Or, what can be learned from my racist hate mail?
The only way out is through.
That has, for better or worse, become something of a mantra for me over the past few years. Whether it’s my gradual realization (and eventual diagnosis) of my neurodivergence, the mood disorders that I struggled with, or, most importantly, the way I tried to pretend I hadn’t been deeply harmed by racism (even while not being poor), it all ends up in my scholarship. There are willing participants in my research, but as a writer, I pretty much always write about the way I experience the world, yet I honestly think that’s what every writer is doing — the only difference is whether or not they’re honest about it.
Last weekend, I participated in a livestream for an offshoot of the British Council, a video of which you can see here if you’d like. We were basically talking about a lot of the ideas you’ve read in my work if you’ve been following me, particularly aspects of whiteness and language teaching, and overall, we received extremely positive feedback. Several thousand people have apparently watched the livestream by now, and I plan to do it again in the future.
Two people didn’t like it, though. One was a woman who sadly appeared to be Black, and who commented during the stream that “diversity in language teaching isn’t necessary.” We sort of tore her a new one, and frankly it was fun getting to really dig into why the work I do matters. I figured that was the end of it, and I encouraged people to email me if they wanted to discuss the issues further. That may have been a mistake.
A couple days later, I got an anonymous email from someone calling themselves “Leftenant Dan,” and, well. Brace yourself, I’m just going to post the email here (with only the slurs edited slightly, though they weren’t edited in my inbox).
“First off, you aren’t even fucking black. Next off, if you dare talk about ‘ending whiteness’ one more fucking time, you sick racist fake(n-word), I’m going to walk on over and ‘end your jaw’ with a swift fucking cracking KO that will leave you slurring like a real (n-word) for the rest of your fucking miserable life. Do this: go enter yourself into a permanent mental asylum before you get yourself or others hurt, you dumb fcking crybully.
I told the guy who organized the event, he was outraged and contacted the email server, the email server shut down the guy’s account, whatever. I’m not worried about him and the bridge he lives under. I’m a writer and I like to talk about racism so let’s talk about it. It’s data, goddamn it.
Let’s start at the beginning.
“First off, you aren’t even fucking black.”
So, this guy saw my livestream, and clearly saw my face, but he says this. Based on what he says after this, the only thing I can conclude is that he thinks I’m too “articulate” to fit his conception of Blackness. If anyone doubts the reality of raciolinguistic ideologies…
“Next off, if you dare talk about ‘ending whiteness’ one more fucking time…”
Okay, he’s British (“next off”). I never said ‘ending whiteness’ on the livestream, because I knew it was a less radical audience than my twitter followers, so, he’s just making shit up. But, let’s be clear, whiteness is the cause of this guy, so whiteness can go.
“…you sick racist fake(n-word), I’m going to walk on over and ‘end your jaw’ with a swift fucking cracking KO that will leave you slurring like a real (n-word) for the rest of your fucking miserable life.”
That’s not a typo on my part by the way. He spelled it “faken — -er” without a space. Never seen that one before. It’s a new one.
Anyway, this is the key. This is the key. Yes, there’s a threat in there (why ‘end your jaw’ is in quotes I do not understand), but who cares. “Slurring like a real n — -er” is the crux of this analysis. This man’s ideology is such that Black languaging is classified as worthless and unintelligible. It’s the same nonsense that leads to defense attorneys trying to claim that George Floyd said “I ate too many drugs.” We are not allowed to speak clearly and forthrightly in this guy’s mind, and to do so is to become a “faken — -er.”
“Do this: go enter yourself into a permanent mental asylum before you get yourself or others hurt, you dumb fcking crybully.”
I have no idea why he censored “fcking” there. But, anyway, just for good measure he calls me mentally ill.
Language, race, and dis/ability, all together. I wish someone I knew based their entire body of work around that intersection…
My only possible conclusion is… this man has given me a gift! No, really.
I am writing a book that argues that language variety, racialization, and the conceptualization of dis/ability are all intertwined and positioned as pathologies subordinate to whiteness, and here comes this guy to prove my point. What a wonderful present this man has given me! When they send me my manuscript back for editing, this is going right in the text. I know right where to put it too. It’s going to end up in presentations and on the podcast and of course it’s right here in the article.
Was I scared? I mean, I considered being scared, and of course, white nationalists are terrifying sometimes, but this is clearly some useless troll who isn’t even in the same country as I am. Hell, most of the people who watched the livestream were in far-flung locales (India was the number one country), so he’s probably a white EFL teacher who can’t handle the fact that he’s not qualified for his job.
I’m making jokes here, because it’s funny, but I want to be clear that this sort of nonsense just isn’t something certain scholars have to deal with. I’m using it as data, as fuel, but although I’m glad I can do that, I shouldn’t have to. Of course, my entire scholarly career shouldn’t need to exist considering what I write about, so I guess, if I’m going to be out in the public, some folks aren’t going to like it, and if this is going to be part of it, then the only way to deal with it is to address it head on.
This man was clearly threatening me to try to get me to shut up, and you all know quite well this is just going to make me louder. Big mistake, buddy.
So, thanks, guy. I’m never going to run of fuel at this rate.
Keep talking, people. They can’t stop us.