Education Activist Says ‘Worship of the Written Word Is a Tenet of White Supremacy’

“Interesting concept. Glad you wrote it down.”

An education activist complained Tuesday about the criticism she received after claiming last month that “Worship of the written word is a tenet of white supremacy.”

Kelly Wickham Hurst, feminist and executive director of a non-profit organization that advocates for black students, accused critics of misinterpreting a tweet in which she expressed her belief that people who were overly focused on reading and writing were upholding racist ideals.

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Hurst’s website biography describes her as a former public and private school teacher, blogger, dean, assistant principal and “advocate for education, social good, and responsible living.”

“Unpopular opinion, English teacher edition: Worship of the written word is a tenet of white supremacy,” Hurst said to her more than 19,000 followers in early March.

In a subsequent tweet, the veteran educator explained that she meant to challenge conventional notions that prioritized reading and writing over other forms of acquiring knowledge. “We act as if the written word is to be worshipped and we discount oral traditions of indigenous folk and many other people of color. Book knowledge is prioritized and reading is a LEISURE activity,” she wrote.

Although society may view books as the only path to literacy, according to Hurst, “there are plenty of other ways.”

Her initial tweet, which garnered nearly 1,000 comments and more than 600 retweets, provoked a myriad of reactions from commenters.

“I get it. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I really don’t care now if my kids read Chaucer or Moby Dick. The ‘classics’ are all white men. I want them to interact with words, read books as a way of entering other worlds. High school English should be all current YA,” tweeted Shauna Ahern, writer and gluten-free lifestyle enthusiast.

One Twitter user, who identified herself as a music teacher, agreed with Hurst and said the “Worship of written music privileges white, Western music.”

But not all commenters were as enamored with Hurst’s hot-take.

“Interesting concept. Glad you wrote it down,” quipped one critic. Evolutionary behavioral scientist and public intellectual Gad Saad took a sarcastic dig at Hurst. “I’ll add the written word to the long list of things, ideas, concepts, etc. that are manifestations of white supremacy,” Saad tweeted.

Some commenters had trouble connecting the dots on Hurst’s argument. “I could see a very valid point about other means of story telling, etc. & other ways to teach and learn…but then to subscribe it to white supremacy it’s just blatantly divisive & racist on your part. Leave race out of it,” wrote one commenter.

Detractors might see Hurt’s take as symptomatic of the highly charged racial climate that has led some to argue an identity politics-mindset is negatively affecting conversations about race in America. In a textbook example of the kind of racially charged rhetoric that skeptics decry as absurd, a gender studies professor recently discussed the racial implications of time during an NPR interview, arguing that “if time had a race, it would be white” and that “White people own time.”

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