Yesterday, I released the first of a seven part epic called “Paths Not Taken.” This epic, which has been a good two years in the making, is the centerpiece of the second season of The Gray Area, an ongoing audio drama that won the Parsec Award during the first season. The full tale involves time travel, parallel universes, lost love, identity, forgiveness, compassion, fate, fortune tellers, mysterious Englishmen, life choices, AI, revolutionaries who argue about breakfast, and a great deal more.
This is the most ambitious story I have ever told. It takes place in two parallel universes and follows numerous characters between 1994 and 2023. “Where Are the Lads of the Village Tonight?” — named after a pre-World War I novelty tune written and composed by R.P. Weston and Herman Datewski — is the first chapter. On one level, this is a very meticulous character study. The writing came after I spent a good six weeks doing field research and conducted numerous interviews with women to ensure accuracy, authenticity, love, and respect to the LGBTQ community. On another level, the entire epic is also a fun romp involving a winged intedimensional creature named Chester, a goofy alien obsessed with Tony Danza and hot dogs, and a lot of interdimensional travel.
You can listen to the first installment below:
We’re going to be releasing “Paths Not Taken” every two weeks between now through October. You can either wait for the next installment every two weeks or, for $20, you can purchase a Season 2 subscription pass to not only listen to all the episodes, but also access the scripts as well as a great deal of behind-the-scenes material.
While all of the stories can be enjoyed on their own terms, there are numerous hidden connections between all the stories for the attentive listener. Feel free to consult this episode guide for the entire series to follow the entire narrative trajectory.
Here’s the synopsis for Chapter One:
Chelsea Needham was once among the foremost leaders in tech. But something happened involving a fire and a death. And it got in the papers. Rumor reared its ugly head and Chelsea lost everything she had, with only a few friends left. While recovering from alcoholism, self-destruction, and losing the love of her life, Chelsea meets an enigmatic gentleman from England and a strange fortune teller who may have the answers to how she can reclaim her identity.
Karlos Dillard was a struggling Postmates worker who longed for fame and attention. But when a white woman cut him off accidentally during a delivery run, he found the opportunity to bend the truth and create an invented narrative in which he was a victim and she was a racist.
Karlos Dillard — a 27-year-old Postmates driver and self-published author in Seattle — was cut off by a 1996 Geo Metro during a routine food delivery. The car was driven by a white woman. Dillard is black. Dillard said that he was on his way to a restaurant he refers to as “Dick’s Dine-In” to pick up a food delivery for a Postmates gig. (There are five franchises of Dick’s Drive-In operating in Seattle. I have confirmed that all five restaurants do indeed offer Postmates delivery.)
Dillard claimed — in a series of Instagram stories — that he had the right of way to merge onto a street from Melrose Avenue in “Capitol Hill. Fucking Capitol Hill.” Dillard says that he was in the right lane. As the two lanes of the unspecified street were about to merge, Dillard says that the woman “freaked out and swung around me and got in front of me and slammed on her brakes and did a brake check.” He further claims that he nearly collided into the back of her car.
At this point, we can confine the details of this incident to, at worst, an act of minor road rage — a common act that anyone, irrespective of race or background, engages in when they are facing significant anxiety — an anxiety that the present pandemic and economic uncertainty has instilled in anyone. But Dillard wished to escalate this — without a shred of video evidence — into a flimsy claim that the unidentified Geo Woman had instigated an act of racism. He decided to take advantage of the present moment, in which the Karen meme of white women using their privilege to engage in repugnant acts of racism has proven to be quite popular.
Dillard, a Trump supporter whose online record shows a clear angling for attention and online fame, saw an opportunity to go viral. So he chased the Geo Woman down in his car and confronted her, releasing the below video excerpt onto Twitter, which, as I write this, has been seen more than four million times.
UPDATE: In an attempt to hide his evidence, Dillard removed the above Instagram post. The full video can be found below:
Karlos Dillard acted with great cruelty in his video.
The woman is clearly terrified. Her hands are shaking. She desperately covers her face and her license plate. Anyone who drives a Geo Metro built in another century is clearly not rolling in riches. So why go after her like this?
The Geo Woman feels attacked by the camera. We have no idea if she’s suffered any kind of past trauma or abuse. What a normal person with any shred of empathy would do here is put the camera down and give her the opportunity to apologize. But that’s not what Dillard does. He continues to call her a Karen, sticking his knife into the woman’s vulnerability and inflating his claim. He pans his phone to the woman’s car and gleefully announces, “Guys, this is her license plate number. She lives here. This is her address.” The woman shrieks at the top of her lungs, “No! No! Please! This is not true.”
“You cut me off!” bellows Dillard.
“No, I didn’t!” says the Geo Woman.
The woman begs for Dillard to leave her alone and to let her offer an apology for whatever happened. But what does Dillard do? He backs away from the woman and shouts into the Seattle streets for attention, “Guys! She flipped me off and then she tried to come home.” It’s vital to note that Dillard does not mention any act of racism in the early period of this unsettling video. Then he shrieks, “She did apologize for calling me a n**** and flipping me off” to anyone who will listen. And yet we don’t actually hear the woman acknowledging that she did any of this. Dillard is the person in the position of power here. And he knows it.
