The manipulations Shreerekha describes may have little to do with Mr. Díaz’s own abuse; what her piece shows is how men can use their designation as literary geniuses to attempt to dominate vulnerable women, and how some men of color use racial solidarity as a tool to politically coerce these women into silence. How can disarming women of color ever assist in the struggle against racism?
The #MeToo movement has sparked strong debates, especially among women of color over these intersecting issues.
Clearly, we need to go beyond easy binaries. The letter I signed calls on all of us to think through the important issue of how to demand individual responsibility from abusers while also being vigilant about our collective and institutional responsibility, to develop critiques of the conventions of sexual behavior that produce systemic sexual abuse. While individuals can never be absolved of responsibility by blaming structural conditions, those conditions do create opportunities, excuses, even training in the ways of domination, and these have to be radically transformed.
This debate is not just about Junot Díaz and the women he has mistreated; it is also about the #MeToo movement as a whole — how its aims are articulated, how it constructs a new imaginary of liberation, both social and sexual. And as others have been saying, this imaginary must include a future in which we can become a better community that talks openly, listens and learns from one another, even when it involves pain that comes without a trigger warning.
The Latina feminist philosopher Maria Lugones has asked in her work how our anger can become both backward- and forward-looking, not only redressing past wrongs but serving our visions for the future. Her work is a master class on conflicts that involve what she calls “non-dominant differences” — conflicts among the oppressed — and she argues strongly against sidelining some forms of oppression in favor of others. But she is clear that this is no easy task; every community contains multiple forms of oppression. This can create “barriers across sense,” as she puts it, that distort how we see one another and disable our ability to understand.
Sexist behavior, whether slight or severe, is never acceptable or excusable. Nobody, today, can claim ignorance. Sexism in every form weakens liberatory movements, fractures solidarity and exacerbates the oppression of the already oppressed. Even verbal offenses, like sexist comments, can instigate shame, humiliation and feelings of unworthiness,