Story at a glance

  • Hundreds of prominent writers and scholars, many in academia, have signed an open letter “on justice and open debate.”
  • The letter was published a day after author J.K. Rowling, one of the signatories, was criticized over comments about transgender people.
  • At least one signer has since revoked their endorsement of the letter.

In a vacuum, the “Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” published online on Tuesday and intended to run in Harper’s Magazine’s October issue, is about just that. Using passive voice, the letter calls out the “dogma or coercion” of an unnamed community in response to “opposing views.”

“While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture,” says the letter, identifying the authors as part of this group on the other end of the political spectrum — the left. 

But while the letter condemns a general culture of intolerance, public shaming and ostracism, it is not entirely devoid of context. It references the recent protests demanding police reform and racial equality in the wake of George Floyd’s death and Donald Trump’s presidency, which it calls “a real threat to democracy.” And while the letter doesn’t name names, it certainly alludes to them. 

"Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes," said the letter.


MORE FROM CHANGING AMERICA

IDAHO’S CONTROVERSIAL NEW TRANS RIGHTS BILLS FACE LEGAL CHALLENGES

ANTI-GAY GOP LAWMAKER VOTED AGAINST CORONAVIRUS BILL BECAUSE IT ‘REDEFINED FAMILY’

SOUTH CAROLINA COURT STRIKES DOWN LAW BANNING LGTBQ+ SEX ED

SPORTS SAVED MY LIFE. TRANSGENDER ATHLETES SHOULD BE ABLE TO HAVE THAT EXPERIENCE TOO

GAY CONVERSION THERAPY OFFICIALLY BANNED IN VIRGINIA


The letter bears the signatures of 150 writers and authors — although at least one of them has since revoked their support of the letter after all the names were published. 

Boylan was one of several transgender people to sign the letter, which was published one day after another signer, J.K. Rowling, criticized medical treatments for transgender people, which she said were "a new kind of conversion therapy for young gay people."

Some people saw the "Harry Potter" author’s signature as a response to the public criticism she was facing then and had faced in the past for transphobic comments. 

Another signatory, Katha Pollitt, has also been criticized for her exclusion of transgender and gender nonbinary people when defining "women." On Twitter, Pollitt said that signing the letter wasn’t necessarily an endorsement of other signers’ beliefs. 

 

The diverse collection of signatures includes public figures with vastly different histories, from Salman Rushdie — against whom Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini has issued a fatwa calling for his assassination — to Cary Nelson — who once backed the University of Illinois’ decision to deny a job to a scholar active in the Israel boycott movement.


Our country is in a historic fight. Add Changing America to your Facebook or Twitter feed to stay on top of the news.


Some welcomed the letter — especially those who saw themselves as victims of “cancel culture,” or the phenomenon of withdrawing support for public figures in response to objectionable actions or statements.

Markus Meechan, whose Twitter handle is "CountDankulaTV," was widely "cancelled" on social media after posting a video to YouTube where he trained a dog to raise its paw in a Nazi salute to the command “Sieg Heil,” and respond to the phrase "Do you wanna gas the Jews?"

 

On social media, the letter prompted an open debate on cancel culture, with some arguing that it can cause real harm, while others argue that it is a myth. 

 

Either way, the hundreds of posts under the hashtags “CancelCulture” and others reveal a discussion that is alive and kicking. 


BREAKING NEWS ABOUT BLACK LIVES MATTER

PROTESTERS’ DEMANDS TO DEFUND THE POLICE TAKE HOLD

POLICE CHIEF CALLS FOR NATIONAL BAN ON CHOKEHOLDS AFTER GEORGE FLOYD KILLING 

YOU MAY THINK YOU'RE NOT A RACIST. BUT THAT'S NOT ENOUGH

TRUMP DOUBLES DOWN ON ‘HERITAGE’ DEFENSE OF CONFEDERATE STATUES

PROTESTER SUFFERS LIFE-THREATENING INJURIES AFTER CONFEDERATE STATUE FALLS ON HIS HEAD


 

Published on Jul 08, 2020