storm in local teacup

Via BigFatBlog, I learned that the local rag recently printed the following “event blurb” by one Karla Starr:

Are you a fatty? Want to be in a book? Waddle over to a computer, grab your typing stick (those sausage fingers hit too many keys at once, don’t they?), go to stacybias.net, and fill out the contact form for your chance to contribute to Bias’ FatGirl Speaks, a short-fiction anthology inspired by her event of the same name.

I sent Ms Starr the following:

Ms Starr:
I write in response to your recent column in the Willamette Week, in which you indulged in one of the crudest and most revolting expressions of prejudice I have seen in a long time (“Are you a fatty?”). I won’t write out your column with the relevant targets altered to blacks, gays, or some other minority group: unless you are as stupid as you are unthinkingly bigoted, you know what you did and why it was wrong.
I hope you are ashamed of yourself, and I hope you will be fired over this. I will write to your editor to promise that as long as I can find your byline, I will simply drop any copy of WW I come across into the nearest trash bin, where it belongs. Before I do so, though, I will scan it to find a couple of advertisers with whom I might otherwise do business, and write to tell them that so long as they advertise in WW, and WW employs you, they will not see a penny from me.
sincerely,
me.

Then I wrote the WW editor (and owner?) Mark Zusman to say the same thing. I got a response from Ms Starr within minutes; I am still angry, so I’m not going to respond right away. (see below)
Despite being angry, though, I am already inclined to view her apology as genuine. On first reading, she does not whine or excuse herself, and gives evidence that she actually read and responded to my letter rather than sending an untailored form response.
I’ll get back to you on that, but I can say this now: I have screwed up in much the same way myself, though the “target” of my idiocy was a different group. (I’ll spare you the details; suffice it to say, I cringe when I think of it — and I think of it often.) I remember with cold and stomach-churning clarity the feeling that came over me when I realized, fully realized, what I’d done. Am I a scumbag for what I did, or a decent person for being ashamed of it now? I honestly don’t know, but I do know that if Ms Starr is feeling now what I felt then, I’m willing to give her a second chance. My only other choice is rank hypocrisy.
Update: OK, I’ve had time to cool off, and I’ve re-read the mail I got, as well as a few replies from Ms Starr that other people have posted. There’s a lot of “oh, she’s just saying what she’s told to say because her editors are worried about bad PR”, but I don’t agree. Her tone has changed from “I was just joking” to “I’m really sorry”, and (pace a number of commenters) she’s not posting form letters: all the replies I’ve seen have some cut-and-paste, but that’s only sensible when answering so many letters. I’ve yet to see any actual repeats; I believe Ms Starr is reading and answering each letter, and I think she’s genuinely sorry.
Editor Kelly Clarke is another story, and I don’t know what to expect from WW itself. I expect they will take a line somewhere between “get over it” and “but, but, we invited Stacy Bias to come and talk to us, what more does the woman want?”. Oy. Anyway, this is what Ms Starr plans to print:

I initially wanted to use this space to tell people to laugh it off, but then I started reading my e-mails–all of them. And responding. To each one. There were only so many heartfelt stories about weight discrimination I could read before realizing just how many people I’d hurt–and how many others I hurt who never wrote. It’s forced me to seriously reconsider my definition of humor and body image and appreciate the influence of my words. After experiencing firsthand the power of reading so many stories, my appreciation and respect for Stacy Bias’s work and upcoming book has grown tremendously. I’d like to thank everyone for writing and helping to open my eyes; it’s always appreciated, at kstarr@wweek.com. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Bias and everyone I hurt with my words, which perpetuated the notion that weight discrimination is the last acceptable form of prejudice–regardless of your past or present size, it’s never okay.

There’s still a tinge of defensiveness in the references to her earlier responses (“it was meant to be funny”, “I used to be fat myself”). Ms Starr’s email to me was much more “I fucked up, I’m sorry, no excuses”, and I wish she’d stick to that in her printed response — it would do more to assuage hurt feelings — but she has had to respond fairly quickly, and I know it always takes me a good long while to get past the defensive stage whenever someone points out that I’ve fucked up.
I’ll wait for the next issue of WW to make up my mind completely, but as of now I’m inclined to take Ms Starr at her word and accept her apology.
Final update: I wrote the principals but forgot to say anything here; like Stacy Bias, I’m happy to accept Ms Starr’s apology and pleased to see mistakes being treated as opportunities for positive change.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything:

That’s where the light gets in.

2 thoughts on “storm in local teacup

  1. If the screw up you’re referring to is the one I was also involved in, I’m with you re remembering and learning about human’s fallibility, not to mention more awareness, from it.
    R

  2. Nah, Ralfi, different screwup, really very similar to Karla Starr’s. (If you don’t remember, I ain’t telling.)
    But the one we managed together is another good example.

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