Don’t Normalize Hate Speech

This morning, as I was looking through the list of quotations that I have gathered over the years for this day, I consciously removed two, both of them lovely and thoughtful sentiments, both of them by writers who have also said and done some things I find inappropriate. One was by Garrison Keillor, the other by J. K. Rowling.

I don’t know what I think about Keillor. The stories make me cringe; they make me angry. As much as I loved the humor of his voice, I have also usually rolled my eyes a bit at his curmudgeonly persona. With the stain on his reputation, I don’t feel like I need his words as part of my holy morning reflections.

I don’t always throw out the writings when I find out that the writer is objectionable. Humans are fallible, and even brilliant thinkers have their blind sides. Some blindnesses are too difficult to ignore, however. When I read Neruda’s piece about the woman he raped, how he didn’t even seem to understand that what he had done was to commit rape, how he described her with the same tender pen he used for the love poetry that made me swoon, I knew I would never return to his words. I no longer read or share his poetry. There’s rot at the heart of that. The same is true for others, for Marion Zimmer Bradley, for Orson Scott Card. On the other hand, I still love, and teach, Shakespeare despite some of his truly objectionable elements.

The one that is bothering me–a lot– right now, is J. K. Rowling. I think it is important to look with a clear eye at her recent tweets about trans people and name the speech what it is: hate speech. It’s couched in lots of attempts to sound open and conciliatory, but she cannot hide her transphobia. Even without any other red flags, this sentence in one of her tweets to try to explain herself is a real kicker: “I know and love trans people, but. . .” Yeah, nothing good ever comes after the “but” in such a sentence. She goes on to defend transphobic restroom laws. She has liked tweets that refer to trans women as “men in dresses.” It feels like I am building a case against her, doesn’t it? It’s just that I don’t want to excuse bigotry or normalize hate speech, and that is a sentence I have stolen from Rowling herself.

Yesterday, I listened to some of the recording of Daniel Radcliffe reading the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I was caught up again in the way she develops the Dursleys in the first few pages of her tale as people who are terrified of difference. She sets up a scenario in which the reader, from the very first moment, feels like this tale is going to be about celebrating the weird people in the cloaks who stand out because they live who they are instead of who a constricting and unimaginative muggle society tells them they should be. That’s the liberating beauty I have found in the Harry Potter books, the deep truth that anyone who has ever felt marginalized for living their truth can hold onto.

As I try to be part of the movement to create a society in which my trans beloveds are not marginalized but are safe and welcome and embraced, I have sought out stories like this. And now it turns out that the author herself is doubling and tripling down on her anti-trans language. Not just flinchy and cringey, but hateful.

Here is the Rowling quote I took out of today’s quote line-up: “We stand together. We stick up for the vulnerable. We challenge bigots. We don’t let hate speech become normalized. We hold the line.” So. I’m holding the line, Ms. Rowling. I will not tolerate your hate speech toward the beloved children of the Universe who are trans and gender fluid. I don’t know what I will do with your books or your movies. Meanwhile, I’m going to seek out other constructed worlds that offer their readers hope and vision for just and loving societies where everyone is safe and welcome and encouraged to live their truth, worlds created by authors who won’t exclude anyone for who they are.

I’m not asking you to give up the HP world. But, if you’re looking for some alternatives to Rowling, try Nnedi Okorafor, N. K. Jemisin, Octavia Butler, Charlie Jane Anders, Ursula K. LeGuin, Starhawk, Madeleine L’Engle, Tamora Pierce. Listen to LeVar Burton reads–he has an absolute treasure trove of authors who question the boxes a dull-witted and authoritarian society wants to place people in. Who else do you suggest?

Gratitude List:
1. Friends who bear with me and help me stumble along as I figure things out.
2. The way good literature offers visions of what we can be.
3. Finishing a project! I’m going to wrap up the prayer shawl today.
4. Oriole still sings in the sycamore every morning, but his call has changed. I think he must be feeding young ones now.
5. I’ve been seeing this sign in images of the BLM protests: “Sorry I’m late. I had some learning to do.” We can change and grow. I can change. You can change. Keep listening. Keep learning!

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!

“You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation.” ―Marian Wright Edelman

“Being considerate of others will take your children further in life than any college degree.” ―Marian Wright Edelman

“It’s still a world with plums in it, my loves, & chamomile & lipstick & cellos. It’s still a world with us in it. Find a hand & hold on.” —Elena Rose

“The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling, and (insofar as it involves love) pleasing and rewarding. Its jobs will be too many to count, too many to report, too many to be publicly noticed or rewarded, too small to make anyone rich or famous.” ―Wendell Berry

”So many of us feel an agonizing longing to contribute something meaningful to the deficits of our time. But years can disappear in the doing of duties, in the never-reaching of rising expectations, in the always-falling-short of proving of one’s enoughness.

“The truth is that if we really want to make an eloquent offering of our lives, we have to step out of that ‘call and response’ relationship with the external world and locate our source of guidance within.

“To hear the rhythm of your indigenous song, to fall in step with the poetry of your unfolding, first there must be a clearing away: a ‘temenos’ of simplicity in which to dwell.

“Strike a holy grove of silence where you can listen as you long to be heard, see as you long to be seen, acknowledge where you long to be relevant, needed and necessary in the ‘family of things’.” ―Dreamwork with Toko-pa

“One is not born into the world to do everything but to do something.”
―Henry David Thoreau

Rumi: “Ours is no caravan of despair.”

“I profess the religion of love wherever its caravan turns along the way; that is the belief, the faith I keep.” ―Asma Kaftaro, UN Women Advisory Board

“Human rights are not things that are put on the table for people to enjoy. These are things you fight for and then you protect.”
―Wangari Maathai

4 thoughts on “Don’t Normalize Hate Speech

  1. Thank you for this wake-up call about hate speech, particularly about Rowling’s anti-trans remarks. I run a tiny non-profit that distributes free books to underserved families in NE WA ( The Harry Potter series is very popular with the folks I serve and I will continue to hand out Rowling’s books, although I’ll never experience the same joy in connecting young people with HP.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. I will keep them in my classroom, too, and engage in discussions with my students who want to talk about HP. The irony is that young people who are trans have found solace in her world of magical difference.


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