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Humanist Archives: Aug. 11, 2020, 9:13 a.m. Humanist 34.224 - vox populi

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 224.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
                Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org

    [1]    From: Willard McCarty 
           Subject: vox populi (44)

    [2]    From: James Rovira 
           Subject: Warsame's essay and Gabriel's response (11)

    [3]    From: Matthew Kirschenbaum 
           Subject: Humanist (23)

    [4]    From: Douglas Knox 
           Subject: seminars, conversations, and bigotry (62)

    [5]    From: Ashley Reed 
           Subject: Egan, Tovey-Walsh, and Walcott on the Humanist list (35)

    [6]    From: Amy Earhart 
           Subject: Censorship (37)

    [7]    From: Katherine Harris 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 34.220: memory & bigotry (24)

    [8]    From: Rianna Walcott 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 34.220: memory & bigotry (32)

    [9]    From: Tassie Gniady 
           Subject: Gabriel Egan’s Screed (22)

    [10]    From: Bethan Tovey-Walsh 
           Subject: Re: your note to Humanist (57)

        Date: 2020-08-11 07:18:59+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty 
        Subject: vox populi

Dear colleagues,

Many thanks to those who have written to me with their wake-up calls, 
some of which follow, to express their disappointment over my mistaken
decisions, first to circulate the provocative message on Warsame's essay
(34.220), then to hold back the initial objections to it. My apologies
to all, especially to those whose voices were silenced.

Allow me first to explain, then to propose. Long-ago experience during
Humanist's first years taught me two important lessons. The first
was that inflamatory postings pose a Holmesian clear and present danger 
to the kind of discussion Humanist was created to foster. Clearly I didn't 
learn that one well enough and over-reacted when I realised that a fire 
had been lit. The second lesson was that the voice of this people can be 
a far better guide than whatever I may think is wisdom. (I set up Humanist
originally to be an instrument of revolution, to give the untenured and
untenurable a voice against the establishment; then the senior academics
came knocking and woke me up to larger possibilities.)

I say 'this' people pointedly, for without the collegial care
characteristic of you all in helping to maintain a healthy discourse,
to maintain the right sort of decorum, Humanist will quickly come to
naught. Faith in this people -- I hope fervently not naïve -- brings me
to my proposal: that I do not stand in the way of such deep concerns as 
have been voiced in the voices I cut off. I strongly suggest one condition 
to this expanded scope, apart from care always to respect those with whom 
we disagree. That condition is relevance to digital humanities as a subject 
of enquiry. The connection between subject and society is, to paraphrase 
Kathy Harris (below), that algorithms are not pure, timelessly ideal, 
culturally neutral expressions but are as we are.

Comments welcome. And wish me a good morning, if you can.


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/),
Professor emeritus, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
London; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
(www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20) and Humanist (www.dhhumanist.org)

        Date: 2020-08-11 06:51:36+00:00
        From: James Rovira 
        Subject: Warsame's essay and Gabriel's response

I think it's irresponsible and dishonest to post the initial post but
not allow any response to it.

You need to send my post through or drop me from the list. I respect
your choice either way, but it's not up for discussion.



        Date: 2020-08-11 06:44:46+00:00
        From: Matthew Kirschenbaum 
        Subject: Humanist

Dear Willard,

I'll keep this short, since I know you have a busy inbox. I am very
disappointed over your recent decision to censor two messages posted to
the listserv (both, incidentally, are circulating and have been widely
read by other means, so the decision has produced a textbook instance of
the Streissand effect).

In any case, Humanist should not be a place that shys away from
difficult ideas or styles some topics too sensitive to bear discussion
in a global community of professional adults. It was the wrong call, and
I hope you act to make it right. Best, Matt

Matthew Kirschenbaum
Professor of English and Digital Studies
Director, Graduate Certificate in Digital Studies
Printer's Devil, BookLab
University of Maryland

        Date: 2020-08-11 06:17:29+00:00
        From: Douglas Knox 
        Subject: seminars, conversations, and bigotry


I've been subscribed to Humanist for more than 15 years. The highlight
for me has often been reading your seminar-like gambits where you toss
something out and see if a thoughtful discussion can get started.

Gabriel Egan's reply to your quotation from Khalid Warsame on memory
struck me immediately as racist in a way that I'm not used to seeing.
I'm reluctant to accuse anyone of being racist. I know Egan's name; he's
a senior person and part of the community. It's not my temperament to
want to catch people out. Generous readings are so much better than
ungenerous ones.

But that post kept bugging me, and it bothered me that I didn't see any
continuation of the conversation. Eventually it bothered me enough that
I read Khalid Warsame's essay myself. I thought I'd see if I could try
reading with generosity to both Warsame and to Egan and learn something
one way or another.

