Wired for Story Promotes White Supremacy: An Open Letter to Lisa Cron

I published this article on Medium today, but since they’re capping at three articles a month, I’m posting it here too. Please share widely so we can put an end to White Supremacy and the pervasive “accidental racism” in our culture. It’s no accident that most white people remain monumentally and inexcusably ignorant about racism and white supremacy. Let’s educate ourselves and each other! ❤

Wired for Story Promotes White Supremacy: An Open Letter to Lisa Cron

I sent the following letter to Lisa Cron in January of this year, but have received no response. At the urging of a dear friend, I am posting it here because this is a serious issue, not just in Wired for Story, but in most aspects of literature, writing, and publishing. Wired for Story is an immensely popular, best-selling writing guide, and we need to talk about the ways it reinforces white supremacy so we can stop reinforcing white supremacy!

I read Meg Elison’s “How I Bought in to Gone With the Wind’s Mythology of Whiteness” this morning and knew it was time I spoke up as well. Please read Elison’s article. It’s phenomenal.

Dear Lisa Cron,

I’m writing in hopes of engaging you in dialogue about some choices and assumptions made in Wired for Story, which I first read several years ago and found very illuminating and useful. I was skeptical at the time of using Gone with the Wind as an example text. I held my nose, so to speak, but quickly bought into your narrative that the novel was immensely popular because it plugged into human brains and their desires for narrative presented just so.

Since then, I have been working to decolonize myself and my understanding of the world, US and human history, and literature. I’ve come to understand that much of what we currently call “bugs” in works — sexism, racism, imperialism — are and were in fact features of the work. It’s those harmful ideologies that made the works so appealing. Hemingway’s misogyny is not a bug, but a feature, and we continue to indoctrinate students to appreciate and emulate the misogyny and racism found in many of our “classic” texts because we refuse to admit there is racism and misogyny in those texts or that if there is, that that is a problem or that it was intentional, etc.

Gone with the Wind is an illustration of white supremacy. The ideals of white supremacy infuse the entire text. Again, this is not a bug, but a feature of the work and explains why the novel was (and sadly remains) so incredibly popular. It appealed to the white supremacy of the majority of our population and other peoples elsewhere. Continuing your metaphors, it’s not solely the third rail of Scarlet’s “grit” that propels the story and interest, but the fuel of the story, which is white supremacy and how much of a bummer it is that this poor southern belle lost her enslaved people and other property.

Without white supremacy and people who are very interested in white supremacy as an institution, there is no Gone with the Wind and record-breaking sales of this work of ideology. White supremacy persists in part because we refuse to critically and honestly engage with the past. Instead of slavery, we’re told the Civil War was fought over State Rights. That’s false. So much we’re told is false and leaves things out. It’s more palatable to think that Gone with the Wind was so incredibly popular because of the craft and Scarlet’s grit, but that’s false. It was so incredibly popular because it promoted white supremacy.

I tried to imagine film students being instructed to pay attention to Birth of a Nation as a source of inspiration and emulation. It was a first of its kind and wildly popular and endorsed heartily by then president (and avowed white supremacist) Woodrow Wilson (you know, the president who segregated the White House?). Can we learn the craft of film by studying Birth of a Nation? Should we? Can we claim it was popular simply because of the story telling of it and film techniques that plug into human brains, never mind the white supremacist ideology it espouses and revels in?

Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if there weren’t people claiming as much, and yet, I think you’ll agree with me that the thought is repulsive.

White supremacy and its attendant myths are completely baked into our culture. It can be hard to recognize because of this fact. I didn’t recognize it when I first read and appreciated Wired for Story, but now I see it clearly and all the problems that arise from using Gone with the Wind as an example and not clearly stating that the novel was wildly popular because it was white supremacist. Given that fact, one then wonders how much the craft of the story really mattered? Sure, there’s the grit and Tara and Brett, but again, it was the white supremacy more than anything else driving sales.

Isn’t it very likely there are other novels that illustrate your techniques that aren’t white supremacist? It seems to me that it would be desirable to use a different example text and issue a new edition that explains that it wasn’t just Scarlet’s grit that accounted for the amazing sales of Gone with the Wind, but white supremacy, hence the removal of the text from a new edition.

So many people were shocked by the 2016 election. Many weren’t shocked at all because they were already well-versed in the white supremacy that permeates all aspects of our culture. Almost all of us are complicit. I believe Wired for Story is complicit in promoting and reinforcing white supremacy when it uses Gone with the Wind and assumes it was a best seller for reasons other than the main reason it was: its white supremacist ideology. I don’t for a moment believe you mean to promote white supremacy or would intentionally do so. As I said, I didn’t immediately recognize and understand all the problems myself. But now I do. And I wanted to share this information with you.

Sincerely,

Harmony Neal

 

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