A pornographic mind: Randa Jarrar

Randa Jarrar

Last week, the death of Barbara Bush’s death occasioned a series of exceedingly ugly tweets that made headlines. The tweets, as we discussed on Tuesday, were written by Randa Jarrar, a Professor of English and teacher of creative writing at California State University in Fresno. Who is Jarrar? Over to Wikipedia:

Randa Jarrar was born in 1978 in Chicago to a Greek-Egyptian mother and a Palestinian father. She grew up in Kuwait and Egypt. After the Gulf War in 1991, her family moved back to the US, living in the New York area when she was 13. Jarrar studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College, receiving an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas at Austin, and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. She has taught College Writing, Creative Writing, and Arab-American literature.

No one who knows Jarrar would be surprised by her Barbara Bush tweets. As the Daily Wire reported on April 18, Jarrar has a history of unpleasant tweets. “I can’t wait for the old white guard of literary writers and ‘critics’ to die. Their time is fucking up, too,” she tweeted in January. More recently she has tweeted about “fucking white women” and told someone on Twitter to “fuck outta here with your white feminism. I said don’t at me bitch. I’m a professor.”

Her own so-called “creative writing” is awash in similar nastiness. In one of her tweets, she called Barbara Bush a racist; in fact, Jarrar confesses in her own oeuvre that she’s a racist.

O.J. Simpson and lawyer Robert Shapiro

In one memoir, for example, she recalls cheering the “not guilty” verdict in the O.J. Simpson double murder trial. “I was siding with Simpson,” she explains, “because he was a person of color.” In other words, she knowingly cheered the acquittal of a brutal wife-killer because he was black.

At the time she was a young waitress. But in the piece, no longer young, she gives no indication of regretting that youthful moment of jubilation. She is not the reflective sort, not a nuanced thinker. Racial identity and the racist label are, to a considerable extent, what she has in place of actual thought. Consider, for example, a piece for Salon, Why I Can’t Stand White Belly-Dancers,” in which she accused white woman who engage in belly dancing of racist cultural appropriation.

Barbara Bush

But enough about race. The important point here is that Jarrar is just not that good a writer. The memoir mentioned above, “What Love Is,” is a rambling mishmash the premise of which seems to be that anything that ever happened to her is, because it happened to her, by definition fascinating. Shoveled into this single essay are anecdotes about the time she got a nose ring, about her parents’ kooky diets, about a school friend whom she admired because she worked as a stripper, and so on; the main story is about her involvement with a violent boyfriend who got her pregnant and then engaged in “reproductive coercion” – i.e., he forced her to have a baby.

We wrote recently about third-wave feminist books with titles like Bitch and Shrill. Here’s another one, to which Jarrar has contributed: Nasty Women

In another memoir, “Neither Slave nor Pharaoh,” she writes about her involvement in sexual bondage and discipline: “I met Abdallah on Tinder. He was looking for a dominant woman to step on his cock. I was looking for a submissive man who would let me step on his cock. He’s here now sitting on the wood floor right across from my chair, on a chair attached to my foot. My foot is on his balls.” This piece appeared in Salon.

“What Love Is” is a tacky piece of work, deriving most of its impact from sensationalism – vulgarity and violence. The same is true of “Neither Slave nor Pharaoh,” although it shades from mere sensationalism into porn.

Then there’s “Being a Bad Muslim Helped Get Me Out of a Bad Marriage.” It’s meandering, sexually graphic, flippant about adultery, and, yes, just plain tacky. It appeared in Buzzfeed. These pieces all have one big thing in common: they’re heavy on self-absorption, but light on self-knowledge. They’re the same thing over and over again. They’re the work of the kind of person who invites you over and then reads to you from her diary.

Jarrar has found a formula – full-on confession – and partly because of the sleazy nature of her own life material and partly because of the Arab woman angle, it’s the kind of stuff that certain editors will snap up and certain “judges” will reward with literary prizes.

There you have it, then: the pride of Fresno State. Send your kids there, pay their tuition, and after four years, if you’re lucky, they’ll be able to write porn for Buzzfeed. And, in their spare time, tweet unspeakable things about the recently dead. 

The ugly heart of Randa Jarrar

Randa Jarrar

Whatever you may think of the Bush family – and whatever you thought, in particular, of Barbara Bush, who died last week at the age of 91 – you have to find it absolutely disgusting for an adult in a position of responsibility to respond to the former First Lady’s death with public expressions of glee and hate. Meet Randa Jarrar, a tenured Associate Professor of English at California State University, Fresno, who sent out the following tweets on April 18:

Barbara Bush

Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal. Fuck outta here with your nice words.

PSA: either you are against these pieces of shit and their genocidal ways or you’re part of the problem. that’s actually how simple this is. I’m happy the witch is dead. can’t wait for the rest of her family to fall to their demise the way 1.5 million iraqis have. byyyeeeeeeee.

George W. Bush

Within a few hours, these tweets had been re-tweeted by countless outraged members of the Twitterverse. The widespread anger over them led Jarrar to post yet another one:

All the hate I’m getting ALMOST made me forget how happy I am that George W Bush is probably really sad right now

She also boasted about her tenured status, her income, her presumed invulnerability from punishment:

sweetie i work as a tenured professor. I make 100K a year doing that. i will never be fired. i will always have people wanting to hear what i have to say. even you are one of them! <3

CSU Fresno prez Joseph I. Castro

So certain did she feel about her job security that she told her critics where they could go to lodge complaints:

LOL! Let me help you. You should tag my president @JosephICastro. What I love about being an American professor is my right to free speech, and what I love about Fresno State is that I always feel protected and at home here. GO BULLDOGS! ️

Yes, she has freedom of speech, because she lives in a country whose Constitution contains a First Amendment guaranteeing her that freedom. But the fact that she has an absolute right to say what she wants doesn’t mean that her employer shouldn’t have the right to dismiss her.

The First Amendment doesn’t guarantee you your job: it only guarantees that you won’t be arrested for speaking your mind.

Her latest book

This situation raises a variety of issues. One of them is that university teaching jobs are hard to come by. There’s a ridiculous amount of competition for them. Across the U.S., there are a great many gifted people working as adjuncts: they teach a course here, a course there, they work hard, they earn a pittance for it, they have no job security, and they’re treated like peons. Why is Jarrar, of all people, in a tenured position? In these few tweets alone, she demonstrated several traits that, one would think, should turn off an academic hiring committee. The inhumanity, the arrogance, the self-importance, the braggadocio – these are very undesirable attributes in a faculty member.

But there’s more that needs to be said about Randa Jarrar. Back on Thursday.