Warsame's essay is personal, thoughtful, generous, and complex, and
conflicted as human memories and human histories are. It's definitely
more essay than manifesto. Reading it showed me starkly how hard Egan
had to work to *not* read with generosity, to pluck and twist a handful
of words from an intelligent meditation on personal and historical
memory and remove all self-awareness and irony in order to be able to
make a flat accusation of bigotry.

Intellectually Egan didn't accomplish much of anything by his post;
certainly nothing relevant to your initial post nor to the themes of
Humanist. Dialogically, however, Egan quite effectively shut things down
by making the price of further conversation some kind of engagement with
how he had chosen to frame his politics of bigotry. I can well imagine
voices that /would/ have something to say on Humanist who decide that
this forum isn't for them unless they want to gird for that kind of
battle — or that they won't be welcome because they see how the battle
has been decided.

I'm personally highly conflict-averse and don't want to volunteer to
denounce anyone. But I don't want to read evidently racist posts on
Humanist and see them go unchallenged, in such a way that the closing of
discussion looks like confirmation that racism and pre-emption of more
generous engagement really must have been the point. I would not have
thought this community was like that.

Your position is not an easy one, because your judgments and guidance do
matter, and at the same time of course you're certainly not in charge of
what everyone brings to a conversation nor where everyone wants a
conversation to go.

For several years I've mostly avoided Twitter as a regular destination.
But today I searched Twitter for "Humanist listserv" just to see if I
was alone, or if others were bothered by Egan's post as much as I was.
On Twitter, a platform with many faults, I did find out that I am not alone.

Best wishes to you.

Doug Knox

        Date: 2020-08-11 06:16:59+00:00
        From: Ashley Reed 
        Subject: Egan, Tovey-Walsh, and Walcott on the Humanist list

Dear Dr. McCarty,

As a longtime subscriber to the Humanist list, I am writing to express
my disappointment with your choice, as moderator, to approve Dr. Gabriel
Egan's missive about "anti-white racism" while rejecting pertinent
responses from Dr. Bethan Tovey-Walsh and Rianna Walcott.

While I sympathize with your desire to prevent list discussions from
veering off-topic, you did approve Dr. Egan's message, which was
unrelated to the digital humanities and which in fact ignored the
excerpt from Warsame's essay that you originally drew readers' attention
to. It was only after that point that racism apparently became an
inappropriate topic for discussion. By rejecting Dr. Tovey-Walsh's and
Ms. Walcott's responses you have left Dr. Egan's comments unchallenged
and given the false impression that they were uncontroversial. The
effect is that you have signaled to subscribers that Humanist is, in
fact, an appropriate place for discussing anti-white racism (an
imaginary phenomenon) but not for discussing anti-black racism (a very
real and dangerous one). You cannot claim to be keeping Humanist free
from debates about racism while simultaneously choosing whom to amplify
on the subject and whom to silence.

At this point I think you have the responsibility as moderator to either
1) apologize for approving Dr. Egan's post, since it was outside the
purview of Humanist or 2) approve Dr. Tovey-Walsh's and Ms. Walcott's
messages, perhaps with a note that, as moderator, you are now closing
the subject and will reject future messages on the subject of racism.

Thank you for your time.

Respectfully, Dr. Ashley Reed
Assistant Professor, Department of English
Virginia Tech

        Date: 2020-08-10 21:17:44+00:00
        From: Amy Earhart 
        Subject: Censorship


I am very disappointed to learn that the Humanist listserv is censoring academic
discussion regarding the August 8 post by Gabriel Egan.  If a scholar sends such
a commentary to an academic listserv, that scholar is inviting commentary and
discussion. Beyond the issue of censorship, the post itself plays on racist
tropes—“anti-white racism.” As a scholar who works in critical race studies and
digital humanities, this post needs to be responded to, as there are numerous
points that are made that are refuted by current scholarship.  To not allow
scholars to respond to such a charge is to condone such racism. I expect better
of my academic communities. You might think that by shutting down conversation
that you are making the listserv nicer or maintaining harmony. Instead, by
publishing this email without response you have made many of us feel excluded
and unwelcome. You are telling us that the Humanist community agrees and
condones this, as there is no opposing view offered. Surely the Humanist
listserv is a place that all should be welcome.

I would hope that you either allow discussion of this email or publicly
apologize for posting it and condoning censorship. I expect better of such a
longstanding listserv.

Amy Earhart

Amy Earhart  (she/her/hers)
Associate Professor
LAAH 469
Department of English
399 Spence Street
Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas 77843-4227 USA
979 862 3038


        Date: 2020-08-10 15:36:12+00:00
        From: Katherine Harris 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 34.220: memory & bigotry

I'm somewhat disconcerted by this post. But, more disconcerted by the
censorship of responses to this post by Willard in an effort to create some
form of disingenuous harmony that allows this harmful post to remain in the
archives and without response from the Humanist-L cadre of subscribers.

