions of somebody issuing a fatwa on this Midwestern iconoclast (I might also have abandoned that story because it just wasn’t very good).
Is that feeling, perhaps, something that has only marginally to do with writers? We live in a society right now so divided that many have been rendered speechless, whether out of fear or out of a desire not to offend. White people dare not say anything about black people because, well, “You’re not black so how would you know?” Heterosexuals dare not say anything about homosexuals because, well, “You’re not gay so how would you know?” Agnostics can’t question evangelicals because evangelicals can only answer from a book the legitimacy of which lies at the heart of the agnostics’ questions. Men dare not speak about women because, well, “What could you possibly know about what women face?” It has been ages since I’ve heard a reasoned conversation about abortion, and of course politics is the third rail that can quickly silence a room full of decent people. So it goes.
As a writer my job is to break through all of that and to try to give voice to those things others feel a need to remain mute about. It’s an important quest and sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail.
For those who aren’t in that kind of position, however, I’m not sure that the quest isn’t the same. I worry that silence is increasingly viewed as the better part of valor – regardless of whether you’re a white boy or not – even though there are so many things going on that need spirited and reasoned conversation. I don’t count, by the way, as “non-silence,” those chat room discussions that have raised drooling irrationality to an art form. That’s cacophony, not conversation.
So Ms. Fisher doesn’t like what she hears and she wants those voices silenced. Presumably she hasn’t gotten to that point in her studies that sketches out the First Amendment so I’ll give her that. Perhaps she sees herself as a young Ann Coulter or Laura Ingraham and thinks that a bit of outrageousness will get her career going. Hey, successful careers have been launched with far less than this bit of op-ed.
My only caveat to her is this: If white boys are the elephants in her dorm room, she’d best not ignore them.
G.K. Wuori ©2019
Photoillustration by the author