“Ma’am, what have I done to you?” barks Dillard.
“You’re going to ruin my life and you don’t even know me.”
Throughout the video, the Geo Woman repeatedly denies flipping Dillard off. “No, I didn’t! I swear to God!” she shrieks as she cowers with fear, desperately hiding the license plate and wailing with unbearable pain. She claims repeatedly, “I didn’t even see you!” in the full video.
Various onlookers look terribly confused as she cries, “He won’t listen to me!” An unspecified white man claims that he “saw her do it.” But what precisely did this man see?
Dillard eventually drives off and pulls across the street as various people try to comfort the Geo Woman. Then he returns to the scene, his camera off, and there is this exchange:
DILLARD: You literally cut me off. You flipped me off, correct? GEO WOMAN: I did. But it wasn’t the way.. DILLARD: Okay. GEO WOMAN: …you won’t let me finish.
[Is the Geo Woman confessing to accidentally cutting Dillard off? Or flipping him off? Or is she overwhelmed by the rapid fire nature of Dillard’s relentless questions?]
GEO WOMAN: I didn’t mean to. ‘Cause I was trying to… DILLARD: Then what did I do illegally? GEO WOMAN: Can I — can I… DILLARD: I had to merge. GEO WOMAN: I — Can I talk? DILLARD: Yeah. Go ahead. GEO WOMAN: I feel sorry… DILLARD: I have to… GEO WOMAN: (crying) My arm! My heart. DILLARD: Ma’am, you can’t just be going down flipping people off. GEO WOMAN: I didn’t know you were — I wanted to touch you because I wanted you to — I know. I understand. You are a stranger. We — look me in the eyes. DILLARD: You’re not going to be on Instagram. That’s not my deal here.
But going viral is most certainly Dillard’s “deal.”
The Geo Woman never once confesses specifically to flipping Dillard off. If anything, she extends empathy to him for accidentally cutting him off. Moreover, Dillard explicitly tells the Geo Woman — who is now a subject of ridicule — that she will not be on Instagram, betraying his pledge to clear up the misunderstanding privately.
In other words, Dillard’s video is not an act of social justice or even a noble fight for justice. It is an act of pure and unadulterated sadism, conducted by Dillard without a shred of compassion.
The other aspect of Dillard’s video that went viral was the Geo Woman announcing that she has a black husband. Here is the transcript:
DILLARD: You flipped me off! You flipped me off! GEO WOMAN: Sir? DILLARD: Don’t touch me! Do not touch me. GEO WOMAN: I’m trying to… DILLARD: You flipped me off! GEO WOMAN: I have a black husband! DILLARD: I don’t care. Why did you flip me off? GEO WOMAN: You were totally calling me something that I’m not.
There are several important aspects to note here that reveal both the truth of what happened and Dillard’s questionable motivations.
1. At no point does the Geo Woman say that she flipped Dillard off or committed racism.
2. The Geo Woman is still processing some shouting guy with a camera confronting her. And instead of giving the Geo Woman the opportunity to process what’s going on, he instead bullies her with the question, “Why did you flip me off?”
* * *
What is the basis for Dillard’s claims of racism from this woman? In an effort to understand why, I have downloaded and reviewed the eighty photos and videos that Dillard uploaded to his Instagram stories feed on June 22, 2020 for this story. You can download the collected files here. After careful study, it’s pretty clear that there are too many contradictions and constant additions to Dillard’s story for it to be accepted in any court of law. Of the professed brake check and racism, Dillard doesn’t possess any evidence other than his own word, which constantly shifts over the course of his Instagram feed. He also takes many opportunities throughout these Instagram stories to promote his book and his merchandise.
There is a short video of the woman’s Geo facing Dillard, the Geo pulling back with its driver’s side open, and the woman’s Geo then driving off. Dillard has not posted any video demonstrating that the Geo Woman acted with any form of racism. In fact, when he shouts at the Geo Woman, he doesn’t make any mention of her professed racism, which would seem to be the underlying source of his beef. He merely bemoans that she was “driving crazy in Seattle.” He merely shouts, “Karen, learn how to drive!”
As Dillard revisits the incident, the details of his story keep changing. He initially says that the woman “sticks her fingers out of the window and starts flipping me off and saying all of this fucking racial shit.” Dillard also claims that the woman followed him for three blocks. And yet he has no video to back up any of this.
In another bit of testimony from Instagram Stories, Dillard then says that the Geo Woman “purposely brake checked me” and then adds the new detail of the Geo Woman smiling — “the smile and the words that came out of her mouth and her flicking me off.” But the source video of the Geo doesn’t show the woman doing any of these things. Has Dillard conveniently omitted the details?
