A Statement From Ijeoma Oluo Concerning Sally Kohn’s Book

Town Hall has followed concerns about Sally Kohn’s book The Opposite of Hate voiced by Aminatou Sow and Ijeoma Oluo, amongst others. We also heard from many in our audience who asked us to address this head-on prior to our event with Kohn on Tuesday, May 1st. Town Hall does not explicitly endorse or condemn the content of our speakers’ books or presentations, but given the context of this discussion and the demands of our audience, we feel it is necessary to include the voices of the critics themselves.

We reached out to Ijeoma Oluo to ask how she would like to respond, and she has asked us to share the following statement. Ijeoma Oluo authored this statement in full and it is presented here unedited.

This presentation of Oluo’s statement is not an endorsement of its content, and we cannot vouch for the accuracy of the claims made within it. Our goal is to give the principals involved the opportunity to voice their perspectives in their own words.

See this article in Vanity Fair for additional context to the story. Sally Kohn has released a statement in response to the original complaints.


Statement from Ijeoma Oluo:

When a friend of mine reached out to me to ask if I knew that I was in Sally Kohn’s book, I was a little surprised. I had no idea that any of my work or words had been used in the book. But my work is available to the public, so I was not immediately shocked or alarmed.  But my friend, a fellow black person and writer on issues of race, was concerned about how I was being represented in the book, and so he sent me screenshots of the passage that I was mentioned in so that I could take a look.

I was shocked to see that not only was my work misrepresented in Sally Kohn’s book, it was used in juxtaposition to the misrepresentation of the words of another black woman, Aminatou Sow. Sow had already been made aware of how she had been quoted in Kohn’s book, and had made her grievances public, stating that she had been misquoted by Kohn in a way that placed her at risk due to the violent nature of the quote attributed to her and the fact that she is a black woman. She talked about the multiple efforts she had made before the book was published to have this misquote that could harm her removed from the book. When that failed and the book went to market with the inflammatory quote, Sow went public.

The quote attributed to Sow, saying that she felt like she could kill a white person who was racist toward her, was juxtaposed against what Kohn described as my approach – one of love and connection. To get my position on how to deal with racist hate, Kohn did not reference my extensive work on the subject (even though she had followed me on social media for some time and had shared my work on Facebook and Twitter in the past) nor did she reference my regular public social media interactions with the racist hate I encounter daily. Instead, Kohn referenced one interaction I had with a racist troll, on Martin Luther King day, three years ago. This interaction was not something I advertised or publicized. I decided personally, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr, to confront the racist trolls who were seeking out black people with racist hate on this day with his loving words. I figured that if they were trying to force their hate into my space, I was going to force Dr. King’s love into theirs. It was a long and painful day. Most of the racists that I replied to with the words of Dr. King replied back with more hate. One long exchange with one hateful troll, who turned out to be an angry teenager, ended with him apologizing to me and saying that I  was a nice person. I was pleasantly surprised with how that one exchange ended. But that was one exchange out of an entire day of being subjected to racist abuse.

When this exchange was picked up by feel-good click-bait sites, it was no surprise that it went viral. This story, the story of a black woman enduring hours upon hours of abuse to get one 15 year old kid to say sorry, is the type of “racial progress” story that white supremacy loves. In order to end racism, a black woman just has to be willing to endure it with enough love, and a white racist has to do nothing but tire of their hate. It is a harmful narrative, and it is one that has been shown in the 400 years that black people have been enduring violent racist hate in this country to be completely untrue.

And this was the story that Kohn chose to juxtapose with Sow’s “angry” quote. This one exchange with one racist is not in any way my approach to dealing with racists or white supremacy, and that is not a secret. I’ve been very clear about this in my work. To expect black people to endure even more pain than what white supremacy already subjects them to in the hopes that it will convince racists that we are human beings who feel pain is in itself a white supremacist expectation. We are human beings, and we do not have to prove that, and white America has no right to view themselves as the judges of our humanity. We should never even entertain that thought as to do so reinforces white supremacy. We are worthy because we exist.

