Accountability, Harassment, and White Male Fragility

I just created a label in my editor’s gmail for DrunkenBoat: Harassment. I know from experience in other leadership positions that this is a label I will have to use all too often, even in the supposedly progressive field of literary arts. This is a label I need to have because I need to keep records of the men (it’s always men) who can’t handle rejection (par for the course in literary publishing), or can’t handle correction, or can’t handle any woman who doesn’t immediately center them and their right to say offensive things and not be held accountable for them. I need to keep these records because these men will try to undermine my credibility, my professional standing, my emotional safety, and possibly even my physical safety. This isn’t my first rodeo, I know the tactics these men use against vocal women.

A picture of a white man's face looking like he's about to cry with white text at the top and bottom, top reading Someone Disagreed With Me and bottom reading On Facebook

Let me tell you a story. Because I believe in accountability, and I believe in not accepting that I am a target for any man who wants to impose his toxic fragility onto my time and energy. If I’m going to have to deal with this, I’m going to get something out of it. This article is an attempt to get something out of it, even if it’s just letting other women in positions of leadership know that they are not alone. Even if it’s just explaining how not to be this person.

Monday, June 13, 1:38 PM I accept a friend request from Jason Arment. I’m a public persona, and I generally accept friend requests from people who have 10+ people in common with me. Facebook is where I do a lot of my advocacy work for my art and my activism.

An image of a tweet reading If 50+ dead lgbt people gives you the excuse you need to justify your islamophobia, fuck you. Don't use us as props. Responding tweet displayed reads: If you sincerely wish hell and death on LGBT folks daily yet suddenly it's a tragedy when convenient to justify your bigotry, fuck you.I’m queer, latinx, and Puerto Rican, and have been hit really hard with the #PulseOrlando nightclub shooting. I’m on social media a lot that day, sharing, educating, and arguing against Islamophobia. This is the context impacting me, and people like me, on this particular day. It is also a national tragedy. A quick cross-section of the many many things I posted on that day were: petitions to ban AR-15s, tweets rejecting using queer latinx people as props for furthering any kind of bigotry, the Poetry-A-Day For Ramadan project, an article that talks about how half the Orlando victims were Puerto Rican, and on toxic masculinity’s role in our culture of violence. I was posting several things an hour on Monday, almost all of which had to do with queer, latinx, and Puerto Rican responses to the Pulse shooting.

I was supposed to be finishing a syllabus for a course I’ll be teaching next semester on Experimental Poets of Color. I’d been meaning to ask for recommendations on Arab-American and Arab-Canadian experimental poets in my wide network on Facebook of wonderful artists and writers. And so I did. I’m going to let the screen-caps speak for themselves about stage 1 of this interaction, my very first with Jason Arment, mere hours after accepting his friend request on Facebook.

Facebook Screencap 1 image

I don’t know that much needs to be said about this, but I will point out a few things. He shows up, misreads the original request, and suggests a poet that doesn’t fit the criteria requested. In fact, he wasn’t the first or only person to do this — the conversation above his started with suggestions of fiction writers in translation, and when I pointed it out she apologized and went in search of new recommendations for me because she was interested.

He makes an offensive remark about Iraqis being “granted” US citizenship which is offensive for a few reasons. Not only for the reason I point out (about the cultural and identity impacts of imperial and colonial aggression) but also because the very idea that USA citizenship is somehow recompense for the lasting damage that was done to Iraq when the US invaded. As if USA citizenship were somehow reparative of that damage, something to be coveted, desired, a gift to be “granted.” Which, let me tell you as a Puerto Rican, it’s not.

Also, let me also point out that my tone is extremely cautious. I don’t know this man, so I’m doing the labor of policing my tone while attempting to educate him to avoid potentially setting him off. Women everywhere know this experience. I “suggest” that he be more cautious. I give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t “really mean that” the way it came off. And he reacts more or less reasonably, leaving the conversation. Think it ends there? Only in a best-case scenario.

"Were you just trying to alienate me as quickly as possible? Or did you actually think that I was making a joke at the expense of Iraq, instead of at the expense of a narrative that allows drones to kill children every day?"