Dillard takes the opportunity to mock the Geo Woman for having a black husband, stating with hyperbole:
“I have a black husband” will forever be the defense of racist people….and clearly your husband can’t really be about the movement. Because he would have had a conversation with you. Like, if you really had a black husband, you would know what you did was inappropriate. You would also what you’re doing now is inappropriate. If you had a black husband, you would have been apologetic.
But wait a minute. Dillard claimed at the scene of the incident that the Geo Woman did apologize “for calling me a n*****,” even going to the trouble of shouting this at the top of his lungs to anyone who would listen. Moreover, what could the Geo Woman be doing “right now” given that Dillard is removed from her?
To add additional credibility and framing to his claim, Dillard also includes a video on his Instagram Stories feed having a conversation with his husband, completely discounting the road rage as the motivating factor behind the incident. Karlos’s husband Kristopher (who, it is worth noting, was attacked on a bus in 2016) claims that, if Dillard had hit the Geo Woman, then he would “owe her a new car.” And this leap in logic is used to further suggest that the Geo Woman acted with unmitigated racism. Dillard responds:
So issue isn’t the road rage. It’s the…the “Why it happened?” And that’s why I wanted — that’s really — I didn’t give a fuck about her calling me out on my name or flipping me off. I really got pissed off.
Despite remaining cool as a cucumber throughout all of his Instagram Stories, Dillard also paints himself as a suffering victim, suggesting that he will suffer from “hypertension, blood pressure, insomnia, back problems, [and] chiropractic problems.” It is worth pointing out that none of the many legitimate victims of Karens have ever felt compelled to list a series of physical ailments after being subjected to unacceptable racism.
Dillard, a Detroit native, has his own troubled past. He was abandoned at the age of fifteen and worked three jobs while homeless to survive through high school and college. [UPDATE: TrueAnonPod has uncovered a post by Dillard’s adopted mother that disputes his claims. It is worth noting that Karlos Dillard’s original name was Carlos Gum.]
But the lion’s share of his online activities appear to have involved harassing people and leveling spurious claims of racism.
I just had a racist Asian lady demand to see my ID and my phone to prove that I was a postmates driver while I was picking up the food. After I refuse to show her my ID. I told her she was being racist and she said whatever Nigger. #blm#postmates@Postmatespic.twitter.com/l2eJQx0u6t
The incident with the Geo isn’t the first time that Dillard has claimed that others were racist during the course of a Postmates delivery. On May 28, 2020, Dillard claimed that the proprietors of A Burger Place demanded to see his ID when picking up an order and that this was an act of racism. Much like the Geo incident, Dillard doesn’t have any video evidence of the alleged remarks that the “racist Asian lady” said to him. Much like the Geo incident, Dillard’s subjects are clearly uncomfortable with his accusations. Additionally — and this is another troubling aspect to Dillard’s approach — his confrontational antics appear to target women. In one of his Instagram stories, he calls the Geo Woman “that bitch.” If Dillard claims to be fighting systemic racism, then can he look inward and confront what appears to be a strain of systemic misogyny?
There’s also the question of whether Dillard’s political motivations are entirely sound. He voiced support for Trump as recently as last month. In a July 11, 2017 episode of The Black Guy Conservative Athesist, Dillard states, “I did vote for Donald Trump.” He later says of Trump: “He might help me with my business taxes. I might get a business loan, which I can’t seem to do.” In a followup interview in May, Dillard claimed that Trump “hasn’t done anything directly to black people, but his antics over the last three years have ignited so much ignorance.” He later said in the followup podcast, “I still think with my thing. I don’t think he has hurt small business and I don’t think he has directly affected black folks.”
In examining Dillard’s Instagram stories, there is an undeniably cruel, attention-seeking, and truth-bending thrust to his grievances — such as the way in which he spliced together the audio from a video depicting a legitimate act of racism from an unquestionable Karen onto his own video. Dillard also leaves in the “You’re an asshole” comment from the original Karen video to suggest that the Geo Woman said these remarks to him.
The epidemic of Karens is certainly one that needs to be exposed and addressed. Racism in any form absolutely needs to be called out and denounced — especially at this pivotal moment in American affairs when so many white people are having difficulty coming to terms with their privilege and truly must do so in order for this nation to come closer to racial equality. But when there is no video evidence of racism — as is the case with the Geo Woman — and the alleged victim — in this case, Karlos Dillard — appears more motivated by cruelty and vengeance and malice and ridicule, to say nothing of an overwhelmingly narcissistic need for attention, one does need to ask whether the cold and compassionless act of revealing the personal details and doxxing a terrified woman for a minor road rage offense is the act of a bona-fide Karen. One must also ask of Dillard why he felt the need to be so cruel and why he wished to gain fame and profit from the suffering of an innocent woman.
Moreover, Dillard’s wanton cruelty is a setback to the impressive progress of the courageous Black Lives Matter movement. When the evidential details are manufactured or outright erroneous, as they clearly are here with Dillard, then it dissuades someone who is on the fence about joining a vital and necessary struggle that will lead to a better tomorrow.