Further, to act as if we have held the secret to changing the hearts and minds of white racists all along, and it was simply being nicer, and taking more abuse – is cruel. Any power we as black people have has been leveraged against white supremacy. Every tactic we can consider has been tried. We are oppressed because we lack power in this society. We are oppressed because this white supremacist system has built an entire country around our subjugation. To have a white woman who has never lived a day of that particular oppression misuse the words and work of black women to build a story about how we should endure even more pain for the greater good is an abuse of the privilege of her platform. We have our own words, we have our own ideas of what we need for our liberation, and a lot of it has to do with what people like Kohn – white people who benefit from and help maintain systems of white supremacy – are going to  start doing with that power and privilege. But in order for those ideas to be included in Kohn’s book, she would have had to ask us.

Kohn does not appear to be interested in talking to us though. And as she has been traveling to multiple speaking events talking about how sorry she is about this, and how many lessons she has learned, I have not heard a single word from her. Not a call, not an email, not a tweet. This is not what allyship looks like. This is not what accountability looks like.

But beyond this interaction, I hope that those listening today understand power and privilege dynamic that allowed Kohn to write at length about a struggle she has never known and never will know, without reaching out to those actually living it. That allowed her to lift and distort the words and work of black women without anybody in the the publishing process asking if she really had the knowledge and perspective needed to responsibly discuss this issue. Power and privilege that has famous white celebrities and thought leaders reading this book and celebrating its genius without questioning how black people may be harmed by it. The idea that in 2018 we would still be okay with white writers talking about how they feel that black people should deal with their oppression is the most disturbing thing about this whole debacle.

Sally Kohn writes about hate, but it is not the only hate that is killing black people in America – in fact, it’s pretty far down the list. It’s the exploitation, the erasure, the basic lack of dignity afforded us. This basic disregard for our whole humanity fuels the everyday abuses that deny us jobs, representation, education, effective medical care, police protection and so much more. This basic disregard harms more than just our feelings, and the way that Kohn treated my work and Ms. Sow’s work harmed more than just our feelings. I hope that those witnessing this entire debacle see how easy it is for those who think they are on the side of good to fall back on their privilege and do great harm. I hope that we start looking at the power and privilege of who gets to talk about social justice and progress in this country, and we start looking for ways to elevate the voices of those in the crosshairs of these battles and looking for ways to ease their great burden by using our relative privilege to fight with them instead of trying to speak for them.

 

-Ijeoma Oluo

A Thank You from Wier

Dear Friends,

What a season, and what a final week—thank you to everyone who came out for Groundbreak! This moment has been a long time coming, and it meant more than I can say to celebrate it surrounded by the community who—through 18 years of dialogue and debate, art and ideas—has made Town Hall into the nationally unique institution it has become.

In the last few months the Town Hall community has stepped up to support this place in unprecedented ways. In June alone, you dug deep to raise more than $215,000 to support our historic renovation. Construction begins next month (expect a lot of hard hat pictures and progress updates) and we’ll re-open in fall 2018 for the 2018-19 season.

But so much more than the impending renovation has this place buzzing. While our home is closed, Town Hall is turning itself “Inside/Out”; that means that all the programs you’ve come to expect from Town Hall will come to life in venues scattered in neighborhoods across Seattle. But beyond the “where” of our programs, we’re transforming the “how.”

We often say Town Hall’s calendar is a reflection of this city, an attempt to tell its story. During Inside/Out, we’ll involve our audience more directly in creating that calendar, to become a more complete mirror and tell a richer story. Many events will be programmed in consultation with Neighborhood Steering Committees; some will be co-created by audience members, in collaboration with Artists and Scholars in Community. If we do this right, Inside/Out will create lasting mechanisms to bring grassroots ideas and community-sourced solutions into broad public consideration—and we’ll welcome a whole new slate of exciting voices back to our renovated home. We’ll share more about Inside/Out over the coming months, and I hope you will join us for this transformative year.

