Tag: racism

Annie E. Casey photos at Dunbar Elementary School, The Center For Working Families, Inc., and the Early Learning and Literacy Resource Center in Atlanta, GA Wednesday, October 10, 2012. Photos by JASON E. MICZEK - www.miczekphoto.com

The ‘Picture Book Bias:’ In Children’s Books, Girls & Minorities Aren’t Speaking

If picture books are meant to give voice to the experiences of young children, then why aren’t girls and racial minorities speaking? Using data from the top 100 bestselling children’s picture books, researchers have noted a growing gender and racial disparity in terms of which characters speak in children’s books.

Over half of children’s books feature a predominantly male cast; comparably, less than a fifth such books feature a predominantly female cast. It’s evident that male characters are literally dominating the conversation: not only does the gender gap exist in picture books, but it’s also growing. The Guardian reports that “speaking roles for male characters rose by 19%,” and at the same time, “one in five bestsellers did not feature any females at all.”

Only five of the top 100 books feature a BAME (Black, Asian, & Minority Ethnic) character in a prominent role. Of those five, three titles’ spots rely on the same character: Lanky Len, a mixed-race “nasty burglar” who hardly represents the sort of relatable character that nonwhite children can connect to. Statistics regarding BAME characters in less central roles are just as grim: 70% of such characters never speak at all. Across all 100 titles, only eleven BAME characters have speaking roles. And among these eleven, only seven have names. Of course, we’re discussing the umbrella of ethnic minority identities—on this list, there’s only one black male protagonist. Off the list, the disparity isn’t any better. Of all the 9,000+ children’s books published in 2017, only 1% featured a BAME protagonist… while 96% featured no BAME characters, speaking or silent.

 

 

(Right) Lanky Len, one of the few BAME children's characters of 2018
(Right) Lanky Len, one of the few BAME children’s characters of 2018 | Image Via What The Ladybird Heard

 

 

When it comes to picture books featuring LGBT+ families and disabled characters, it’s the same story. None of the 100 bestsellers featured same-sex parents. Only one title included a disabled character—but that character doesn’t speak or play any major role in the plot. We may be talking about fiction, but these statistics are unrealistic. Predominantly white, male stories for children deny the experiences of many readers, but they also don’t reflect the mathematic facts concerning the gender and racial breakdown of English children. Around 33% of English schoolchildren are from minority backgrounds; 48% are female. Our stories should reflect the varied experiences of the children they aim to depict.

What causes this disparity? Among the 100 books studied, not one author or illustrator is BAME. This lack of diversity extends beyond the list: only 2% of all children’s book illustrators in the UK, not just the bestsellers, are people of color. The lack of diversity in publishing is a capitalistic Ouroboros: because few children’s picture books feature diverse characters, publishers come to believe these books won’t earn large sums of money. At the same time, these books rarely earn money for their publishers because they are rarely published. But while the exact cause of this phenomenon may be unclear, the results aren’t—girls, minorities, and disabled children don’t see themselves in stories that are supposed to be for them. It’s also possible that these sorts of disparities in children’s media could reinforce disparity and bias as the children grow into adulthood.

 

 

 

Featured Image Via Annie E. Casey Foundation.

'Twilight' Cast: Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, Robert Pattinson

Catherine Hardwicke Wanted Diversity in ‘Twilight.’ Stephenie Meyer Didn’t.

A lack of diversity is hardly the main criticism levelled against Twilight, a controversial yet highly popular vampire franchise of the mid-2000s. Allegations of relationship abuse and sexism are far more prominent—and, if sexism weren’t prevalent in the novel, it certainly pervaded the series’ filming. Right before filming, execs famously told director Catherine Hardwicke that she needed to cut $15 million from the budget, or they would pull the plug despite the overwhelming international success of the source material. She was hopeful that, once Summit saw the number of stunts and set pieces she would have to remove, the studio would understand that these cuts were impossible. Instead, they told her, “great.”

The film that “would be interesting, at most, to 400 girls in Salt Lake City” grossed $393 million.

