An Open Letter to J.K. Rowling

I wrote an open letter to J.K. Rowling several months ago but never posted it out of fear. As an author with shared fans—I was being self-protective.

In light of her recent remarks on free speech I reexamined the letter, and my own fears…

 

December 23, 2015

 

An Open Letter to J.K. Rowling,

 

Like an itch just out of reach, something has been pestering me about your comment earlier this month on Twitter. Something I couldn’t quite name. It took me weeks. It bounced around in my brain. And then today … Eureka! It hit me. I realized why it bothered me so much.

You see, as one of the most creative, imaginative, brilliant minds on the planet, it was really just that … I expected more of you.

I’m referring, of course, to the following tweet:

“How horrible. Voldemort was nowhere near as bad.”  https://t.co/hFO0XmOpPH (On Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S.) — J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling)  December 8, 2015

We see everything from such a polarized place today so allow me to clarify. This letter has NOTHING to do with politics.

As I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, Voldemort is a fictional villain. He is a character in a story, which means he has neither humanity, nor dignity. Unlike Donald Trump who, like it or not, has both, along with a family, including children, who surely read Harry Potter and know all about a wizard so evil he shall not be named.

I’m not excusing Trump’s degrading of his opponents, he’s clearly feeding the same ravenous beast, the one who tells us we get to generally regard those with a different view point as vile and subhuman. You see this going on everywhere you look. My expectation was that you understood the difference, but to my surprise, though you stand on a prettier pedestal, your tweet was nothing but more of the same.

In other words, your tweet might as well have said: ‘Because I believe his idea is bad, I, J.K. Rowling, revoke his humanity card. I relegate him to subhuman status.’

Let’s be honest, you have the power to do it. That’s what celebrity is. But doesn’t that sound a little like the deplorable, “horrible” act of judging the humanity of individuals/casting them out based on their religion (which is essentially, of course, nothing more than a collection of ideas—good or bad).

Why do you think it is that today we cannot disagree without dehumanizing? Why is it that we must vilify the person along with the idea?

Banning all people of a specific religion from a country is indeed a bad idea, I agree with you. But I’m calling you out— Ms. Rowling, respectfully. The idea is bad, not the person. I know it’s radically counter-culture at the moment so I’ll say it again.

The idea is bad, not the person.

When do you suppose it was that we decided we had to vilify people we disagreed with? And why?

Personally, I wish you had disagreed with him, I wish you’d had a debate. It would literally break Twitter in the best way. You’ve both got the whole world’s attention. Make us think! Make him think … but don’t dehumanize. Despise the idea. Hate the idea. Not the person. It’s easy to call someone Voldemort and walk away but we can do better, it’s time we try, and it’s influencers like you who can lead the way. Lest we make Ralph Waldo Emerson’s worst nightmare come true.

“Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.”

As I’m certain you know, persecution is defined as the act or practice of harassing or punishing in a manner designated to injure or afflict, especially those who differ in origin, religion or … wait for it … social outlook.

When a person is, by all accounts, wrong, within the context of an open and tolerant world, disagree with them, publicly, vehemently, and passionately, in the modern-day open place of assembly that is Twitter. But do not revoke personhood based on outlook. For when we feel the need to downgrade an individual’s humanity for expressing a thought that contradicts with our own, instead of just sparring intellectually, we trounce on the free market of ideas. Thoughts become dangerous. Ideas become liabilities. Philosophy, expression, debate, disagreement, these things built the countries we both live in. They are the pillars of a civilized world. And they are, without exception, the only civilized way forward.

UPDATED: May 18, 2016

People cheered when you called Trump “worst than Voldemort.” It was the headline for days.

But then this week you called on, the world basically, to begin to understand our freedom of expression on a higher level. On a more dignified level. On a level devoid of hypocrisy, one where we can disagree with what someone says but honorably and honestly defend their right to say it. You said that Trump’s freedom of speech protected your own. This is good, of course. Intolerance in the name of tolerance has been a growing trend for far to long. It’s nonsensical and it needs to go.

But to the point above, I’d love to know your thoughts on the matter. Because it speaks to the NEXT level of where I think we can go, where we must go, beyond just defending the right to speech… it’s an evolution of the heart.

We must rise to a place where we can disagree without demonizing

Where we’re able to hate the idea and manage not to hate the person.

To grow in our capacity to ‘hear’ one another, to listen, with no need for ‘safe places’ from bad ideas.

Thoughtfully, Sincerely, and with Admiration,

Tiffany FitzHenry

Author of The Oldest Soul Trilogy