And we’ll reach you in another new venue this year—your phone or laptop. Many of you are already accustomed to our livestreams (subscribe to our YouTube channel to know every time one is scheduled) and have enjoyed our Media Library programming; now we’re expanding our digital presence into podcasting. “Feeds” of our Civics, Science, and Arts and Culture programs will directly offer almost every Town Hall-produced program. And in August, we’ll launch a fourth podcast hosted by Steve Scher, longtime host of KUOW’s Weekday, and Town Hall’s Digital Producer Jini Palmer. Learn more and subscribe here. We’ll be posting new podcasts of Town Hall programs all summer long.

Stay tuned for a lot more, but until then: thank youThank you for an incredible season, thank you for your belief in this place, thank you for bringing Town Hall to life.

Best,

Wier Harman
Executive Director

Staff Spotlight: Katy Sewall, Program Director

Katy Sewall
Program Director Katy Sewall

How long have you worked at Town Hall?

KS: Since mid-November 2015

What attracted you to working at Town Hall?

KS: I have always been interested in exploration, on-going education, sharing ideas, and performance. In everything I do—whether it be radio reporting, writing or production—this is at the center. I also have an unceasing curiosity about the world and a deep desire to understand the experiences of others. I was attracted to Town Hall because it is a place of learning where our worldview can be tweaked in new directions.

While I was the Lead Producer of KUOW’s Weekday with Steve Scher, I had the privilege of producing two live stage versions of the radio show at Town Hall. It was an unforgettable experience. The staff at Town Hall were so competent and professional. The audience was incredibly engaged. “What a special place,” I remember thinking. Who doesn’t want to work at a special place?

What book could you read over and over again?

KS: Third Wish by Robert Fulghum. It rekindled my sense of play and made me dream of creating a remarkable life for myself.

Who would you most like to see presented at Town Hall?

KS: This is an impossible question for me to answer. There are too many. I find so many people worth listening to. That said, it sure would be fun to have President Obama and his sister Maya Soetoro-Ng on stage together.

When you’re not working, what are you doing?

KS: The radio producer in me can’t shut down the desire to keep radio listeners company. As a result, I spend a lot of time interviewing guests, editing audio and co-hosting a weekly podcast for expats, former expats, travel-lovers and dreamers called The Bittersweet Life . I also write for myself and for Crosscut, fill-in host for KUOW, and read a ton of novels.

What is one thing people may not know about you?

KS: What I look like. After years of being a voice on the radio, a lot of people know my name, but when they meet me they always say: “Wow. You look so different than I thought!” One of the things I love about radio is that listeners create a mental picture of what you look like. That says a lot about our imaginations.

What aspects of your job do you never get tired of?

KS: Meeting amazing, intelligent people and having the opportunity to sit beside them and ask whatever questions I can think of.

Staff Spotlight: Zac Eckstein, Patron Services Manager

Zac Spotlight Picture
Zac Eckstein, Patron Services Manager

How long have you worked at Town Hall?

ZE: Since November 11, 2015. About five months

What attracted you to working at Town Hall?

ZE: I’ve worked in a nonprofit environment for most of my career, even running a nonprofit for a few years after graduating college. I also have a lot of experience in (and enjoy) the work of running a box office and taking care of patrons. Town Hall is unique in that it produces so many events at such a fast pace that there’s never an opportunity to get bored.

What book could you read over and over again?

ZE: I’m a fiction novel and news junky and don’t read much non-fiction (although I should!). Boy’s Life by Robert R. McCammon is a book I’ve read multiple times and enjoyed more each time.

What would you most like to see presented at Town Hall?

ZE: I’d love to see someone like Elizabeth Warren or former Mayor Mike McGinn. In general, I’m interested in presentations by people who get things done and aren’t afraid to ruffle feathers in the process.

What do you do when you aren’t working?

ZE: Outside of Town Hall I am a freelance WordPress developer/designer. I also have an in-home shop where I build furniture (both for people and animals) as well as build other home decor pieces.

What is one thing people may not know about you?

ZE: From 2003 to 2008 I worked as a projectionist at a regular movie theatre and at an IMAX theatre and got to watch most movies that came out the day before they were released.