Evidently, Summit considered Twilight low-priority because of its predominantly female audience, a somewhat baffling outlook, given that the novels have sold over 100 million copies. But the studio seemed to downplay the interests and investments of women—especially Catherine Hardwicke.

In a recent interview with The Daily Beast, Hardwicke revealed that she wanted the film to feature a more diverse cast. In her imagination, all the vampires had different skin tones; Alice, in particular, Hardwicke imagined as Japanese. Meyer disagreed. “She could not accept the Cullens to be more diverse,” Hardwicke imagined, “because she had really seen them in her mind, she knew who each character was representing in a way, a personal friend or a relative or something. She said, ‘I wrote that they had this pale, glistening skin!'”

 

 

Image result for glittery edward gif

Gif Via Tenor

 

(Does naturally glistening skin mean the Cullens are always sweaty? Where are our answers, Steph???)

Hardwicke was able to convince Meyer that Laurent, one of the antagonists, could be a person of color. In the novels, Meyer described his skin as “olive” in complexion, which gave Hardwicke some leeway in the casting. Eventually, Meyer became open to the idea of Bella’s high school friends being more diverse, hence Christian Serrantos and Justin Chon’s casting. But the vampires were off-limits.

Many feel that Twilight isn’t a film—or a story—in which diversity is an issue, largely because of the large Native American presence in the story. (Although it’s worth noting that Taylor Lautner’s claims of ‘very distant’ Native heritage are dubious at best… and, supposedly, were conveniently discovered only after his casting.) Casual fans and trained academics have pointed out the racism in Meyer’s portrayal of the Quileute: specifically, that Meyer relies heavily on stereotypes in their depiction. Characters fit into ‘noble savage,’ ‘bloodthirsty warrior,’ and ‘stoic elder’ archetypes. By associating a Native American tribe with werewolves, creatures associated primarily with violence and aggression, the narrative presents negative stereotypes. While anyone can become a vampire, only Quileutes can be werewolves, inherently associating this trait with racial & ethnic characteristics. The gulf between werewolves and vampires deepens: these white vampires develop supernatural abilities which make them more individual. When Quileutes become werewolves, their individuality ceases. They share a pack ‘hive mind’ and get matching tribal tattoos, reducing them to a homogenous group as is the case with racial stereotyping.

 

 

Shirtless Jacob Black, displaying Quileute werewolf tattoo

Image Via Business Insider

 

It’s also worth noting that the film conspicuously sexualizes the Quileute werewolves—to the point that even Edward asks, “doesn’t he own a shirt?” Then there’s the matter of the tattoo: while the Quileute people don’t have a ‘werewolf tattoo,’ the tribe reports that they were not consulted regarding the use of tribal imagery. Since the film’s release, many a horny white girl has gotten Jacob’s tattoo in a classic example of cultural appropriation. No, the Quileute people are not werewolves. But the tribe itself is very real—as have been the consequences of Meyer’s writing.

In associating her werewolf mythology with a real tribe, Meyer put the Quileute people in the compromising position of having their land and traditions disrespected by Twilight fans. In 2010, an MSN film crew disrupted the graves of Quileute elders while filming without permission on the reservation. When filming in Forks, WA, of course, the crew had the decency to ask the Chamber of Commerce. The Quileute Nation also says that they were never consulted for merchandising rights of their cultural artefacts and have seen little profit from the souvenir shops selling Quileute-inspired goods.

No one is saying that you can’t enjoy Twilight. But perhaps you shouldn’t without at least being aware of the racial bias within the narrative and the broader consequences of Meyer’s imaginings.

 

 

Featured Image Via The Quiz.

An incarcerated man reads - as is his right

U.S. Prisons Ban Books Critical of Criminal Justice System

For a country intent on the loosest possible definitions of free speech, one of our most marginalized populations is subject to an insidious degree of censorship.

