By now the allegations of sexual misconduct made against Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz have been extensively reported on. Earlier in the month, several women in the literary world made allegations against Diaz, claiming improper sexual advances and various forms of bullying.
Yet, a new layer to the story emerged this week. On Monday, a group of academics has seemingly come to Diaz defense. Author Rebecca Walker and some two dozen educators from Harvard, Stanford and other schools are protesting what they characterize as a “media-harassment campaign” against the Pulitzer Prize winning author.
In a letter to the editor published Monday on the website of The Chronicle of Higher Education, the signatories cited “at times uncritical” coverage of sexual misconduct against Diaz.
In the letter, the signatories say they don’t dismiss the allegations, but worry about a “sensationalist” portrait of the author, one that reinforces stereotypes of blacks and Latinos as sexual predators especially in the current #MeToo Movement. They also contend that the discussion rules out such external factors as racism and colonialism. Read the letter in full here.
To the Editor:
We write in deep concern over the ways in which the press and those on social media have turned tweets made against Junot Díaz into trending topics and headlines in major newspapers both inside and outside the United States. The (at times uncritical) reception and repetition of the charges have created what amounts to a full-blown media-harassment campaign. They have led to the characterization of the writer as a bizarre person, a sexual predator, a virulent misogynist, an abuser, and an aggressor. Within less than 24 hours after the tweets, scholars and writers called for a boycott of the Pulitzer Prize winner and for his withdrawal from Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation.
We do not intend to dismiss current or future accusations of misconduct by Díaz or any other person. We also acknowledge the negative and disturbing effects of verbally or psychologically aggressive acts or toxic relations on the women who experience them. Rather, our concern is with the sensationalist register in which the media and some social-media users have portrayed the accusations of misconduct leveled against the Latino author. We are further concerned that very different forms of gender violence have been presented as having equal impact, as devoid of nuance, and as unrelated to other sites of violence such as race, class, migration status, and ethnicity. The resulting characterization of Díaz as a dangerous and aggressive sexual predator from whom all women must be protected reinforces racist stereotypes that cast Blacks and Latinxs as having an animalistic sexual “nature.” These are the same stereotypes that lead to the sexual objectification of Black and Latinx women, and to the stigmatization and physical punishment of Black and Latino men.
The tweets against Junot Díaz are being framed as part of the #MeToo movement. We are aware that the platform created by #MeToo is an essential resource for women as we seek to protect ourselves in a sexist society that promotes violent behaviors against women and girls. #MeToo has opened many doors in the United States for women to demand justice and expose predators and predatory behavior. It has been effective precisely because it is changing the culture of communication on which these behaviors thrive.
We must work to safeguard the necessary platform of the #MeToo movement as it grows. We must ensure it does not become another way for the media, including social media, to create a spectacle out of a single person.
We envision a #MeToo movement that doesn’t become another form of monitoring women and their choices — which may include questioning the toxic environment normalized by the platform’s communicational dynamics. When critical voices are held back for fear of social-media shaming, or the possibility of repercussions in our professional or social environments, we are caught within another form of violence that has affected women for centuries: silencing. The issue at hand is not whether or not one believes Díaz, or his accusers, but whether one approves the use of media to violently make a spectacle out of a single person while at the same time cancelling out the possibility of disagreement about the facts at hand, or erasing a sustained attention to how the violence of racial hatred, structural poverty, and histories of colonialism extend into the most intimate spaces.
This letter is an invitation to a critical conversation for all, including the men who may or may not be accused, who are interested in justice beyond the spectacle of punishment afforded by press and internet-led public shaming.
We look forward to engaging in an open, reflective, and constructive conversation.
Aisha Beliso de Jesús, Professor of African American Religions, Harvard Divinity School
Cristina Beltrán, Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University
Laura Catelli, Professor of Latin American Art, Universidad Nacional de Rosario, CONICET, Argentina
Elena Creed, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, Wellesley College
Mabel Cuesta, Associate Professor of US Latino and Caribbean Literature, and Creative Writing, University of Houston
Arlene Dávila, Professor of Anthropology and American Studies, New York University
Zaire Dinzey, Associate Professor of Sociology and Latino/a and Caribbean Studies, Rutgers University
Coco Fusco, Professor and the Banks Preeminence Chair in Art, University of Florida
Lorgia García-Peña, Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and History and Literature, Harvard University
Daily Guerrero-Brito, Fellow at The Door — A Center for Alternatives
Sharina Maillo-Pozo, Assistant Professor of Languages, Literatures & Cultures Latin American and Caribbean Studies, SUNY New Paltz
Sophie Maríñez, Associate Professor of French and Spanish, Borough of Manhattan Community College (CUNY)
Linda Martín Alcoff, Professor of Philosophy, Hunter college
Paula Moya, Professor of English, Stanford University
Vanessa Perez-Rosario, Associate Professor of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies, Brooklyn College
Gina Perez, Professor of Comparative American Studies, Oberlin College
Dixa Ramírez, Assistant Professor of Caribbean and Latinx Literature, American Studies and Ethnicity, Race and Migration, Yale University
Ana Ramos-Zayas, Professor of American Studies, Ethnicity, Race, and Migration and Gender and Sexuality, Yale University
Danzy Senna, Associate Professor of Creative Writing and English, University of Southern California
Milagros Ricourt, Professor of Latin American, Latino, and Puerto Rican Studies, Lehman College
Juana María Rodríguez, Professor of Ethnic Studies, University of California at Berkeley
Chandra Talpade Monhanty, Distinguished Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Dean’s Professor of the Humanities, Syracuse University
Jacqueline Villarrubia-Mendoza, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Colgate University
Helena Maria Viramontes, Professor of Creative Writing and English, Cornell University
Rebecca Walker, Author
Patricia Zavella, Professor Emerita, Latin American and Latino Studies, University of California at Santa Cruz