Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that’s your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
Regrettably, I highlighted Junot Díaz’s New Yorker article about his childhood rape here a couple of weeks ago. This week, I’d like to give equal space (and wish I could give more) to the writers who have spoken out about their experiences of harassment and misogynistic treatment by Díaz — Zinzi Clemmons, Carmen Maria Machado, and Monica Byrne among them.
Why do I regret sharing Díaz’s piece? Not just because I gave air space to a man who used his power badly, but because I helped disseminate a story that will be used, is already being used, to create understanding and empathy for his appalling behavior toward women. In that New Yorker piece, Díaz claimed his personal story as one of the wounded; in marketing terms, he controlled his narrative. But let’s be clear: No amount of trouble justifies, excuses, or ameliorates doing harm to others.
On her personal blog, essayist, novelist, and producer Alisa Valdes tells her own Díaz story, which is also a story about how the writing of women, and of women of color, is read — and especially about how the literary establishment grants prestige and power. What it highlights is the full extent to which belief takes the side of the powerful. And the full extent of the damage that does.
Things were hard. Harder than they should have been. People posted about how "crazy" I was. Truly vile and abusive shit. I had become a writer in part because I am an introvert. I never wanted the attention to be on me as a person, only on my writing. But there I was, being dragged through the mud. I was named one of the 25 Most Influential Hispanics in America by Time magazine because of my books, but still could never get a call back from the New Yorker, or the NY Times, when I pitched poems or stories or op-eds. Maybe it was Diaz. Or maybe it was something else. My vagina. My book covers. My lack of an MFA. My honesty. My unwillingness to write in a way that made white liberals feel sorry for me while admiring me.
Kiera Feldman reports the story of a young immigrant who died working what might be one of the hardest and most dangerous jobs in the country: collecting garbage in New York City. After Mouctar Diallo was killed by the truck on which he served as a “third man” — an under-the-table addition to the standard crew — the driver denied knowing Diallo to avoid blame for the death. A heartbreaking and fury-inducing installment in ProPublica’s ongoing coverage of corruption in New York’s garbage industry.
The truth of Mouctar Diallo’s death is that the authorities investigating the accident did not learn that he was a worker on the truck for at least two months, and that when they did, they took no action against the driver and helper who had lied to police. The Business Integrity Commission, the New York City agency charged with oversight of the commercial garbage industry, allowed both the driver and main helper to keep working. The police and Bronx prosecutors closed their investigation with no criminal charges.
I still remember the first time a doctor handed me a tissue, to catch the tears he predicted (wrongly), before telling me what he saw in the back of my eyes. As my sight has degraded less-than-gracefully over the years, my brain compensates. I know what f—k means. I know what “I —ve y—” means. If I can’t see recto and verso together, I can see each in turn. And although my eyes are slowly unlearning how to read — at least, to read as they have for most of my life — there are now so many other ways to read, and write, than on a printed page.
So I appreciate M. Leona Godin’s smart, smart take on attitudes toward e-readers and how that translates when an electronic book is the only kind of book that's accessible. Her new column for Catapult on blindness and writing and reading is more than worth following — great writing “with a badass attitude” (as she describes Jim Knipfel) about how vision impairment affects a life dedicated to words.
This is my point: Blind and print-handicapped readers do not have the luxury of deciding whether they will go old-school and deny the digital age. Braille books and audiobooks have limited publishing potential built-in because of their high production costs, but when it comes to publishing electronically, it’s the attitudes rather than the costs that are limiting.
Actually, let me take a step back. Calling something "science fiction," whether happy or scary, implies it's not real. And it's time to stop thinking about the invasion of our privacy and the decimation of our economies, whether it's by tech giants or simply enabled by them, is the future or a fiction. This is our ordinary now, our daily reality. It's time to start responding like it matters.
Here's a piece by legendary programmer Richard Stallman, someone who knows the industry from the inside out, on the legal and behavioral shifts that need to happen to protect the privacies, political freedoms, and jobs under threat. Great read overall, but if you don’t have time, here’s one thought to walk away with:
Fuck them — there’s no reason we should let them exist if the price is knowing everything about us. Let them disappear. They’re not important — our human rights are important. No company is so important that its existence justifies setting up a police state. And a police state is what we’re heading toward.