And then there’s the Geo Woman. At this point, the video has now spread so far and wide that it can no longer be pulled. What repercussions and trauma will she face? Are we to offer her no empathy because one opportunistic huckster says that it must be so?
6/23/2020 7:30 PM UPDATE: The TrueAnn Pod Twitter account has excavated a restraining order filed against Dillard for harassing a woman, further buttressing Dillard’s misogyny. Additionally, this Pastebin file links to numerous criminal charges, including driving without a license, numerous offers to commit prostitution, use of a weapon, and harassment.
6/23/2020 9:45 PM UPDATE: There’s another inconsistency to Dillard’s story. In the “brake incident” video posted above, Dillard is clearly blocks away from the Melrose Avenue area where he says that the Geo Woman cut him off. As I point out in the below tweet, there are a number of fishy details: (1) Why is the Geo Woman’s door open? (2) Why is there no mention of either flipping the bird or the smile or the racist language that was to come later in Dillard’s claims? (3) Is it possible that Dillard singled out the Geo Woman and pursued her?
One modest addition to the Karlos Dillard story. His first confrontation with her is on Summit Avenue (see screenshot). A Google Maps search (and StreetView glimpse) shows this is blocks away from Melrose Avenue (where the "cutoff" happened). Did he stalk her from this point? pic.twitter.com/BwO6XuYSLY
6/24/2020 3:15 PM UPDATE: Karlos Dillard has broken his silence and spoken with Insider‘s Rachel E. Greenspan. Dillard’s very own testimony, when corroborated against Google Maps, suggests that he completely invented the merging/cutoff incident. Because, as I documented in the two tweets below, much of the geography of that neighborhood doesn’t allow for two lane streets. We know from the brake chase video that he started pursuing the Geo Woman on Summit Street. He has claimed in another video that Melrose Avenue was where the two lanes merged into one. But I’ve run Google Street View along that sector and it’s one lane in both directions across every stretch of the way. Additionally, the only place he could have merged from when he alleges that he and the Geo Woman circled was along East Olive Street or East Pine Street. And I don’t see a place where there were two lanes. It now occurs to me that the fact that Dillard has been sketchy and nebulous about the location where the cutoff happened leads further credence that it was completely invented.
Karlos Dillard was interviewed by Insider His new deets don't add up. The video shows that they ended with him facing N (facing Howell) on Summit Avenue. He claims they circled after being in a two lane street. Area screenshots show only one lane each way.https://t.co/Wm8W7JPgO7pic.twitter.com/C02SlKf0OL
Karlos Dillard suggested that Melrose Ave was where the lane merging occurred. StreetView screenshots show it's all one lane in each direction. I've gone along the entire strip where he could have driven. Nothing. I'm beginning to wonder if there was ever even a cutoff incident. pic.twitter.com/ggrxvaqqTD
6/2/2020 1:00 PM UPDATE: I am very much indebted to two readers for pointing me to a number of new developments. First off, the original version of the article slightly mangled the precise transcript wording in the longer video. I have corrected it. Additionally, in an attempt to avoid scrutiny, Dillard has also removed the longer version of his video on Instagram from public view. But it is still accessible if you have the link — as it is through this article.
Second, a video that Dillard uploaded on June 15, 2020 has Dillard and his husband confessing to a con in which they harass people with false charges, suggesting further that Dillard have made it a habit to target people with charges of racism to get what they want. The pertinent conversation is at the 35:00 mark in the above video:
KARLOS: We wouldn’t go to another store. But this other store doesn’t have wood tip wine. And that’s what I smoke. And, and I don’t smoke plastic. I don’t smoke Jazz. I smoke wood tip wine. If it’s not wood tip wine, I’m very unhappy. So this place has both. So we went back and we also — okay, to be fair, we went back to start problems. But… KRISTOPHER: I went back to start a problem. I don’t give a fuck. I went back to get my… KARLOS: I went back to see if you’ve learned anything! KRISTOPHER: And… KARLOS: From our last encounter. KRISTOPHER: Let’s find out.
Then Kristopher plays a video of the two men in a store, suggesting that the owners were racist because a person had walked out with a six pack of beer and the store didn’t have beer and they felt entitled to it.
KRISTOPHER: You were lying. KARLOS: That was a true lie. KRISTOPHER: (laughs) That was a complete lie. We ain’t seen nobody. KARLOS: That was…when I tell you, when I tell you… KRISTOPHER: That was a lie. KARLOS: That was a lie I made up on the spot. Because when I…I was caused for this. So what you do is: It’s called Lay a Trap. You lay a trap of racism. KRISTOPHER: Right. KARLOS: Because really, really, if you really did do that, he would have been like, “I haven’t served anyone alcohol.” KRISTOPHER: Right. KARLOS: And then I would shut my mouth! KRISTOPHER: Uh huh. KARLOS: And went to another store. KRISTOPHER: But.. KARLOS: What did he say?
