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Intersection - Author Junot Díaz on Immigration, Empire and White Supremacy

photo of Junot Diaz
Nina Subin

This week on Intersection, we bring you excerpts from author JunotDíaz's Jan. 22 talk at MU.

Díaz won the 2008 Pulitzer prize for his first novel, "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” He received a MacArthur 'Genius' Fellowship and co-founded the Voices of Our National Arts Foundation, which holds workshops for writers of color. He is a professor of writing at MIT.

Díaz immigrated from the Dominican Republic to the United State when he was six. In his literary work and activism, he tackles issues including immigration, assimilation and oppression.


His speech was part of the MU Celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. event. During the talk, Díaz spoke about white supremacy, the role of artists and the lasting effects of slavery.



On white supremacy:

One of the things that's been very revelatory for an artist like me is that we've entered this stage in white supremacy where you can be a full-out public racist and a huge portion of a community thinks that this is a really good idea. And in many ways, it speaks to how cemented white supremacy has gotten and how in some ways despite 30, 40, 50 years of anti-white supremacy activism, white supremacy's hold on us is extraordinary. And as an artist, I was always interested in that and it was almost impossible to have this conversation with people a few years ago.


On the public discourse around immigration:

You are taught to think of immigrants as less worthy of your compassion, less worthy of your sense of what’s human, you're taught to think if they are undocumented -- one degree more. And then, within our own African diasporic communities, and other communities know this too, we have a calculus within ourselves of what is human.  We, even as we’re victimized by this logic, we reproduce it.


On solidarity:

We sit across each other in classes, and we don't even know how much we have in common. Those of us in the African diaspora look at Asian-Americans and we're completely scrambled around how we labored and struggled together across the globe for our liberations. And the same is true for indigenous, it is a remarkable history that we have but it's all been either erased or hidden. We've got to start thinking about our old solidarities, which will lead us to new solidarities. If we think we're doing this for the first time, it's gonna be hard.


On privilege:

All of us have immense privilege and all of us need to understand that this privilege must be used, or I would say should be used, towards liberation and not towards the perpetuation of systems of privilege.


Assistant Producers for this show are Haley Broughton, Aviva Okeson-Haberman and Hannah Rodriguez.

Sara Shahriari was the assistant news director at KBIA-FM, and she holds a master's degree from the Missouri School of Journalism. Sara hosted and was executive producer of the PRNDI award-winning weekly public affairs talk show Intersection. She also worked with many of KBIA’s talented student reporters and teaches an advanced radio reporting lab. She previously worked as a freelance journalist in Bolivia for six years, where she contributed print, radio and multimedia stories to outlets including Al Jazeera America, Bloomberg News, the Guardian, the Christian Science Monitor, Deutsche Welle and Indian Country Today. Sara’s work has focused on mental health, civic issues, women’s and children’s rights, policies affecting indigenous peoples and their lands and the environment. While earning her MA at the Missouri School of Journalism, Sara produced the weekly Spanish-language radio show Radio Adelante. Her work with the KBIA team has been recognized with awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and PRNDI, among others, and she is a two-time recipient of funding from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Elena Rivera is a graduate student at the University of Missouri with a focus in radio reporting. She has reported and produced stories on arts and culture, education and mental health for KBIA. She received a B.A. in Communication and International Studies from Hope College in Holland, Michigan. Before coming to KBIA, Elena worked as the Career Development Specialist for a North Carolina non-profit called Dress for Success Triangle, which helped unemployed and underemployed women find jobs.
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