Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote a stunning screed earlier this week about a former student's opportunistic attempt to effectively cancel her over allegations of transphobia. It was shared widely on social media as an essay that highlights the problems of a discourse based on messaging and the shallow take-downs of social media cancel artists.
The identity politicians at Vox, however, have no praise for the author or her essay. Instead, Aja Romano writes "We're having the wrong conversation — not the one about cancel culture, but the one about whether one of the most famous feminists in the world is actually transphobic, and what it means for trans women if she is."
"Looking at the history of Adichie's run-ins with the trans community," Romano goes on, "it's clear that Adichie, not her critics, placed herself in this position, and that like many people who've faced similar callouts by vulnerable communities, she's now calling out 'cancel culture' as a tool of misdirection."
In other words, Adichie's essay is not worthwhile to Vox because they have already bought into the idea that Adichie is transphobic. Romano also wrote a hefty takedown of JK Rowling.
Romano stands on their own identifiers as though they are some kind of qualification to take Adichie down and to tell her what she should be writing about and how she should be engaging in a cultural conversation, writing:
"This conversation should be about trans identity. It should be about how awful it is for trans and nonbinary people to see beloved figures like Rowling and Adichie promoting an ideology that insists we’re not really the gender we say we are, that we’re liars and sexual predators, that we’re chasing a social media fad and performing wokeness for leftist clout, that we’re making it all up."
In Adichie's essay, "It is obscene: A true reflection in three parts," Adichie recounts her relationship with a bright young student, a Nigerian feminist and aspiring author, to whom Adichie opened her home, welcoming her into her personal life.
The young woman betrayed her trust and her confidence, joining with others to lambast Adichie for transphobia after Adichie gave an interview in 2017 in which she said "that a trans woman is a trans woman."
Adichie writes: "After I gave the March 2017 interview in which I said that a trans woman is a trans woman, I was told that this person had insulted me on social media, calling me, among other things, a murderer. I was deeply upset, because while I did not really know them personally, I felt they knew what I stood for and that I fully supported the rights of trans people, and that I do not wish anybody dead."
Adichie has said that she does not fear trans people, and that she supports their equal rights, but that men and women are different. In response to that, Vox writes:
"Adichie's point that trans women have very different experiences than cisgender women is well-made and very important. Trans women experience higher rates of sexual assault and domestic violence, homelessness, suicide, and suicide attempts than cisgender women, and they're more likely to be re-victimized when they seek support. Further, Adichie's insistence that gender is tied to sociology, not biology, is a crucial distinction in the debate over trans rights — one backed by science."
Vox claims that Adichie is a trans exclusionary radical feminist, and brings up JK Rowling, another internationally acclaimed author who believes that men and women are both different and that the reality of biological sex is immutable. Believing in science is enough for Vox, as well as Adichie's former students, to engage in a process of defaming and cancellation.
Romano writes that Adichie's exploration of the demise of her relationship with a student who both defamed her and used her name to advance her own literary standing is simply "another iteration of a pattern in which railing against cancel culture becomes a tool to dismiss legitimate arguments about the hateful thing you said and did."
But what hateful thing did Adichie do in writing down what happened to her, her feelings and thoughts on it? How can it be hateful to say that you have been unfairly maligned when, in fact, you have been unfairly maligned?
For Romano, more important than reading and trying to understand Adichie's words is holding her to account for imagined sins—which is exactly what Adichie was writing about.
In the final section of her essay, Adichie writes:
"In certain young people today like these two from my writing workshop, I notice what I find increasingly troubling: a cold-blooded grasping, a hunger to take and take and take, but never give; a massive sense of entitlement; an inability to show gratitude; an ease with dishonesty and pretension and selfishness that is couched in the language of self-care; an expectation always to be helped and rewarded no matter whether deserving or not; language that is slick and sleek but with little emotional intelligence; an astonishing level of self-absorption; an unrealistic expectation of puritanism from others; an over-inflated sense of ability, or of talent where there is any at all; an inability to apologize, truly and fully, without justifications; a passionate performance of virtue that is well executed in the public space of Twitter but not in the intimate space of friendship.
"I find it obscene."
It is people like Romano that Adichie is speaking of. Adichie writes that these are "People who demand that you denounce your friends for flimsy reasons in order to remain a member of the chosen puritan class."
"And so we have a generation of young people on social media so terrified of having the wrong opinions that they have robbed themselves of the opportunity to think and to learn and to grow," Adichie writes in her essay.
This is Romano to a T. Romano is not interested in having a conversation, in hashing things out, in understanding views that run counter to her own. Instead, Romano, wants to control the conversation so that it always skews in favor of her own ideology.
The way forward in cultural discourse is not in demanding others have a conversation on your own rigid terms, but understanding our humanity, reaching out in empathy, making less demands due to your own misplaced feelings of entitlement.
In the words of Adichie, "The assumption of good faith is dead. What matters is not goodness but the appearance of goodness. We are no longer human beings. We are now angels jostling to out-angel [sic] one another. God help us. It is obscene."