They then play an additional part of the clip in which the “lay a trap” game is played down. Karlos is then very enthusiastic about his lie.
KARLOS: I just made up an imaginary person who I…. [he falls on the couch, laughing] KRISTOPHER: An imaginary person who is white.
What we have with this video is Dillard completely incriminating himself and pointing to his systemic lies less than two weeks before the Geo Woman video. His “Lay a Trap” game, applied both to the woman at A Burger Place and to the Geo Woman, is a game that Dillard and his husband delight in playing.
I have downloaded a local copy of the video. Should Dillard make any efforts to remove this evidence, I will upload it and ensure that this is available for public scrutiny.
PLEASE NOTE: Agents — which are usually called critical thinkers by most rational people, but “agents” by me because I am completely insecure and have a tenuous foundation to my thesis — have been descending on me at all hours. They’ve even sent me some awesome Kendrick Lamar B-sides in an attempt to ingratiate themselves with me. Since the whole point of embracing conspiracy theory involves eliminating even the most modest of doubt upon my deranged ideas, please alert me to their sullies so that I can block and delete and muzzle them by physical force if necessary. I have no ability to consider the facts. Thank you.
Good morning Family:
Yes, I know we’re not related. But I hope that you, much as you have with my colleague Son of Baldwin, can recognize the import of my message because I’m self-important enough to capitalize a noun that doesn’t really apply here. You see, it’s very important that I matter. I have a novel coming out in January. But I am the Son of Morrison! (I can produce no evidence of why Toni greeted me as one of hers. But please take my word on it.)
Reporting from Brooklyn (Bed-Stuy/Crown Heights/Ducksville/Tapis Village):
Yes, I’m aware that some of those neighborhoods may not actually be in Brooklyn. But my hope is that you’ll go poking around for these fictitious vicinities anyway in order to grant me more authenticity as a Brooklynite who has lived here for 137 years and who will always know more than you. Yes, I know it’s not possible for any human being to live that long. But I have. You must believe me.
There was yet another night of extremely loud cackles starting at 8 p.m., and ending at about 2 or 3 a.m. It’s possible that I may have hallucinated the laughter. But I’m getting reports from my imaginary friends that everyone else is hearing menacing titters. Like it’s on a set schedule. Much like the buses and the subways. In fact, I called the MTA to ask if they had a specific timetable for the diabolical cackling. And they told me that I was crazy and that I needed to go to sleep. Do you see what I mean? They’re on to us, my dear Family. This is the second or third year of this (it began not long after The Dawn of Time/The Start of the Renaissance). Yes, I know my math may be a little bit off. But trust me on this.
Anyway, last night was the loudest cackling I have ever heard in my entire life (and I have cackled quite a bit myself in my 137 years of living in New York City — well, in the early days when I actually possessed a true soul). This doesn’t sound anything like your normal, garden variety laughing over a good joke. Think of that and multiply it by 34,512,472. No, I’m not exaggerating. I’ve done the math myself and it’s frightening. This was like someone unleashed an entire military force of vicious cacklers throughout all of Brooklyn. I am a humorless man. And because I have not laughed anytime recently, let me assure you that this was war.
The media has proven deaf to my half-baked speculation and queries. I told my neighbors about my cackling theory and they said, “Robert, honey, let’s go get stoned. You’ve had a hard day and you’ve been staring too hard at your monitor.” But I relented on their kind entreaties to chill the fuck out. No! I believe that the cackling is part of a coordinated attack on librarians! Yes! You heard me right! This is an attack meant to disorient and destabilize the efforts of anyone who wants the libraries to sustain their services during the pandemic. Since we have been denied the comforting sounds of microfilm and microfiche machines, the hope is that our brains can be retrained to new sounds so that we never do any invaluable research again!
The goal, we think (pardon the unexpected switch to first person plural, but there are a lot of voices in my head), is multifaceted.
1. Microfilm deprivation as a means to create confusion about the fact that there was once a time in which you could find a 1967 article in Ramparts if you wanted to and stoke tensions between those who recall that there were magazines sixty years ago and those who believe that life started roughly in 1994.
2. Desensitization as a means to get us so used to the sounds of cackling that we will all laugh uncontrollably like hyenas when some unspecified they rolls into town with an ordnance of banana peels, slapstick boards, and other comedic implements that will be used to raise collective wellbeing so that we will never know the difference between real comedy and comedic warfare. It’s meant to sound funny because, very soon, all of us will be laughing uncontrollably as part of a sinister government plot to prevent us from living a joyless life.
We think this is psychological warfare. And, by “we,” I mean me. This is the first wave for any loopy attack on the horizon.
If you see a kid laughing, know that he is an enemy against librarians! Know that he is a pawn! If any of your neighbors can find even a soupcon of mirth during these troubled times, I urge you take them aside and tell them that the whole purpose of existence is austerity and that laughing aids the enemy.
The government and the mainstream media are, of course, remaining coy and pretending to be clueless about this scheme. Nobody understands that they are being used. Even when I allow the voices in my head to speak with them, they still won’t listen!
