To our community,
We are bereft of words adequate enough to express our anger and sadness surrounding the horrifying systemic policies and violence that have continuously impacted the lives of African-Americans and recently reignited by George Floyd’s violent murder at the hands of Minneapolis police. On behalf of the entire Inverted Syntax team I would like to express that we explicitly denounce state-sanctioned violence, white supremacy, and the racist belief systems that have been in the USA over the course of its history. Inverted Syntax stands in solidarity with the Black members of our community, the Black Lives Matter movement, and echoes the cries of “No Justice: No Peace.”
I am Nawal, the editor-in-chief, and I am a mixed-race person. I edit the journal with a talented mix of volunteers, writers, and artists but we are a less-than-optimal racially mixed staff that the publication is striving for. As one who is Ghanaian and Lebanese and was raised in Ghana, W. Africa until the age of eleven at which point we moved to Lebanon, I have understood what it means to live as a person of color in racist societies. Yet while I have experienced racial discrimination in the various countries I have lived in, I am also acutely aware the privilege associated with being a light-skinned mixed-race person, a privilege in white societies and one that my African-American friends and family do not enjoy. I am also aware that by being able to claim I am Ghanaian, that I know my ancestry, which carries another type of privilege. But ultimately, it is about skin color in a racist society and my Black family members and I have often discussed the ways in which the world perceives and receives us differently based primarily on color. And when you grow up in this context, you cannot help but see yourself as part of your family’s struggle; a struggle that is personal and real not an abstract form of pain, but pain of which you know through their suffering.
The suffering of our African-American family and friends is incomparable and it persists as intergenerational trauma caused by events that have targeted a group of people. And this occurs in African-American lives more than other people of color, so even when family members have not directly experienced the trauma, they can feel the effects of the event generations later. In fact, sociologists define the African-American trauma as Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, and a condition that exists as a consequence of centuries of chattel slavery followed by institutionalized racism and oppression which have resulted in multigenerational adaptive behavior, which ends up reflecting both resilience and anger (https://www.joydegruy.com/post-traumatic-slave-syndrome). African-Americans have been abused for generations. They continue to suffer in 2020 in a society that is not designed for their success in any shape or form, and each one of us who has ever enjoyed any shape or form of privilege is under obligation to do our part towards dismantling racist systems and beliefs .
And it starts with the narrative. At Inverted Syntax we are telling a story through the words, works, and people we publish, and we must actively seek ways to revise and create a more inclusive narrative. When we do, we do our part and begin to tear at the vestiges of racism that work through all aspects of society that end up seeping into our veins to become our implicit biases and yes, even amongst people of color like myself.
So I write today to let you know that we at Inverted Syntax are going to do better. We have in the past discussed ways to improve attracting writers from diverse backgrounds but only took small steps last year. We recognize the role we have played since we started Inverted Syntax in 2018, evidenced in the works we have published and how what we publish reflects what we stand for. Our mission has been focused on publishing genre-bending work from writers and artists from all backgrounds but we have not delivered on that mission. Simply stating our desire to publish marginalized writers is not enough for us to successfully attract and publish vital stories that connect us all. We do not want our statement to read as a “nice to be included” in the submission call. We mean it and want to take actions to make this a reality.
As a literary magazine, we have a responsibility to take action in dismantling the systems of oppression, so in light of the aforementioned, we have been reflecting on the ways we have held implicit biases and as a result been complicit in these systems of oppression. We have thus been investigating our practices so that all facets of Inverted Syntax mirror our humanity, our values as those who vehemently oppose racism and desire racial equity, and as those who seek to actively support ways to eradicate all traces of discrimination that persist and suppress human beings.
We have been asking ourselves questions so as to hold ourselves accountable in the role we have played in the spaces we have made and not made for Black, Indigenous, and all artists and writers of color, and furthermore, we are asking ourselves questions to help us design actionable steps to help us reform our publishing practices.
Questions the Inverted Syntax team is asking about our practices as a journal:
1. Are marginalized groups submitting to our journal? What groups are they?
2. If Black, indigenous, and writers of color are submitting to our journal, why are we not selecting their work?
3. Since we read work blind, why is our lens shaped to select white writers and white stories? What are our implicit biases that shape our reading lens? What are the arguments for and against reading blind? Do we need a call for unblinded submissions?
4. What can we do to encourage more submissions from diverse writers?
5. How do we build a racially diverse group of Inverted readers?
Below are actions that our Inverted Syntax team has agreed to undertake:
6. Build a racially diverse group of readers and submitters: The editors will actively seek to partner with VONA, HBUCs, the Institute of American Indian Arts, and other organizations, inviting their writers and artists to apply to be readers, interns, and to submit work.
7. We want to improve our understanding of the African-American experience, and so we will each be taking a certificated course through the University of Chicago that we hope helps us become better readers of multiracial texts. https://www.coursera.org/learn/race-cultural-diversity-american-life
8. We are creating and sending out a survey to our past submitters to help us learn the identities sending us work and solicit any feedback in helping us improve how we attract submitters and continue to read blind with a lens not set up to filter out racially diverse texts/writers.
9. We are looking to design an online zoom discussion titled How do we dismantle our white lens and rebuild a new inclusive lens?
10. We will be examining our readership at the end of every submission call and revising and implementing revised actions.
11. We will be attending webinars throughout the year led by members of the Black community to help us keep growing and learning and we will continue to hold ourselves accountable.
12. We will continue to offer a free option during every submission call to anyone who is disadvantaged.
13. We will actively support businesses and organizations owned and run by BIPOC through our social media platforms.
14. If as Harryette Mullen says “you'd want your artistic activity to connect to some political activity in order to affect reality,” Inverted will put out a special call next Spring for an online feature inviting artists and writers to submit work with a specific focus on social and political activism.
15. I will make it a practice of ours to now send a monthly message to our team with a reading and reflection so that we begin to address the implicit biases we may have for work by writers of color. We will look at the writings of Harryette Mullen, Fred Moten, Paul Beatty, Renee Gladman, Claudia Rankine, Nathanial Mackey, Cornelius Eady, Joy Harjo, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, HEAVY by Kiese Laymon, Jesmyn Ward, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Hanif Abdurraqib, Tracy K Smith, Lucille Clifton, Ross Gay, and Terrence Hayes. This is a starting place and we will continue to add to this list.
16. We are reading the following articles and attachments located below:
We celebrated our 2nd birthday on June 5th, and as fledgling we are working to build a foundation that can confidently claim to be anti-racist in its practices. We want to fight systemic problems by not just avoiding patterns, but doing what we can to disrupt the pattern — to disrupt the syntax. We invite you to join us and to join in the conversation that educates, that disrupts, that heals, because that’s what healing requires, a disruption of the disease and the disease is an oppression. We ask that you hold us to our commitments and expect more of us as a journal and as individuals.
We want to hear from you, we want feedback. Please do not hesitate to share with us your thoughts and suggestions.