Bestselling authors across the country are voicing support for Fresno State professor Randa Jarrar, and say the fallout of her tweet, which called Barbara Bush “an amazing racist,” is an unfair overreaction.
“We stand with (Jarrar) and are excited to welcome her to the summer workshop this July, where she will be free to say anything she damn well pleases,” the prominent literary magazine, Tin House, posted to Twitter on Thursday.
After the former first lady died on Tuesday, Jarrar, an award-winning author and professor at Fresno State’s English department, said online that “Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal. F— outta here with your nice words.”
Jarrar, who is on leave and out of the country, was unapologetic about her remarks, arguing with those who said they were insensitive, even in the face of an investigation and news conference held by Fresno State officials, who condemned her words on Wednesday.
But Jarrar has supporters — many who say her claims about Bush are not wrong. They point to controversial remarks made by Bush in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina, about those who had been devastated by the storm and were seeking refuge in the Houston Astrodome. “What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them,” Bush said then.
Bush also received criticism for casting doubt on Anita Hill, a black attorney who became a national figure after calling out U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas for sexual harassment in 1991.
The leaders of the Women’s March were criticized for their tribute to Bush, who died at 92, with followers raising the same concerns about her past controversial comments.
“In calling Barbara Bush ‘a racist,’ (Jarrar) said bluntly what newspaper obituaries disguised when they wrote that Mrs. Bush was ‘never shy about expressing her views,’ or that, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, her ‘candor got her into trouble,” Laila Lalami, a novelist and Los Angeles Times book critic, posted to Twitter on Thursday.
Supporters of Jarrar are urging people to buy her books in a show of support and are criticizing Fresno State’s reaction to her tweet, saying it is not a fireable offense.
“Death doesn’t excuse racism. Calling out racism isn’t an invitation for violence. The vitriol flung at her is the epitome of white fragility,” Fresno writer Steven Sanchez said on Twitter. “The ‘diplomacy’ of Fresno State & others massages white fragility.”
John Beynon, a fellow English professor at Fresno State, called Jarrar “a fierce, outspoken woman of color” who is unafraid to criticize what she perceives as America’s injustices and its international relations — and often uses Twitter to do that.
“That commitment to justice is at the root of her thinking and her actions …” Beynon said. “What you’re going to find is harsh criticism of parts of our society that Randa feels exasperated with.”
Some supporters are pointing to the fact that Jarrar is an Arab-American and Muslim as reasons for the public’s strong response to her words, saying a white man would be granted more freedom of speech.
“It just doesn’t add up. We’re in a very precarious moment,” award-winning author Jericho Brown said. “And it’s a moment when we really do have to protect voice like Jarrar’s.”
The ACLU of Northern California and the National Coalition Against Censorship have also called on Fresno State to end its investigation of Jarrar’s conduct, calling it protected free speech.
“We must all support (Jarrar) not because she’s such a talented writer (which she is) but because she has the right to have a political opinion and the right to express that opinion without being threatened with violence or loss of employment,” Moustafa Bayoumi, award-winning author and columnist for The Guardian, said on Twitter.
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