I know I sound like I should be a mental institution. In fact, I’ve been to six mental health facilities in the last four years. But you really need to listen to me.
I’ve lived in New York City long enough to know what a schmear is. But I refuse to countenance the many schmear options that this mighty metropolis has because I am very afraid.
And New York City has some of the BEST schmear you’ve EVER seen.
I hope that my dramatic words have frightened you into believing my dubious thesis.
P.S. Please buy my book.
P.P.S. My book comes out in January.
P.P.P.S. How did you ever believe so quickly in my preposterous theory?
P.P.P.P.S. Well, pretend like you never read this and buy my book.
P.P.P.P.P.S. The cackling is real! It always will be!
Romano took umbrage with the idea that white gatekeeping “stifles black voices at every level of our industry,” declaring this to be “absolute nonsense.” Never mind that The New York Times recently reported that the esteemed author Jesmyn Ward had to fight for a six-figure advance even after winning a National Book Award. Never mind Malorie Blackman sharing details about how a publisher had rejected a novel because a story featuring two black magical siblings wasn’t “believable.” (Meanwhile, Knopf publishes white author John Stephens’s The Emerald Atlas, which features three white siblings engaging in magic, to say nothing of the family-oriented magic contained in white author Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic books.) Never mind that Dorothy Koomson tweeted on June 2, 2020 that her books were rejected because they “weren’t about ‘the black experience'” and how she was asked to make characters racist. No, as far as Romano was concerned, the struggles that African-American writers face to tell their stories was “ridiculous,” despite numerous examples.
Romano got even uglier, claiming that black writers would “never have been published if not for ecumenical, good-willed white editors and publishers who fought for the publication of black writers.” Amber Books? Black Classics Press? Third World Press? Triple Crown Publications? Life Changing Books? Any of the far too few African-American publishers who have stepped up to redress the systemic racism that the largely white-owned publishing industry has failed to remedy? That Romano applies “ecumenical” to his atavistic statement says much about his condescending views of writers of color. Apparently, in his view, any publisher who puts out a worthy novel that happens to be written by an African-American is an act of charity rather than an act of merit. James Baldwin? Toni Morrison? Octavia Butler? Ta-Nehisi Coates? Well, you’re lucky that your ass got through the door because Whitey decided to let one or two of you through the gates. Does Romano’s repugnantly racist sentiment here not reinforce the problems of white gatekeeping and not buttress the need for any and all literary organizations to be more inclusive? As far as Romano was concerned, the fact that countless people of color had to fight to be published — despite the fact that African-American novels have continued to be financially successful (Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren sold one million copies, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple sold five million copies, even Ann Petry’s The Street selling one million copies in 1946, the list goes on) — did not get in the way of his sentiment that black people needed to be fawning and grateful, much in the manner of slaves, to white publishers. Romano doubled down on this racism by writing, “In my 40 years in literary and publishing life, I’ve seen far more of [sic] white people helping black writers than of people black people helping white writers.” In other words, Romano believes that black people should devote their already disadvantaged positions to spending all their time promoting white writers.
In short, Romano articulated in very clear terms just what he wants the system to be. And his deplorable viewpoint here is no different from an antebellum slaveholder. Romano’s despicable vision is this: White editors serving as gatekeepers. Black authors dancing with joy at the honor of having their neutered visions “represented.” Romano’s statement is, in short, a racist screed against literary merit and inclusiveness. That Romano cannot acknowledge any white bias that has prevented great literature from being published, even as he demands that African-American writers jump up and down over concessions that their white counterparts would never have to face, is nothing less than a pompous white xenophobe revealing his true colors.
But Romano didn’t stop at mere racism. It is a common truth that atavistic barnacles like Romano often feel the need to tout their own superiority, irrespective of its shaky foundations. In perhaps the most risible part of his vulgar message, Romano claimed, “I myself have probably written more articles and reviews about Philadelphia’s black literature and traditions in my 25 years at the Inquirer than anyone living, black or white.” Do you hear that, Black Writers Museum? Do you hear that, African American Children’s Fair? Do you hear that, Hakim’s (the oldest Philly black bookstore, since 1959)? Even though all of you have done far more for black Philadelphia than Romano, Romano wants you to bow down at his professed magnanimity! It’s Romano who’s doing the heavy lifting here, not you!
One would think that the NBCC Board of Directors would instantly denounce such atavistic viewpoints. But President Laurie Hertzel, a white woman who would appear to be the NBCC’s answer to Amy Cooper, was nothing less than fulsome about these backwards views. She claimed, “Your objections are all valid, of course.” She also claimed that Romano’s views “shine unlike anyone else’s.”
I emailed Hertzel about her unquestioning support of Romano’s racism. She replied, “Rest assured that I do not and have not endorsed anyone’s racist comments.”
In other words, Hertzel and nearly the entire NBCC board are not so much interested in looking inward as they are gaslighting the narrative entirely. Nor can the NBCC actually name and hold Romano accountable — as was seen in this self-serving and half-hearted announcement posted on Thursday night.
