I submitted this letter to the editor of Open Shelf after this column was published last week. If you felt similarly after reading it, perhaps you’ll also consider leaving a comment on the column, or writing to the editor yourself. Heck, you can copy this text if you like. Twitter commentary doesn’t always reach the people who need to read it.
I like to think that this is an old fashioned “Letter to the Editor” and I do hope this is going to be treated as such and read by the Editor-in-Chief/editorial board of this publication.
With regards to the latest iteration of the Safe Spaces column, I am writing to implore the Open Shelf Editorial Board to consider discontinuing this series in its current form. In the inaugural column, I made a comment suggesting that perhaps diverse voices would be considered and offered a platform as these incredibly difficult topics were explored. With the most recent Race and Privilege piece that was published, I am dismayed to see that this suggestion was not taken under advisement and given the response to it that I have seen, hope that it will now be seriously considered.
Race and privilege are difficult topics. The author, as well intentioned as he may be, has shown that he does not have a solid grasp of the nuance of this subject. The column seems like an unfinished outline with half formed thoughts, quotes dropped without context or analysis, and a random assortment of events from the past, present and the authors own life thrown together without a coherent argument being made about any of it. Furthermore, the overall tone is one of incredulity and condescension: the use of quotes around certain terms suggest disbelief, the misinterpretation of microaggressions is curious given that there is a definition of it linked in the document itself, and the inclusion of a poll on the usefulness of white fragility as a concept on the website as this was published – suggesting that the author felt that its utility is, indeed, in question. In short, this column was poorly written, lacked a coherent argument/analysis, betrayed a lack of understanding of the concepts by the author and really should not have been published in the state that it was. It read as though it was written for a white audience, assuming that these concepts were up for debate or used simply as provocations to get white people thinking. And we sit by and wonder why our profession is so white.
I urge the editorial board to give serious consideration to this critique, and those that were voiced on Twitter. Words matter. And columns written about race and privilege have enormous potential to cause harm if not written carefully, thoughtfully and – crucially – by those whose very lives are effected by them every day. If a person does not rely on or require safe spaces, they should really consider whether or not they are the right ones to write about them.