The flip side of Jennine Capó Crucet's book burning
Students accuse the Cuban-American writer of disregarding poverty and the exclusion of white people in the U.S.
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"I don't justify that some boys burn her novel, but not all whites are like the Kennedys and that's what she came to tell us," says a student at the Georgia Southern University (GSU), Graham Swanson, on YouTube.
Swanson, who was a student at one of Capó Crucet’s writing courses, criticized the Cuban-American author, saying both her novel, "Make Your Home Among Strangers" - which first-year students must read - and her unilateral speech on race privilege don’t take into account the precariousness that young people, including those who are white, suffer.
“The boys who leave the university, it doesn't matter if they are Cuban or not, they don't have money or work and some end up in the street,” says the student, who accused the writer of behaving as an elitist in her classes.
It all happened last Wednesday during Crucet’s talk to GSU freshmen on diversity.
Once the floor was opened for a round of questions, a student questioned the author's authority to talk about race and “white privilege” on campus and accused her, as others would later do, of “making a lot of generalizations about the majority of white people are privileged,” according to the student newspaper, The George-Ann.
Capó Crucet would later describe the tense moments lived during and after the conference in an article, were students began shouting each other or leaving the room. Only a few stayed and apologized.
And here is the origin of the controversy: some students gathered to burn copies of her novel "Make Your Home Among Strangers,” which recounts her childhood in Miami as a Latino student at an elite school.
so after our FYE book’s author came to my school to talk about it... these people decide to burn her book because “it’s bad and that race is bad to talk about”. white people need to realize that they are the problem and that their privilege is toxic. author is a woman of color. pic.twitter.com/HiX4lGT7Ci— elaina⭐️ (@elainaaan) October 10, 2019
Capó discovered the burning of books through social media, as she pointed out, and had to stay somewhere else because of the young people gathered at the doors of her hotel.
However, the university has denied that there had been any kind of threat or attempted harassment by the students, much less that they waited outside her hotel.
"Neither the Police nor the owner of the establishment where Jennine Capó Crucet stayed, whom we contacted immediately, reported any unwanted visits," a GSU representative told Al Día News.
For its part, the GSU said in a statement that it would not retaliate against students since they were executing their First Amendment rights, but regretted what happened.
Last Saturday, two days after the talk at the university, the writer attended the South Nashville Book Festival, where she commented on the importance of authors who address racial issues, not only focusing on what is happening around them but also their own internalized racism and intolerance.
"I am grateful that acts of involuntary intolerance occur in my classes because that is when I can teach them something," said Crucet, who is also an associate professor at the Institute for Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska.
Many of these long-term white and unemployed workers who can barely afford their lives in "the country of opportunity" were Donald Trump’s supporters in 2016.
They form a depressed and precarious group that feels like the last link in the chain, and wanted their turn in that "America First." Of course, things didn’t quite work out that way.
Currents such as intersectional feminism often highlight the social links between gender, race, and class, but Capó Crucet’s “compassion” and “conversation” rhetoric evidently backfired when pointing fingers.
But burning books as freedom of speech is another debate.
However, the matter is deeper than a simple question of "white privilege" and student "hostility."
As sensitive minorities who still face marginalization and prejudice, to understand the background of actions and the power of our words is to reappropriate the discourse of those who want to divide us.