I attempted to contact many of the NBCC Board of Directors — in large part because the only board members to acknowledge the exchange and take something of a stand against this racism were Carolyn Kellogg and Richard Z. Santos.
The NBCC Board has a duty to denounce Romano’s racist remarks. With their silence, one can only conclude that the following National Book Critics Circle board members are more than happy to uphold systemic racism. Systemic racism butters their bread. It ensures that they can continue to get gigs. That these people fail to call out racism and that refuse to do so even as Party City has done a better job firing racists speaks to their willful and open advocacy of white supremacy in the National Book Critics Circle.
Here is a list of the NBCC Board Members who presently advocate racism and white supremacy with their silence:
Laurie Hertzel, NBCC President
Kerri Arsenault, VP Awards
Jane Ciabattari, VP Events
Connie Ogle, VP Communications
Carlin Romano, VP Grants
Michael Schaub, VP Online
David Varno, VP Tech
Marion Winik, VP Treasurer
Colette Bancroft, The Tampa Bay Times
Katherine A. Powers
Should any of the above individuals make a public statement against Carlin Romano and the NBCC’s systemic racism, I will remove them from the list. But I doubt that any of them will.
[6/12/2020 10:15 PM UPDATE:The NBCC Board page has dropped the following names: Laurie Hertzel, Connie Ogle, John McWhorter, and Katherine A. Powers. Presumably, these are the other four Board members who have resigned. Hertzel has also deleted her Twitter account.]
[6/15/2020 12:00 PM UPDATE: This morning, Carolyn Kellogg announced on Twitter that she had resigned from the Board. She cited “microaggressions and delays” in advance of drafting the Black Lives Matter statement. She also noted that the Board, instead of focusing on Romano’s racist sentiments, “focused on Hope’s breach of confidentiality in sharing a damning account of a poetry prize discussion.” Additionally, Kellogg noted that Hertzel called for the board to be dissolved following Wabuke’s leak. Following this call to dissolve the board (and efforts on other members’ part to facilitate discussion), Hertzel and two other members resigned in protest — not because of Wabuke’s concerns about racism, but because of the breach in confidentiality. Three more people — including Kellogg — have now resigned, including David Varno.
The instigator for this imbroglio was Romano. Romano has threatened to sue the NBCC and, according to Kellogg, even “shouted down a new board member on a Zoom call.”
Romano remains on the Board because the current NBCC bylaws, which can be found at this link, prevent the board from removing a member. The only way to do so is through a special meeting, which the bylaws declare can be called upon at the request of the president (for which the NBCC does not presently have one), any vice president (who would presently include Kerri Arsenault, Jane Ciabattari, Carlin Romano, Richard Z. Santos, Michael Schaub, and Marion Winik), or any five directors. As of early Monday afternoon, there has been no movement to call a special meeting. (UPDATE: Santos also noted that genera members can also call for a Board Member’s removal.)
As such, until there is a special meeting, Romano will remain on the board until 2022.
Kellogg concluded her message by stating, “I want to go on to point out that as the sole Black woman on the board, Hope should have been given extra support and liberty in leading our effort to craft an anti-racism statement. She was not.”
Further investigations into Romano have revealed a troubled history of abusive behavior. According to Ellen Akins, a friend of Hertzel’s, Romano went out of his way to target Hertzel, who is not a confrontational person. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, in 2000, Romano was fired from his professorship at Bennington due to an “action of sufficient severity” directed at the president, Elizabeth Coleman. An insider at Ursinus College has also reported that there are numerous stories about Romano’s misconduct there.
Should anyone wish to share any stories about further Romano incidents, feel free to email me at email@example.com and I will offer an update. Unless you specifically give me your consent, any and all communications with me will be kept in confidence.]
[6/15/2020 12:45 UPDATE: Ismail Muhammad, one of the board members who was actively working for diversity within the NBCC, announced his resignation from the board shortly after Kellogg’s announcement. He offered further details about what happened: “We were on the verge of winning a vote to release that statement by a solid majority, when Carlin Romano, at the last minute, derailed the process.”]
[6/15/2020 1:30 PM UPDATE:In an article filed by PW‘s John Maher, some new information has come to light. Anonymous board members noted that of the five members who resigned from the board (Hertzel, Victoria Chang, John McWhorter, Connie Ogle, and Katherine A. Powers), only one did so in support of Wabuke. The remaining four did so because of the breach in confidentiality. We know that this was Hertzel’s reason. So that leaves three inside Chang, McWhorter, Ogle, and Powers who resigned in opposition to Wabuke.
Amazingly, Romano himself is quoted in the article. In relation to the lawsuit threat, Romano said that he “alerted the Board I might sue it if I’m voted off the Board in violation of our bylaws and commitment to free discussion.” He denied shouting down the new board member, merely claiming, “We talked over each other at one point.”