The United States—the world leader in incarceration, imprisoning 2.2 million at this very moment—is fixated on free speech, but we favor the adjective over the verb. Prisons throughout the country are banning books that disagree with the racial disparity in U.S. prisons, the prison-industrial complex, and other incisive critiques of mass incarceration. And some are banning books altogether: one Georgia jail recently imposed a ban on all books, excluding only religious texts. Louisiana has banned non-Christian religious material, a decision that evidently violates the Constitutional provisions for religious freedom. Even the more liberal state of Washington forbade outsiders to make charitable book donations to prisons. Although the Washington Department of Corrections has rolled back the ban to accept donations from a small, specified list of charities, this compromise hardly changes the fact that WDOC only changed the rule because it couldn’t get away with it.

 

Books banned in Texas prisons, exceeding 15,000 total | Image Via Washington Post

 

Recently, the Arizona Department of Corrections has banned Chokehold, a non-fiction work exploring the role of race within the criminal justice system. Written by a former prosecutor, the book dispenses advice for black men and details the rights people can use to protect themselves (for example, during searches). While this may be unjust, it’s not unprecedented: North Carolina and Florida have banned The New Jim Crowanother book dedicated to exposing racism’s inextricable link to mass incarceration.

This past week, the American Civil Liberties Union formally addressed the issue, requesting that Arizona overturn this ban. An excerpt from the letter explains the hypocrisy inherent in the ban:

The very people who experience extreme racial disparity in incarceration cannot be prohibited from reading a book whose purpose is to examine and educate about that disparity. Improving understanding of policing, incarceration, and racial bias is especially critical given Arizona’s stark racial disparities and overall high rates of incarceration.

Advocates have pointed out the practical issues with these bans, those that transcend moral or ethical arguments. There is no budgetary component to book-donation charities, meaning that there are no financial consequences for allowing these charities to stock prison libraries. It’s also likely that incarcerated people will not spend their entire lives in prison. Given that the average prison sentence is three years, state departments of correction should assume that most of these people will return to society. Shouldn’t we want them to be emotionally healthy when they do? Shouldn’t we want them to be educated?

Under the First Amendment, only books which would actively endanger the prison or the people in it are eligible for bans. This clause would, for example, bar a non-fiction work that might detail how to make explosives or weaponry. The intent is purely physical rather than psychological; ostensibly, there is no danger to society in allowing prisoners to understand the judicial system that keeps them confined. But there is a danger to the system that imprisons them.

 

 

 

Featured Image Via Video Blocks.

Natasha Tynes with the controversial Tweet

Author Loses Book Deal After Tweeting Complaint About Public Transit Worker

What’s the worst thing that a potential beau could do on a first date? Well, provided your date doesn’t snatch your wallet or set fire to the restaurant, the answer is nearly unanimous: treat the waitstaff poorly. Everyone knows the most fundamental tenet of common decency that of treating others with respect. No one is entitled to unkindness; certainly, no one has the right to mistreat someone whose job requires them to serve or assist you—that means no shouting at customer service reps, no predatory flirting with disinterested bartenders, no taking it out on a retail employee when you didn’t bring your receipt. Except, of course, for the people who don’t.

Meet Natasha Tynes, social media strategist and snitch.

Picture this: Natasha was riding the red line of the Washington, D.C. Metro when something unthinkable happened. No, nobody was injured. No, nobody was robbed. It was an unthinkable act because most of us never would have considered it out of the ordinary—an MTA employee eating her lunch on the train.

Scandalous? Probably not, even if the posted rules on the train express that eating and drinking are forbidden. But Tynes did seem to feel that it was far less scandalous to snap a picture of the woman’s face and rat her out on Twitter.

 

Natasha Tynes

Image Via The Daily Beast

 

(The original photo DID show the woman’s face, but Tynes has deleted her complaint.)

This self-proclaimed “social media expert” apparently wasn’t knowledgeable enough to predict the ensuing social media wrath. Twitter was quick to point out that Tynes was poised to launch her career by writing novels about her experience as a woman of color… experiences which can, apparently, include being ratted out for scarfing down breakfast between assignments. The hypocrisy was unsettling to many, who took the opportunity to articulate that someone’s racial or ethnic minority status cannot except them from anti-blackness.