Willard? The scholars who responded to this deserve a voice on this
listserv and to be recorded to this objectionable post within the archives
of Humanist-L.

In addition, if we are to work to truly change the world, then the topics
of our conversations are going to veer into the political landscape.
Moderation should evolve with this, but not allowing for responses means
valuing only those voices that seem to create power structures (still,
white, still male).

After all, in Digital Humanities, we must deal with the fact that
algorithms can be racist, right? Is this topic, then, not already part of
the required conversations that we need to be engaging in?

See: http://linguacelta.com/blog/2020/08/Humanist.html


        Date: 2020-08-10 10:51:37+00:00
        From: Rianna Walcott 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 34.220: memory & bigotry

Dear Gabriel et al,

I was quite surprised and uncomfortable to see this worrying take here. It reeks
of the patronising "we gave you railroads, didn't we?" argument, that is always
used to close discussions of the evils of colonialism. When the British left the
railroads, and the planes, what did they take? Do you think it was an even
trade? Do you understand that we are all still feeling the ramifications of that
historical theft?

To be a white, male, established professor and bemoaning 'anti-white racism' is
tone-deaf at best, and Britain *should* be embarrassed about centuries of
colonialism. To use your university, and city, and this country as an example of
how the victims of colonialism are also beneficiaries is uncomfortable.

In the midst of a hostile environment, following the Windrush scandal, amidst
recent increased Black lives matter protests, following the Leading Routes
report that identifies Black students as the recipients of just 1.2% of UKRI
funding, and myself as a Black Caribbean student as one of just THIRTY funded
students, out of nearly 20,000 candidates? And with less than 30 Black female
professors UK wide? Less than 100 Black men? Which Britain (land of
opportunity!) are you looking at?

The tone here was alarming, and only reinforces the alienation I've felt since I
set foot in the university. The chasm between myself and senior white academics
widens, rather than closes. As a Black PhD student I felt moved to respond, and
I must say I wish someone more senior, in a less precarious academic position,
had felt moved to respond before I did.


        Date: 2020-08-11 07:36:39+00:00
        From: Tassie Gniady 
        Subject: Gabriel Egan’s Screed

I’m disappointed that Gabriel Eagan’s screed on “anti-white racism” 
hasn’t been the subject of rebuttal because those rebuttals have been 
denied posting.

As you must surely know, there is no such thing as anti-white racism 
because we are the hegemonic power.

That said, given the status of race relations in the United States and 
the way in which the movement has spread around the globe, I’m saddened 
to see this misplaced posting go unremarked upon. Silence is complicity.

I know that I am not an active poster to humanist, but I have been on 
this list for almost 20 years. I still sit down every Friday to catch up 
with the community. I dislike the notion that we can’t acknowledge our 
mistakes, especially when we’re are at such a delicate moment that may 
actually help redefine race relations.


        Date: 2020-08-11 07:40:10+00:00
        From: Bethan Tovey-Walsh 
        Subject: Re: your note to Humanist

Dear Willard,

Thank you for contacting me about this. I appreciate your concerns, and 
sympathize with the difficult line you must tread in keeping the 
Humanist list on track.

However, if avoiding inflammatory topics was the aim, Gabriel’s post 
should never have reached the list. I avoided accusing him of racism in 
my response, since such accusations do nothing to facilitate calm 
discussion, but the content of his post used numerous racist talking 
points (chief amongst them the trope of “anti-white racism”), along with 
being intellectually dishonest in numerous ways.

If you are unwilling to let list members respond in the same forum in 
which Gabriel’s screed was posted (an unwillingness which I understand 
entirely), I would urge you instead to post an official statement with 
the following content:

a) an apology that Gabriel’s post was allowed to go out to the list;

b) an affirmation that racist (and other bigoted) tropes and talking 
points are utterly unacceptable on Humanist;

c) a clear outline of the list’s intended response to those who post 
bigoted content.

Point c) would also entail some kind of warning to Gabriel that he will 
be banned if he posts racist content again.

If Gabriel’s post is allowed to sit unchallenged, this both suggests 
that such content is acceptable for Humanist, and leaves list members 
thinking that nobody else wished to speak against it. There are, no 
doubt, many list members who would not feel confident in challenging a 
senior academic, and some of those will be people of colour; it would be 
immoral to leave them with the impression that nobody cares to stand up 
on their behalf.

I am grateful for the Humanist list; it provides a wealth of content 
that is both useful and enjoyable. However, if there is both no official 
response condemning Gabriel, and continued censorship of posts 
criticising his message, I will have no choice but to unsubscribe.

I look forward to hearing from you once you have reached a decision as 
to your next steps.



Dr. Bethan Tovey-Walsh

Myfyrwraig PhD | PhD Student CorCenCC 
Prifysgol Abertawe | Swansea University

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