Despite the racist tenor of Romano’s email, Romano claimed, “I’m not racist and I’m not anti-black. Quite the contrary. I just don’t check my mind at the door when people used to operating in echo chambers make false claims. A few Board members in recent years have sought to turn the Board, for decades committed to fair-minded judging of books from every political stripe, into a ‘No Free Thought’ zone, an ideologically biased tool for their own politics. In my opinion, they oppose true critical discussion. Good riddance to any of them who resign—the NBCC will be healthier without them. I’ll attempt to stay on the Board, despite concerted opposition, in the hope that I can help NBCC return to its earlier, better self.”]
[6/18/2020 UPDATE: Michael Riley, President and Editor-in-Chief of The Chronicle of Higher Education, was good enough to confirm with me that Romano is not involved with his august publication: “Carlin Romano has not written for The Chronicle of Higher Education since 2018, and, while he was a critic-at-large for The Chronicle a long time ago, he has not been in that role for many years. He holds no official title or standing with The Chronicle.”]
Bill de Blasio’s hideous curfew experiment has proven to be a spectacular and dangerous failure — an affront to human rights and basic dignity that is uniquely destructive to the City of New York and that has proven dispiriting for its people. The curfew, which started as an 11 PM cutoff on June 1st before shifting to 8PM during the last three nights, was intended to quell looters who had vandalized and pillaged stores in Midtown, SoHo, the Bronx, and other neighborhoods. Police presence in the streets was doubled. But it has become evident in the last week that the New York Police Department isn’t terribly concerned with curbing vandalism, much less serving and protecting the people in a fair and peaceful manner. This corrupt paramilitary police force, which has demonstrated an almost total incapacity to look inward, is more feverishly committed to abusing peaceful protesters and other innocents who merely happen to be in the neighborhood with wanton violence and indiscriminate abuse of power. It is an obvious truth that both Mayor de Blasio and even Governor Andrew Cuomo, who showed strong leadership in the early days of the pandemic, refuse to acknowledge.
As the Gothamist reported, there have been hundreds of people waiting longer than 24 hours to be arraigned in New York jail cells, with Justice James Burke ruling in favor of the police to keep holding them. In a followup report at The Gothamist, it was further revealed that many of the two thousand arrested during the last week were not even protesters. Here, the detainees — some recovering from profligate douses of pepper spray and other injuries — have been crowded in a cell without masks, soap, water, or medical care. Police, who frequently refused to wear masks, have believed they are immune from the coronavirus. But they also seem to feel that they are immune from being held accountable for their criminal conduct. (On May 31st, New York Attorney General Letitia James invited people on Twitter to share the many abuses for a sweeping investigation>)
This delivery guy thought he’s an essential worker, police seemed to disagree. The rules issued before the curfew very unclear but according to the state, restaurants, bar & food industry workers are classified as essential. #nycurfew#NYCPolicepic.twitter.com/OyZVuDkPuM
Cops charged from the back with batons out. Multiple people hit. Someone bleeding from the head. I jumped over a car and am out because of a press base. This wasn’t even a confrontation it was a trap pic.twitter.com/CgBkHfSwlR
These are not merely a series of mistakes. De Blasio’s willful malingering makes Mayor Dinkins’ handling of the Crown Heights affair look like a pardonable misstep. It is now abundantly clear that Bill de Blasio is the most irresponsible Mayor that the City of New York has ever known. His insistence that “the police showed a lot of restraint,” even as he has failed to view or acknowledge the considerable videos of police abuse, represents unquestionable negligence of his duties. His considerable deficiency, taken with Police Commissioner Dermot Shea’s complete failure to curb and discipline his officers for their out-of-control attacks, represent a bungling of command that is not merely incompetent, but that stands firmly against the NYPD’s professed credo to work “in partnership with the community to enforce the law, preserve peace, protect the people, reduce fear, and maintain order.” The NYPD has attacked delivery workers, journalists, doctors, and numerous others who stood peacefully in the streets.
What’s especially insulting is the way that de Blasio (and Cuomo) have been attempting to gaslight the public narrative by claiming that clear factual video of police brutality taken from reliable sources is somehow “opinion” or a “partisan attack.” This is not a matter of being Republican or Democrat. This is about whether a major American city should be terrorized by the authoritarian whims of a clearly abusive police force. With the curfew and his failure to hold the police accountable for their deadly behavior, de Blasio created the conditions in which the NYPD were free to indiscriminately attack anyone. It turns out that the police have been the real looters all along, disregarding the law and order that they profess to stand for in order to attack anybody they see. This is not merely a dereliction of the Mayor’s duties. It’s irresponsibility that should never be accepted from any public official in the City of New York.
The time has come for the Mayor and the Police Commissioner to resign. They have enacted policy that is harming the strength and spirit of New York and that is preventing this city from healing. These two men cannot be trusted to keep the city safe. They cannot be trusted to guide us out of a nightmare. They both must be replaced by real leaders who pay close attention, do not deny the facts, and have a limitless capacity to listen.