 

Twitter found it particularly upsetting that Tynes marketed herself as a minority writer and yet would threaten the livelihood of another woman of color.

 

Racism and the Metro have a long history. In 2000, Ansche Hedgepth was arrested on the D.C. Metro for eating a potato chip despite her spotless record—handcuffed and held in a windowless cell. She was twelve years old.

Some rushed to Tynes’ defense. Many of them then rushed just as quickly to delete their Tweets.

 

Deleted Tweet defending Tynes

 

It’s only reasonable that passengers don’t know as much about the rules & regulations regarding D.C.’s transit as its employees. In fact, the employee in question had received an email days before stating that all employees must “cease and desist from issuing criminal citations” for eating and drinking on the trains—”effective immediately.” The Metro Workers’ Union also elaborated on the poor conditions employees face when trying to eat lunch: not all stations have break rooms. Anyone who’s absently watched a rat skitter away as a train barrels down the track knows that, without break rooms, the workers have no guarantee of sanitary conditions in which to eat.

We don’t have to guess at the employee’s circumstances; though she is not allowed to comment herself, the union has publicized the fact that the bus operator ate on the train because of train delays that were preventing her from getting to her next assignment on time. Rather than keep her passengers waiting, which would have caused further delays, she chose to eat on the train. Given the aforementioned official email, the employee will not face repercussions of any sort—but Tynes will.

Rare Bird, Tynes’ publishing house, publicly condemned Tynes’ actions and cancelled the publication of her upcoming novel.

 

They Called Me Wyatt, Tynes’ novel, may no longer be published—but on Goodreads, its 1.42 star legacy lingers.

“You apologized for the tweet,” wrote one reviewer, “but do you understand that you wanted her disciplined for not catering to your demands? A stranger. You tried to shame her for refusing your entitlement. Some WOC solidarity you got there.”

 

Featured Image Via Daily Mail.

The Exhaustive History of ‘Cancel Culture’ in YA Fiction

What exactly is ‘cancel culture?’

A symptom of a larger societal problem, most analyses would suggest. The term refers to social media communities’ desire to hold organizations, individuals, and artistic works accountable for their questionable or unpopular opinions. In the Y. A. book community, it’s meant acts of what some perceive to be virtual dogpiling, assailing unpublished novels with one star reviews and bad publicity in order to deprive the target of profit or platform. (When you type ‘dogpiling’ into Google, the next suggested word is Twitter.) In the past two years, several prominent debuts have been the subject of social media attacks; as a result, some authors have chosen not to publish these books. They are, as the term suggests, canceled. For our purposes, let’s not attempt to determine which among the allegations of cultural insensitivity are true; instead, let’s document these incidents and consider them individually.

Because here’s what cancel culture isn’t: an accusatory classification into which all criticism might be stuffed.

 

A Place for Wolves by Kosoko Jackson

As of 2016, the publishing industry was less than 2% Black.

Kosoko Jackson was a sensitivity reader for the Big Five publishing houses. A queer, black author, Jackson was poised to make a successful debut with his novel A Place for Wolves, proudly labeled #ownvoices, a term used to describe novels whose protagonists share the same marginalized identities as their authors. The novel followed the LGBT+ love story of two American teenagers set during the Kosovo War, an Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe meets Code Name Verity. With favorable reviews from Publishers Weekly, Jackson seemed on the precipice of literary heights.

Then, A Place for Wolves was canceled—and the Internet was gleeful.

“I have to be absolutely fucking honest here,” opens the infamous Goodreads review, the first proverbial thrown stone. “I’ve never been so disgusted in my life.”

Criticism largely centered upon allegations of mishandling the Kosovo War: particularly, making the protagonists American and the gruesome human tragedy the backdrop for a love story. The novel’s most grievous sin, according to its detractors, was making the villain an Albanian Muslim—notably, the demographic most impacted by the ethnic cleansing. And this injustice was compounded by just how recently the violence ended: on the brink of our current century, in 1999, recently enough that some born in that same year are still teenagers.

