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How Laverne Cox Factored in a Conservative Atlantic Writer's Firing

How Laverne Cox Factored in a Conservative Atlantic Writer's Firing

Laverne Cox

Kevin Williamson's departure sparked a hard conversation on diversity among The Atlantic's staff, led by Jeffrey Goldberg and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

The Atlantic fired Kevin Williamson last month, after the conservative writer stood by his 2014 assertion that women who have abortions should be hanged.

The centrist magazine, whose motto is "of no party or clique," had hired Williamson for its Ideas section, as part of its mission to offer a spectrum of political ideas. But in a private Q&A on April 6 with company staffers, hosted by editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg, this mission came under scrutiny, particularly when this diversity of ideas clashes with the need for a diversity of people represented in a newsroom.

In a leaked transcript of the meeting, published by HuffPost, star Atlantic reporter Ta-Nehisi Coates opened up about how, as a young writer, he saw no people of color in the workplace. As a result, Coates was mentored by reporters with bylines in major outlets who believed that white people were genetically superior to black people. "I didn't really have the luxury of having teachers who I necessarily felt, you know, saw me completely as a human being," Coates confessed.

Later in the conversation, an unidentified staffer made a modern-day parallel by bringing up Williamson's transphobic views, which were venomously expressed in his 2014 National Review commentary "Laverne Cox Is Not a Woman." In it, Williamson, responding to Cox's historic Time magazine cover, misgendered the actress and insulted the transgender community. "Regardless of the question of whether he has had his genitals amputated, Cox is not a woman, but an effigy of a woman," Williamson wrote, in one of many hateful lines.

"I guess I would encourage us to reflect on ways -- on what our residual institutional blind spots still are, at The Atlantic, even as we make good efforts to diversify our newsroom," said the staffer. "Because we did not publish Kevin on Laverne Cox, but we did hire him, briefly, in spite of that."

In response, Goldberg, who hired Williamson, said, "I agree with you on the piece, obviously. I'm not going hold everything that anyone ever said about anything against them when making those decisions. Maybe the calibration was off here, obviously."

He continued:

One of the reasons we're trying to be very deliberate about thinking about where we're underrepresented -- and it's not just underrepresentation for journalists. It's underrepresentation because we want to bring in people who don't know that they can be journalists and make them journalists, right? And so, obviously, I can't sit here and make specific promises about a specific kind of hiring, but clearly, I think we'd be a better organization. You know, I just think we're a better organization when you have people from all different walks of life and different backgrounds, and I mean ... I hope that you know that.

The conflict between the diversity of ideas versus diversity of people (based on race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, etc.) was summarized by HuffPost writer Ashley Feinberg. "Over and over, the humanity of certain people is allowed to be put up for debate in the name of 'ideological diversity.' How can a liberal institution square its essential humanism with an ideal of inclusion so baggy as to promote the sort of cruelties that liberals, at least publicly, mean to oppose?" Feinberg questioned.

How, indeed. The full transcript of the meeting can be found at HuffPost.

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