What aspect of your job do you never get tired of?

ZE: At Town Hall almost everything is $5 or free and it’s always a pleasure to help facilitate access to so many different types of events for such a wide variety of people.

TownMusicSeason Preview/Happy Hour with Joshua Roman

Just before Town Music’s (literally) jaw-dropping season-opening presentation of Roomful of Teeth, meet the artistic director of Town Hall’s new-music chamber series in a special free preview of the upcoming season—complete with special deals. Beer, wine, soda, and snacks will be available for purchase in the café as Roman, former principal cellist for the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, presents an audio/video tour of Town Music’s amazing 2013-14 lineup (from Enso String Quartet to Karen Gomyo and Roman himself) and takes questions from the crowd. Fans who come to Happy Hour without tickets to Roomful of Teeth are eligible for the advance ticket price (a savings of $5), and subscribers to the entire Town Music season (sign up at Happy Hour, if you haven’t already!) receive a special Town Music poster signed by Roman.

Presented by: Town Hall as part of the Town Music series, curated by Joshua Roman. Series supported by the Wyncote Foundation NW and the Tagney-Jones Family Fund. Series media sponsorship provided by Seattle Weekly and KING-FM.
Tickets: Happy Hour is free; no tickets required. Subscriptions to the five-concert Town Music season are $85 general/$80 members. Single-event tickets for Roomful of Teeth go on sale Aug. 19: $20 advance/$25 at the door/$20 seniors/$17 Town Hall members/$10 students. A limited number of $5 day-of-show Teen Tix for those 18 and under also will be available.
Learn more: About Town Music and season subscriptions.

Town MusicJoshua Roman & Andrius Zlabys

AndriusZlabysTown Music Artistic Director Joshua Roman takes the stage with acclaimed Lithuanian pianist Andrius Zlabys in a program featuring Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne (from the Pulcinella ballet), Schnittke Sonata, and more. Roman, former principal cellist with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra (and, as the San Francisco Chronicle declared, “a cellist of extraordinary technical and musical gifts”), performs with Grammy-nominated Zlabys, a prizewinner at the esteemed Cleveland International Piano Competition who has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Rotterdam Symphony, and the Philharmonic Orchestra of Buenos Aires, among others, and made his Carnegie Hall debut with the New York Youth Symphony Orchestra in March 2001.

Presented by: Town Hall as part of the Town Music series, curated by Joshua Roman. Series supported by the Wyncote Foundation NW, Tagney-Jones Family Fund, and the Nesholm Family Foundation. Series media sponsorship provided by Seattle Weekly and KING-FM.
Tickets: $20 advance/$25 at the door/$20 seniors/$17 Town Hall members/$10 students. A limited number of $5 day-of-show Teen Tix for those 18 and under also will be available.
Doors open: 7 pm; late seating is not guaranteed.
Town Hall member benefits: Discounted tickets.
Learn more: About Roman.
Zlabys on YouTube.

Town MusicKaren Gomyo & Pablo Zieglerfeaturing the Pablo Ziegler Tango Quartet

PabloZieglerTango meets classical music as Canadian violin virtuoso Karen Gomyo, Latin Grammy-winning pianist Pablo Ziegler and his quartet, and pianist Cory Smythe perform works from Bach, Brahms, Bartok, and Piazzolla. Hailed by the Chicago Tribune as “a first-rate artist of real musical command, vitality, brilliance, and intensity,” Gomyo has performed as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic; Los Angeles Philharmonic; Vancouver and Tokyo symphonies; Hong Kong Philharmonic; the National Symphony of Washington, D.C.; the Royal Scottish National Orchestra; and many others. She also is deeply interested in the Nuevo Tango music of Astor Piazzolla and the classical composers who influenced him—and it just so happens that Ziegler, known for artfully blending classic tango rhythms with jazz improvisations, is a former member of Astor Piazzolla’s New Tango Quintet. Ziegler’s own quartet includes Hector del Curto (bandoneon), Claudio Ragazzi (electric guitar), and Pedro Giraudo (double bass).