Among the first responders was an incendiary article titled: “He Was Part of a Twitter Mob That Attacked Young Adult Novelists. Then It Turned on Him. Now His Book Is Canceled.” The title clearly alludes to a just-desserts mentality, a social-justice ouroboros circling back to devour its own head. Jackson is not the victim here, it assures. He is someone whose luck has run out.

Refinery29 echoes this sentiment, opening its coverage of the matter with Jackson’s haunting Tweet, a knock-knock joke with the who’s there? a clumsy I-told-you-so:

 

In fact, Kosoko Jackson himself was not ‘canceled;’ after a lengthy and public apology, his reputation seems largely untarnished. Not only was he not required to pay back his advance, but his new debut, Yesterday Is History, is scheduled for 2020 release. The novel will follow a contemporary gay teen who, through a time-travel mishap, finds himself in NYC on the eve of the Stonewall Riots.

There are many ways to interpret the Internet’s reaction to Jackson’s possible blunder, many of them equally valid. Some see detractors attempting to silence a black debut author, a voice of color in the midst of a white-majority industry. Some see criticism against Jackson’s work as a valid response born of nuanced understanding of the Kosovo War, perhaps from someone with more historical insight than Jackson himself. But most seem to suggest that all sensitivity concerns—regardless of the specific issues—possess all the nuance of a gleefully hurled tomato.

 

The Continent by Keira Drake

“If you want an idea of what this book is like,” one Goodreads reviewer explained, “it’s like Disney’s Pocahontas intermixed with even more blatant racism and obvious xenophobia.”

Keira Drake’s book wasn’t ‘canceled,’ but the seething monolith known as the Internet still feels she should have been. Could the Internet be right?

 

 

'The Continent' by Keira Drake

Image Via Salt Lake Tribune

 

Drake, a white debut author, was moved to tears when she heard an NPR report of a bombing in Iraq; according to Vulture, she felt compelled to write a book about what might happen if a person like her (“white, sheltered, and privileged”) suddenly wound up “in the middle of a war between two violent societies in a foreign land.”

In fact, Keira Drake is from a violent society: in the U.S., rates of lethal violence are much higher than in similarly wealthy countries. But these violent societies are different, as Drake explains herself. Remember? They’re foreign.

The article continues from Drake’s inspiration to what exactly her inspiration produced:

Drake set her fantasy in a place called the Continent, a brutal realm where privileged tourists, safe in their heli-planes, gaze down with detached curiosity at the native people slaughtering each other below. After a heli-plane crashes, Drake’s narrator is saved by one of the natives from an attempted rape at the hands of an enemy tribe, and she, in turn, saves his people from ruin.

Criticisms of racial insensitivity in The Continent were swift and damning: comparisons abounded between the fictional ‘Topi’ tribe (who adorn their faces with war paint and attack primarily with bows and arrows) and the Hopi tribe of Native Americans. A petition emerged to halt the book’s publication after one reader expressed concern over the stereotypes they felt were rampant in the novel, a nonstop action ride of “Magic Black people, Ninja Asians, and uneducated, ruthless Natives who get drunk and try to rape the precious white girl.”

 

Keira Drake's description of 'almond-shaped' eyes

Image Via Ya Interrobang

 

If that sounds like a straightforward condemnation, it isn’t. As in the case of Kosoko Jackson, many reviewers had not read the book—a fact which undeniably diminishes their credibility. And even the shapeless mass of YA social media gremlins (I jest, given that perception of this community is often unnecessarily negative) couldn’t agree on whether or not the changes were necessary—or even good.

“The original had more balls,” one Instagram user wrote. “It was grittier and the criticism of colonialism and racism more impactful.” Of course, one review from someone who may have genuinely read the books is not evidence that Drake’s original work was thoughtful and self-aware… but it does mean something.

