The Reactionary Unimagination of White Supremacy, the vileness of POETRY publishing a privileged pedophile in their Black History Month issue

The Reactionary Unimagination of White Supremacy, the vileness of POETRY publishing a privileged pedophile in their Black History Month issue

I was told once by a white person, “I understand your plight as a Black person. I have worked with drug addicts.” We were not discussing race. She just brought that up unsolicited. 

For many white people, even with the best intentions, Blackness means depravity. It is why when white people pretend to be Black, they adopt a personality of pathologized perversion—often embracing the most outrageous caricatures of Blackness. 

“While claiming to be a child of addicts from the hood, she boasted about speaking numerous languages, reading ancient texts….”

Yarimar Bonilla, professor of Africana, Puerto Rican and Latino studies at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York on Jessica Krug a finalist for both the Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass book prizes for her book “Fugitive Modernities” while pretending to be a Black person. 

Our newest member of white intruders in (temporary) Black spaces is Kirk Nesset. He is in the February 2021 “The Practice of Freedom” POETRY magazine issue. A magazine that has a 1 percent acceptance rate according to PBS NewsHour Art Beat. Kirk is so notorious that his crimes come up as the third result in a Google search. Kirk was convicted of possessing and storing over half a million images and videos of child pornography. He spent a little over five years in prison for his offense. He is a white, well to do, formerly tenured professor at a $50,000 a year private liberal arts college. He has a Ph.D. from U.C. Santa Barbara and a B.A. from U.C. Santa Cruz. 

“We believe that weighing people’s convictions in editorial decisions for this issue would be antithetical to the discourse around the practices of freedom we are seeking to facilitate.”

POETRY

POETRY continues to be insincere about the reason for his inclusion in “The Practice of Freedom.” Yes, him being a pedophile is horrible, but it is not about just that. It is about this—a privileged white man who was probably invited to submit to what is essentially the Black History Month issue of POETRY. 

POETRY wanted to do a prison-issue without explicitly stating Blackness, so it just highlighted pathology. 

You can’t separate the prison-industrial complex from race. You can’t separate the U.S. prison system from the anti-blackness that created it. The U.S. prison system was made owing to the South’s insatiable hunger for exploitable Black labor.

After the Emancipation Proclamation, former Confederate states passed strict vagrancy labor contract laws and “anti-enticement” laws designed to punish employers who offered higher wages to Black workers that were already under contract. Often Black people were under contract to their prior enslavers.

Black people who broke labor contracts could be arrested and re-enslaved as prisoners for industry. 

In 1865 both Mississippi and South Carolina enacted the first black codes. In those states, if you were Black and did not have a written letter saying you were employed, you could be arrested and put in jail. U.S. Steel rented prisoners for its coal mines. Railroads, businessmen, industrialists could rent Black people who were “convicts” from the state.

South Carolina prohibited Black people from holding any occupation other than farmer or servant.

In 1883, 10 percent of Alabama’s total revenue was derived from renting prisoners (convict leasing) by 1898, nearly 73 percent of Alabama’s total revenue came from renting prisoners.

In the 1880s, Black people were incarcerated at a rate of 4.7 per 1,000 population, whites the rate was 1.5. This gap expanded to 25 and 10 by 1940.

Currently, for Black people, the incarceration rate is 1,408 per 100,000 (14 per 1000), and for whites, the incarceration rate is 275 per 100,000 (2.75 per 1000).

I feel that POETRY attempted to be complex in how it handled Black History Month. And decided that the carceral space would an excellent virtue signaling venue.

They wouldn’t even need to get a fake Black nightmarish caricature. They had Kirk. 

The assumption is that a pedophile is like a Black person.

Think of the buzz his inclusion will cause!

And if you respond appropriately to this provocation, they can just paint you as being a mean racist that is against prison abolition. How dare you have a different standard for white people?! He’s just a regular white guy with a Ph.D and a couple of books.

Crack use and pedophilia are part of Black culture —to the sophisticated who really get it. 

To high culture, Blackness is an idea. An idea that any race can embody. 

“Negress” was another word she liked to use That’s the nice way to say it“Oh they are always changing what they want to be called”

From Michael Dickman’s poem Scholls Ferry Rd, published then unpublished in POETRY (since uncool people didn’t get it).

Rewarding caricatures of Blackness is a white supremacy time-honored tradition. It is the modern minstrel show of a jug band complete with makeup, washtub bass, bones, and a washboard playing “Turkey in the Straw” with the racist lyrics. They reward it in the academy, nonprofit life, the visual arts, and the reward it in literary magazines.  

Depravity equates with Blackness in a phrase writer Jo Scott-Coe coined as “the white unimagination” (in the days of Internet and Google searches creative phrases have milled edges and I don’t want to be accused of shaving her coin.)  Anyone can have Blackness if they are twisted enough. 

Kirk is oppressed like a Black person can’t you see that. As a Black person how can you not understand!?

So POETRY for Black History Month decides to dedicate an issue on incarceration—already interesting to me as POETRY is home to some of the most horrific classist snobs in the literary community. But then, as a final insult, to give special consideration to a white, privileged pedophile. 

“The editors of this issue read thousands of poems submitted by people who have experienced incarceration, which were winnowed down to the sampling here…”

POETRY on how they picked poems for their “Practice of Freedom” issue.

So Kirk was just randomly picked out of thousands of submissions?

Aside from the levels of disrespect that only graduates of the best prep and MFA schools in the country can dole out with dolloped smiles, think about what that means? 

It means POETRY is unable to distinguish between Black, Chicano, and Native American people who have been victims of institutional racism and the enablers of that oppression: the police, the judicial system, and men who are pedophiles and rapists.

White people with power seem skilled at hiring and surrounding themselves with sycophants who cannot (or will not) see the difference between violent sadists and minoritized people. Even worse, they see us as the same.

It is just like how there is a particular kind of white person defending the attempted Capitol coup —by minimizing it. They say, “Well, that’s what Black Lives Matter does.” 

That is not what happened on January 6. It is NOT what Black Lives Matter does.

Furthermore, some select people on the anti-left left state, “If we don’t fight for the rights of white supremacists who want to murder politicians and white pedophiles who want to have sex with children, then how can we defend Black people?”

I have heard this argument—they say it is about consistency!

That is not being consistent. 

The false equivalency consistency argument indicates that a person has an inability to separate Black and Brown people’s oppression from random white mayhem. It is white supremacist to view Black and Brown people struggling for justice in the identical light as the most violent white society members.

Our acts of resistance against this oppressive system are NOT violent perversions. It is not pedophilia. It is not rape. It is not violent reactionism.

Viewing Kirk Nesset as an oppressed victim of the prison industrial complex is the exact same mindset of the openly racist right-wing propagandists that compares Rep Omar with Rep Greene.  

There is a difference between a person who is the victim of the violence of institutional racism and a person who is IN fact, a violent danger to the community.

There is a difference between giving someone a break and calling up a white former professor pedophile, whose books are still in catalogs, and poems are still accessible on prestigious literary magazines websites and giving him yet another platform, a platform that thousand of marginalized people were rejected from.  Kirk Nesset Poetry


Teka Lo, Public Intellectuals

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