Presented by: Town Hall as part of the Town Music series, curated by Joshua Roman. Series supported by the Wyncote Foundation NW, Tagney-Jones Family Fund, and the Nesholm Family Foundation. Series media sponsorship provided by Seattle Weekly and KING-FM.
Tickets: $20 advance/$25 at the door/$20 seniors/$17 Town Hall members/$10 students. A limited number of $5 day-of-show Teen Tix for those 18 and under also will be available.
Doors open: 7 pm; late seating is not guaranteed.
Town Hall member benefits: Discounted subscriptions and tickets.
Learn more: About Gomyo.
About Ziegler.

 

Town MusicMary Mackenzie: ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ & Premiere of New Works

David-Joshua-Roman_8934In this season’s special Town Music finale, be one of the first to hear the premiere of four original compositions. Specifically commissioned by Town Hall and Town Music Artist Director Joshua Roman, these works for voice and ensemble were created by composers Raymond Lustig, Amir Shpilman, Wang Jie, and Roman. Thematically ranging from love and life on Mars, to the beauty of winter, these four works were carefully curated for this evening. In addition to these pieces, Mary Mackenzie will also perform Schoenberg’s exalted 1912 song cycle “Pierrot Lunaire.” Described by The New York Times as “a soprano of extraordinary agility and concentration,” Mary Mackenzie has captured the attention, and admiration, of audiences across the country. The program also features performances by cellist Roman (pictured at left), returning Town Music favorite Bill Kalinkos (clarinet), Daria Binkowski, Karen Kim (violin/viola), and pianist David Kaplan. A passionate performer of contemporary music, Mackenzie has premiered numerous works by established composers and works closely with young up-and-coming composers to develop new works for voice.

Presented by: Town Hall as part of the Town Music series, curated by Joshua Roman. Series supported by the Wyncote Foundation NW, Tagney-Jones Family Fund, and the Nesholm Family Foundation. Series media sponsorship provided by Seattle Weekly and KING-FM.
Tickets: $20 advance/$25 at the door/$20 seniors/$17 Town Hall members/$10 students. A limited number of $5 day-of-show Teen Tix for those 18 and under also will be available.
Doors open: 6:30pm; late seating is not guaranteed.
Town Hall member benefits: Discounted subscriptions and tickets.
Learn more: About Mackenzie. 

 

Town MusicEnso String Quartet Opera Composers’ String Quartets

EnsoStringQuartetCreditCristinaHirst

With its 2010 Grammy nomination for Best Chamber Music Performance, the NYC-based Enso String Quartet quickly was recognized as one of the country’s most exciting young ensembles. And that exciting young ensemble is awfully excited about this new program. Says cellist Richard Belcher: “Puccini, Verdi, and Strauss are three of the greatest names in musical theater. When you think of those three composers, you think of big-scale operatic works. So full of color and character. It’s so exciting that our next project is working on the string quartets of these composers.” Called “clearly bound for greatness” by MusicWeb International and committed to the classics of the string-quartet repertoire as well as strong advocacy for new music, Enso (derived from the Japanese zen painting of the circle) also consists of Maureen Nelson, violin; John Marcus, violin; and Melissa Reardon, viola.

Presented by: Town Hall as part of the Town Music series, curated by Joshua Roman. Series supported by the Wyncote Foundation NW and the Tagney-Jones Family Fund. Series media sponsorship provided by Seattle Weekly and KING-FM.
Tickets: Prorated subscriptions to the four-concert Town Music season are $75 general/$70 members and are on sale now here.
Single-event tickets for Enso String Quartet are on sale now here: $20 advance/$25 at the door/$20 seniors/$17 Town Hall members/$10 students.
A limited number of $5 day-of-show Teen Tix for those 18 and under also will be available.
Doors open: 6:30 pm; late seating is not guaranteed.
Town Hall member benefits: Discounted subscriptions and tickets.
Learn more: About Enso String Quartet.
More about the program, on YouTube.

 

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