By now, you’ve certainly heard about the sexual misconduct allegations against the author and VONA co-founder, Junot Diaz. I don’t think my opinion is important enough to put on blast, so I’m actually going to leave out how I feel about him and his work. But my thought after I first read the tweets was, “What do we do with this?”
I appreciate Zinzi Clemmons for coming forward with her story. I know it must have been one of the most difficult things in the world to do. It’s not often these days that women of color are believed when we report things like this, so I’m glad that we’ve evolved enough as a society to have immediately listened to what she had to say and to believe her.
But I think part of the reason why we believed her without question was that Junot is well known in the literary industry for being his own type of jerk. I didn’t have him as a workshop instructor at VONA, but I went to a session he led, and he was very straightforward, commanding of our attention, and carried a sense that he knew all. Sitting in that session, I told myself that if I applied to work with him at a future VONA, I’d have to stock up on thick skin and probably call my therapist for a session while I was at VONA instead of waiting til I got home the following week.
In short, his attitudes and behaviors were not a secret, they just hadn’t been brought to the attention of the American public.
Knowing all of this, I was stuck when I read Zinzi’s tweet. I couldn’t say, “OMG, no way, that’s such a shock!” because it wasn’t. I couldn’t say, “Well, everyone knows he’s a bit of dick, so you should have, too,” because that is both callous and complicitous. All I could say was, “Well, now what?”
Duende District, a pop-up bookshop here in DC, removed his books from the shelves. VONA replaced him as a leader for the workshop coming up next month. I agree that actions need to have been taken to punish him and to show that we are not condoning his wrongdoing. But what comes next?
Junot Diaz does not have Matt Lauer or Harvey Weinstein money—if those cats never worked again, they’d be perfectly fine. I’m pretty sure if Junot couldn’t find work, eventually, he’d end up on welfare and be at risk of homelessness. Perhaps that’s the best way to pay him back for all of his wrongs.
But is it, though?
If the point is to stop this behavior the world (or at least industry) over, I don’t think bringing individual misogynists to the end of themselves one by one is going to bring about the change we need. Do not get me wrong here—I am not saying that people shouldn’t speak up and that these dudes should not be punished, they *absolutely* should. But how do we take it a step further to actually uprooting the icky things under the ground that are causing the plant to grow instead of just snipping off the top of the weed when it gets too tall?
I hate that I’ve made you read this whole thing just for me to say: I have no idea.
Roxane Gay read my mind when she tweeted, “Now, I don’t know how fans of this work proceed from here. I do know we need to have a more vigorous conversation that simply saying, ‘Junot Diaz is cancelled,’ because that does not cancel misogyny or how the literary community protects powerful men at the expense of women. …It’s all a damn shame.”
And that’s why I decide to write this post, to second her call for more vigorous conversation and to start by saying, “I don’t know how to solve this problem,” which is, ironically, usually the first step to finding a solution.
The only thing I know to do is start with the youth, the kids, the babies. Help them to understand their value and the value of others, and when they act in a way that violates that value, correct the crap out of it, because, as we see, it grows and grows and chokes and chokes until the whole lawn is dead.