When people cite ‘cancel culture,’ they envision relentless Twitter mobs echoing and exacerbating criticism they’ve heard, a botched game of Telephone that no one ever seems to win. In reality, the quality of reviews irrefutably varies from those who haven’t read the book yet have boarded the hype train to fellow YA authors of color or Native American readers with doctorates in Library Science pulling descriptions of “savages” with “almond-shaped eyes” directly from the novel they dissect. It’s ideologically risky to perceive online criticism as inherently less real, to assume that anything taking place over social media platforms is inherently less thoughtful. We’ve seen social media put to the task of propagating serious political movements, as is the case with the groundbreaking #MeToo movement. We’re well-aware of our place in the digital era; this is a part of what that means.

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

 

Laurie Forest‘s The Black Witch was inspired by the intensity of the homophobia that met the fight for marriage equality. Before its publication, the novel was accused of the same homophobia—and racism—it professed to combat.

 

Laurie Forest's 'The Black Witch'

Image Via Lucy V. Hay

 

The novel follows Elloren, a girl growing up in a society in which fantasy races (wolfmen, fae, etc.) are deemed inferior. Of course, this is a low-hanging metaphor for real-world racism, but it’s certainly not unprecedented: Cassandra Clare‘s Shadowhunters universe relies heavily on the concept of ‘Downworlders’ (werewolves, fae, etc.) and their second-class status in the Nephilim-dominated Clave, whose laws generally fail to take the magical races into account. The Harry Potter franchise also comments upon inequality and racial issues through the concept of ‘purer’ wizarding bloodlines. While J.K. Rowling‘s efforts at including diversity in her texts may not easily lend themselves to the word ‘effort’ (think Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s ‘intense sexual relationship‘ that’s never shown in the prequel films), she lightly prods at real-world issues with the inclusion of plot points such as Hermione’s social activism on behalf of the house elves. Rowling’s work has had such an impact that young people looking to involve themselves in politics frequently allude to her work in protest signs and political arguments (think ‘no one deserves to live in a closet’).

 

 

"No one deserves to live in a closet."

Image vIA jOSH jOSH tWITTER

 

One Goodreads user parsed the “most dangerous, offensive book” they had ever read apart in a 9,000-word review, barbing readers with quotes along the lines of: “The Kelts are not a pure race like us. They’re more accepting of intermarriage, and because of this, they’re hopelessly mixed.” Given the novel’s premise, it seems likely that this quote came from one of the aforementioned fusty, traditional relatives whose views are the launchpad for Elloren’s character arc. In fact, the main premise of the review was, according to Vulture, “racist characters saying or doing racist things.” There seems to be confusion over whether or not including characters with bigoted views means endorsing those characters’ bigoted views—a dangerous conflation.

Forest herself has said that she wanted to avoid “[injecting] harmful tropes into fantasy,” for example, casting people with dark skin (including fantasy races) as villains. Intentionally, Forest said, “all [her] villains are white.”

Reviewers agree that Elloren’s bigotry is “jarring,” the novel rampant with homophobic, ableist, racist, and otherwise bigoted remarks. But many remain divided on whether or not the comments fulfil their intended purpose—a clearly-stated opposition to bigotry told through the perspective of a protagonist whose hateful outlook is implied to unravel by the end of the yet-unpublished third book.

Others (in particular, acclaimed author L.L. McKinney) say that the bigotry itself isn’t exactly the issue: Forest is a white author and therefore doesn’t have the range to dismantle racial oppression—it isn’t her story to tell. Regardless of whether or not you, reader, agree with this sentiment, McKinney is more than justified in expressing it.

Because here’s the issue with calling this ‘cancel culture:’ The Black Witch wasn’t canceled.

 

Hashtag, cancel culture

Image Via Jeff Bullas

 

There was, inarguably, an online crusade against it. The debut novel’s Goodreads rating dropped to an astonishing 1.7. Tumblr posts with as many as 6,000 notes circulated condemning the book, despite the fact that, before its publication, there was almost no chance that such a large group had actually read it. Yet the novel was published as planned in May 2017 despite the controversy, and its sequel was released in September 2018. The criticism drew attention, but, as in the case of Kosoko Jackson, it did not derail the author’s career.