A few minutes later Jason decides to PM me. Note the movement from public to private communication, along with the re-centering of the conversation to be about him. He assumes that he has been particularly targeted. He’s the victim, suddenly. The fact that I intentionally gave him the benefit of the doubt with my first response: “But I’m sure you don’t really mean that, right?” is completely erased in his positioning himself as a victim. Remember too that this is literally my first interaction with this person, and so extending him that initial benefit of the doubt is already more than is required. He is making this about him individually and not the offensive thing that he said in a public place. This is a primary strategy of whiteness (and of maleness) to protect itself:

“Another example: white writers can get explosively angry when asked to recognize that their racial imaginings might not be perfect — when asked to recognize that their imagination is not entirely their own — and in particular when confronted with that fact by a person of color questioning something they wrote. And the target of that anger is usually the person of color who shared with them this fact. The white writer feels injured in this moment — misunderstood and wounded — and believes it is the reader, the person of color, who has dealt the injury. This is how the white mind tends to racial ‘wounds’ — it makes a mistake about who or what has dealt the injury. For it is not the reader of color who deals the injury. It is whiteness itself. To reconstruct the reader of color as the aggressor is one way that whiteness reasserts its power in its moment of crisis. It has been exposed — it must now perform weakness, helplessness, it must pretend to innocence, to harmless and undefended and shocked innocence, in order to reveal the reader of color as motivated by unsavory, irrational, aggressive, political, or subjective tendencies that have lashed out at the innocent and harmed him…”

— Beth Loffreda & Claudia Rankine, The Racial Imaginary

Facebook PM 2

So I confront that move — the making this about him. I tell him it is not about him. It is in fact not about him. But he can’t hear that, and he is being an imposition on my limited emotional energies given the context of the day. I’m prepared to end it at this, but he continues to make this about him being victimized (for saying something offensive, let’s remember, on a stranger’s public Facebook, where he was not explicitly invited or requested to contribute).

I have the chance to use one of my favorite sayings, something I would be thrilled to wear on a button or have on a card I could hand out in real life situations. Something that, I promise you, you will find more and more applications for once you know it: Go be wrong more quietly somewhere else.

Facebook PM3

And that’s done it. We’re into insults now. Though frankly, aloof is more of a compliment in my book (I’m like a cat, in that way) but you can hear the intent. Here’s a handy manslation of “rude” in this usage: “A woman dared to question my right to say offensive things in public, and then didn’t back down even when I started to bully her.”

Submittable Note 1

This I include just to show that he is a man of his word in terms of withdrawing his piece, because I was “rude to [him] on facebook.” Adorbs. Think it ends here? Oh, not even close.

Two hours later he sends another email through our submissions platform. He insinuates that I’m impersonating an editor at Drunken Boat because he couldn’t figure out why my name on Facebook is Erica Mena-Landry and the person on the masthead is Erica Mena. Which links to my Facebook, btw.

Email 1

So he’s no doubt super surprised when he gets an email back from ME THE SCARY RUDE FACEBOOK WOMAN. I clearly reiterate that his joke was inappropriate. I even take the time to educate him about Facebook’s super bullshit real-name policy. And then I tell him that his behavior is becoming alarming. It wasn’t enough for him to PM me, and then withdraw his submission, he’s now trying actively to “get me in trouble.” In other words, he’s trying to harm me and my standing in my community because he can’t take responsibility for something offensive he said in a public place.

FWIW for other women in situations like this, it’s always worth it to send one last correspondence with the statement “Please stop harassing me.” — this is documentation that you have clearly asked to be left alone and further contact can be considered stalking. I’ve filed police reports when the behavior is alarming enough, and this is usually enough evidence that you’ve tried to get the stalker to leave you alone.

You can see his insults that follow, and again his tactic of victimizing himself in our interactions. I just block his email address — I’m not interested in continuing this, or giving him any chance to escalate. Think it’s over yet? Don’t worry, I did too!

Next up was emailing my board. Since I had verified that I was in fact the person on the masthead and not an IMPOSTER he found the contact information for members of my board and sent them this gem that the board president forwarded to me:

