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Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Is Brendan Kiley a Bigot? An Investigation.

Posted by on September 5 at 12:56 PM

OK. Read this.

Did you understand it? Did you gather from it—a piece by Brendan Kiley about Gary Shteyngart’s book Absurdistan, included in last week’s Bumbershoot guide, because Shteynhart was part of an event at Bumbershoot—that Shteyngart is an author who deploys racial stereotypes only to shame us with their familiarity? You might have gotten that from the sentence: “His novels… deploy stereotypes only to shame us with their familiarity.” If you were still unclear, you would gather as much from the rest of the piece (as Brendan notes, there’s a character in the book who keeps saying, “Where the niggaz at?”), but just in case, just to make it extra clear, Brendan’s second-to-last sentence is: “Gary’s stereotypes are stealth missiles—you think they’re pointed toward your funny bone, but at the last second they turn and hit you right in the conscience.”

Then there’s the last sentence. Kiley’s now-famous last sentence, the purpose of which was just to say that, by the way, Shteyngart is not doing this event alone, there’s another author too, but there isn’t enough room here to give equal treatment to her book. (Absurdistan is a big-deal book, was on cover of the NYTBR, but we hadn’t yet covered it in The Stranger.) Kiley’s last sentence reads: “Shteyngart is scheduled to appear with some Arab chick.”

Now, multiple choice. Taking Brendan’s whole article into account, how would you characterize this last sentence?

(A) It’s absolutely sincere, and shocking, incontrovertible proof that Brendan Kiley is a racist and a misogynist and probably a white male.
(B) Uh, I’m not an idiot, that was a Shteyngart-esque way to address the fact that Shteyngart was not doing the event alone, that there was another author involved, and anyone who takes that literally as Brendan Kiley’s estimation of the other author—Laila Lalami—needs to brush up on their reading comprehension skills.

On Sunday at Bumbershoot, Mark White, from Scala House Press, who was the moderator of the discussion between Shteyngart and Lalami, got all sanctimonious about how Lalami had been dismissed as “some Arab chick” in The Stranger and in the course of getting all sanctimonious and asking her how she felt at this published injustice against her and Arabs and women in general never bothered to mention the context. The audience, deprived of the context, audibly gasped. White asked Lalami how she felt about it, and Lalami (who is a smart woman who obviously understands irony [“the use of words to express something other than and esp. the opposite of the literal meaning”—Webster’s Collegiate 10th Edition]) pointed out that she was neither Arab (she’s Moroccan) nor a chick (uh, she looked like a chick to me) but that the only thing that bothered her was that she wished The Stranger had reviewed her book too. It would have been cool if she’d explained the context to the crowd, because Mark White was just playing everyone, but she didn’t.

I don’t know much about Scala House Press except that on their website, Salman Rushdie’s first name is spelled “Salmon.” Like the fish. Did you do that cuz he’s Indian, Mark? Is that a dig? You know he’s not American Indian, right? And it’s the American Indians who loved the salmon…

By the way, Mark White is not alone in his inability to comphrend Brendan Kiley’s obvious bigotry. A selection of sentiments from the shitstorm of letters we’ve gotten:

not bad: racist, sexist, and dismissive in only three words. you must be exhausted.
What a disrespectful thing to print.
Very nicely written review of Gary Shteyngart’s work except for the very last part…


CommentsRSS icon

Blue Scholars, Seattle Weekly, Racists?


Yeah, yeah. The joke fell flat for some people. That's what happens when you write. People can't see the inflection you hold in your mind - they see only the obvious.

Sorry, better luck next time.

Woman is the nigger of the world.

Not surprising that the more subtle interpretation of the last line was lost on so many people. The sanctimonious lefties have been starved of real explicit racism in the media, so they frenzy at even the slightest scent of blood.

Racial politics are like a bad marriage. Accusations and blame are the primary currency, good deeds go unappreciated, participants are blinded by self-righteousness, and it holds back everyone involved.

Besides, from what I hear Brendan is a big slutty fag.

The writer is a Jew and most most Jews who read his book are intelligent enough to grasp the irony. As for the rest of the ignorant, uneducated, readers out there my guess is they'll be too busy watching TV to ever crack this book open.

Stranger readers (many of them Jewish) are into your ironic vibe. Personally, I think it's funny when The Stranger offends unintelligent people.

A big, slutty fag? Well, I learn something new every day.

I think most who read the piece got it. It's the kind of smart-assery we read the Stranger for in the first place. The real shame of it all is that neither Lalami's name, nor her book's name, nor her excellent blog's name, nor the fact that she's local(ish) was mentioned. Here's this Caine prize finalist from Portland of all places, and we get a piece about a Jewish guy from New York?

Featuring Jewish writers locally is important. Seattle is a racist, anti-semitic city. One group has been oppressed the most and deserves extra press coverage. There are tons of articles about Arab women writers from Portland. The Stranger is the only local paper with the courage not only speak out against anti-semitism, but also to give extra coverage to Jewish authors to make up for the dearth of coverage of the most oppressed group.

LOL at this shitstorm in a shot-glass and even bigger LOL at the comments. SLOG is comedy gold!

Isn't it the new American agenda to find a non-contextualized sound byte to rebel against until it's revealed to be either blather or not what you thought to begin with?

Yay for American laziness - ready to rally against that which is not understood before bothering to investigate. Typical.

Why are all chicks (especially Arab ones) so shrill and hypersensitive? They need to loosen up and learn how to take a joke. Do you suppose that oxygen deprivation under a burka further addles the simple female “mind”?

I read the review, and I got it, but I wasn't laughing either. You're getting this shitstorm in part because it just wasn't very well done. Tin ear. Cheap knockoff.

Yes, Brendan is. Wait—did you say "bigot"? I thought you said "faggot."

Seattle is very sexist. Women make less than men for doing the same job. It doesn't suprise me that an award winning writer would be called a "chick". That's how sexist Seattle is.

Brendan Kiley is not a bigot. He's just really white. I don't think he can help it.

it's all about timing. gotta work on your timing, bro.

A! It's A, right?

No wait. B. It's B. I'm sure of it.

Fuck. Which is it? Is the Stranger going to publish the right answer? It would suck to never know if I guessed right. The winner could get Hump tickets or something maybe.

The irony was obvious; it just wasn't very well done (Linda's right). If you actually want to debunk stereotypes, ironically repeating them's the lazy way out. Far better to actually treat people like full human beings. Shteyngart earned his "niggaz" by writing a beautiful, complex, sick-ass funny novel, not just a flat punch line.

I would say the last sentence is an IQ test. Sadly (in much of America at least, can't speak for the rest of the world), more intelligent writers can only *hope* to be understood ... or else they'd spend 2/3 of their time trying to solve the "how to offend noone" Rubik's Cube.

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