It’s difficult to make a call on this one, particularly given that many of the Twitter and Tumblr threads (including the 9k word review) have since been deleted. It’s irresponsible for us, as critics and as readers, to side with the journalists who condemn “Toxic YA Twitter” without having read the book and the reviews, and the Twitter threads. It’s irresponsible for us to assert that all criticism of possible insensitivity is inaccurate because it is spread through social media—and it’s more irresponsible still to assume that all sensitivity criticisms carry the same weight.

But making a ‘call on this one’ is besides the point. My opinion on which of these books is more appropriate than the others couldn’t be more irrelevant These claims deserve consideration. They deserve it because some of them are true, regardless of whether this particular one is or isn’t. Citing all criticisms as a part of ‘cancel culture’ may be the same sort of blunt dismissal that ‘cancel culture’ itself entails.

 

 

Blood Heir By Amélie Wen zhao

And now, we arrive at our final destination.

Amélie Wen Zhao, a French-born and Beijing-raised debut author, faced accusations of racism shortly before the scheduled publication of her upcoming novel Blood Heir, the first instalment of a trilogy with a high three-figure advance. After a 2014 international trip, Zhao began to conceptualize a society in which magical individuals are trafficked as laborers, an incisive allusion to “human trafficking” and “indentured servitude in Asia.” Wen Zhao stated that she had not previously encountered a commentary on human trafficking in Y.A. literature. But not all readers understood Wen Zhao’s intentions.

 

'Blood Heir,' the controversial book in question

Image Via Slate

 

“This book is about slavery,” accused one Goodreads reviewer, “a false oppression narratives that equates having legitimately dangerous magical powers that kill people with being an oppressed minority.”
Wen Zhao, expressing that she never intended the book as an allusion to slavery in the United States, canceled the publication.

Wen Zhao recently made headlines for announcing her plan to go forth with publishing after a thoughtful apology, months after her cancelation announcement. This is not unprecedented; although accusations of Drake’s cultural insensitivity were perhaps the most legitimate, she went forth with publication after official delays due to the controversy. After some deliberation and a lot of changes, Wen Zhao is resuming the publication. Delacorte, her publisher, had a group of multicultural academics evaluate the work—including an expert who “studies human trafficking in Asia.”

 

Amélie Wen Zhao's official statement leading up to the book's publication.

Image Via Amélie Wen Zhao Twitter

 

The angle of most news outlets is quite clear: headlines read “How A Twitter Mob Derailed An Immigrant Female Author’s Budding Career,” citing the same laundry list of marginalized identities that defamed ‘Twitter Mobs’ frequently allude to.

Of course, those in favor of the project’s cancelation were quick to point out that all races and ethnicities (read: not just non-poc) are capable of anti-blackness. In a now-deleted tweet, novelist Ellen Oh applauded Wen Zhao for the cancelation and drew attention to the issue. Poet L. L. McKinney also commented upon anti-blackness, and author Stephi Cham commented, “I don’t think she’s bowing to a mob. I think she’s listened to valid feedback and made a decision to do better based on that.” Regardless of the specific intent of Wen Zhao’s novel, the reality is that some people drew different conclusions. And yet, her career is not derailed. Her debut will be available in November and will have gone through an even more extensive vetting process, likely adding more nuance and commentary regarding the serious issue of human trafficking.

 

"You are not immune to charges of racism just because you are POC. Racism is systematic, especially anti-blackness."

Image Via Slate

 

Amélie Wen Zhao

Image Via Next Shark

 

‘Cancel culture’ paranoia comes from fear of censorship. What does that fear mean if the author’s career doesn’t end? If the book isn’t canceled?

Each incident has been cited as an example of toxic Twitter culture blown out of hand, allegations of hypersensitivity and all the political firestorm a controversial hot topic. In reality, it’s impossible for any one journalist to deem which criticisms are ‘correct’ and which are irrational. And it’s more than just impossible for critics to automatically associate all of these incidents, to classify each as an act of small-minded censorship. If we categorize all critique under the broad label of ‘cancel culture,’ delegitimize it as hyperbolic outrage, we risk discouraging and outright disregarding serious criticism.

 

 

 

Featured Image Via Den of Geek.