“Hello, My name is Jason Arment. I’m a disabled veteran who participated in the genocide in Iraq as a MachineGunner in the USMC. I write subversive war literature — you know the kind where America is the bad guy.  Yesterday I had an unfortunate encounter with Drunken Boats’ EIC. I had friended her after she posted a call for subs, figuring we’d get along because we have so much in common; it turns out she was just looking for that which divided, instead of commonalities.  She asked for Arab American poet recommendations, but it turns out my rec was bad because he’s just an Arab, not American. (May the memory of Muhammed Mahdi Al-Jawahiri live forever.) I was told as such, and tried to defuse the situation by making a joke that all Iraqis ever have American citizenship because we destroyed that place so thoroughly and for so little reason. I did this WHILE apologizing for making such a small error; it seemed to be a great point of contention to the EIC, Erica.  Things were all downhill from there. I was an offensive asshole who had no right to speak of my own life experiences, and she was right. I unfriended her and messaged her., asking she was being serious or just abrasive [sic], and it turned out that she, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Was too drained emotionally from the shooting in Orlando to do anything but call me out.”  So I withdrew my work from Drunken Boats consideration [sic]. Which is too bad because it’s a great piece, antiwar without being overt about it, the kind that sucks people in — a real multi faceted gem. [sic] And I will not be submitting again anytime soon. I’ve had my doubts that DB was a serious enough venue to host subversive war literature, and your EIC confirmed that in no uncertain terms.  I’m sure the next guy writing the stuff I write will sub soon…oh wait, I’m little lonely and hated in my field. [sic] There just aren’t that many vets ou there [sic] writing what really happened — most of them are former PR guys, or career soldiers trying to parlay their “patriotism” into more cush jobs.  But anyway, I figured I’d shoot you an email concerniung [sic] this interaction because I believe in people being held accountable for their actions. Your press claims to want to serve marginalized voices, but then your EIC shits all over me, a disabled veteran trying to change the narrative about Iraq.  This email does not require a response, it is simply food for thought.  I hope this finds you well.  Truly,  Jason Arment”

This is now the next day, at 10:43 am.

I think most people should be able to break down the email in light of the above interactions but I’m going to help. He leads with his strategy of performing victimization — he’s a disabled veteran. But don’t worry, he acknowledges he participated in the “genocide” (as though acknowledging it were somehow a kind of cred that shows how deeply reflective and self-aware he is). He writes “subversive” war literature, as opposed to all that mainstream war literature, where “America is the bad guy.” How could a person this deep and self-aware possibly say something inappropriate?? HE’S SO IN TOUCH AND SUBVERSIVE. HE’S SUCH A GOOD “BAD” GUY.

He bestowed the gift of his friendship upon me, because he thought we had a lot in common and so I would be so so grateful for the privilege of having him weigh in on my Facebook posts. But I’m a mean, divisive, rude, scary person who doesn’t allow him the right to say offensive things without any opposition. I made the “recommendation” and not his offensive joke a “point of contention” — implying of course that I took issue with the fact of citizenship in his recommendation, when in fact I took issue with his offensive racist colonialist comment. AND HE APOLOGIZED. Just in case you forgot here is his “apology” — “And I must have read your post wrong. FB font is tinyyy. Apologies” This ‘apology’ comes after the racist “joke” of course.

Now comes the part where he calls himself names like “offensive asshole” in an attempt to make me sound less than professional (forgetting, I guess, that these are all things that can be documented). I have stripped him of the “right to speak of his own life experiences” by not allowing racist jokes to go unopposed on my Facebook page. In his version of him PM’ing me he asked me if I’m being “serious or abrasive” but in reality he asked if I was “alienating him” on purpose — so one is tone-policing bullshit and the other is him playing the victim, and neither make him look all that good. And of course I use calling-in instead of calling-out in our PM, he makes that switch himself. (For anyone who’s confused, this post is calling him out. It’s really different.)

But it’s really all our loss because his piece was so “multi-faceted” and “subversive” and “sucks people in.” (I haven’t read it, and won’t, so I can neither confirm nor deny these claims.) And just in case we didn’t get how unique and amazing he is, he’s THE ONLY ONE WRITING THIS KIND OF LITERATURE IN THE WHOOOOOOLE WOOOOOORLD.

And I’m mean to vets. (Which is a super hilarious given that I worked at and with the William Joiner Institute for the Study of War and its Social Consequences for several years, have worked with the journal of veteran’s literature Consequences, my best friend is a veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan, and, well, the list goes on and on.)

The best part is that his email subject is: Accountability. Which he seems to think he should never have applied to him for the things he actually did say, again, in public. But here’s my accountability: I will not be a silent target of this man’s white fragility. I will not let him go without the accountability he so very much thinks everyone but him should be subject to. This post is my defiance of the sexist and racist jokes and the norms that expect me to submit to his harassment and bullying so as not to “make it worse.” I will not be a silent target.

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