Crazier by the day

We might as well give up.

I ought to say I’m grateful to my friend who sent me the link to this article (which you really must read) in The Spectator, but considering how awful its subject matter is, am I really grateful? It’s an interesting read; I’ll say that much. But it seems YA literature is in as much of a pickle as world politics. (I hope things will get better, but probably not before it’s got a lot worse.)

Do you remember what I had to say about sensitivity readers a while back? It’s OK, I had no recollection of it myself until I went digging for those occasions when I am in agreement with Lionel Shriver. (Seems I’ve agreed at least twice.)

Apparently you have to be politically correct in fantasy writing, as much as you do in ‘normal’ fiction. If not, you’ll be accused of cultural appropriation. And much as I’d like authors – new and old – to have a spine, I suspect that’s a lot easier to say than to practise.

As for those publishers who withdraw or apologise for causing offence, they really should have more spine. Or at the very least, they could think three times as much before accepting a work for publication, if all that will happen is that braying idiots on Twitter will cause them to take far too many steps backwards.

Some years ago I was visited here by someone looking out for Native Americans. She had many unpleasant things to say about authors who dare write about them without being one of them. I gather she isn’t one herself.

Where to draw the line? Lionel felt that memoirs would be all that was left, but who’s to say that won’t cause offence as well?

I discussed this with the Resident IT Consultant, who brought up Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses series. It turned out we had different ideas about where it might be set. If the books are set somewhere vaguely real, that is. But she writes about both black and white characters. So far, as I understand it, people have been pleased that they are about black characters, and written by someone black, too. I don’t think I’ve come across the idea that there should be no white characters in the book. I have no objection to any of the white people in the story.

But what do I know?

Angie Thomas, who has been praised for writing amazing YA books, with mostly black characters, does have white people in her stories as well. You sort of have to, don’t you? I have no experience of life in Mississippi, either as black or white. I have no objection to Angie’s white characters. She mentioned at her event in March that one of the girls was based on a ‘friend’ at school. I can believe that. Not all whites are like her, but some probably are.

The book I reviewed yesterday, Dreamwalker, is fantasy, and features dragons and humans. James Oswald is human. So the question is did he describe the dragons correctly? Does he even have the right to write about dragons?

In Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina we have mixed characters; half human, half dragon. Who, here, has the moral right to be offended for what Rachel did to one of them?

What many authors say to the common question – how do you know about xxx? – is to mention research, and ‘it’s fiction; I make it up.’

I don’t know where this will end, but I am ashamed of the YA bloggers, etc, who feel they have the right to ruin the lives of so many people by being so bloody rude. And insensitive. And other words I could list here but won’t.

2 responses to “Crazier by the day

  1. Hi Bookwitch. I think I’ve followed you for years? But I couldn’t pass this article by without a comment. I’ve written about this form of censorship before, in fact. So-called ‘Sensitivity Readers’ give the appearance of ‘protecting minorities’ from being written by members of another population. The actual result is a hardening of racial lines with writers afraid to do what is natural to a writer in any age: use their imagination, and their research skills, to write the experiences of another person. After all, humans share the world, and, even given individual stories of a nation or individual, they have more in common on this planet than not. But… no, or so Sensitivity Readers would have you believe. They’ve come to police the imagination. And big publishing houses? They’re actually letting them. The question to ask oneself is: Why?

    Sensitivity Writers are employed to make sure no one’s feelings are hurt — that is, to make sure everyone is sensitive to everyone else’s cultures at all times. An impossible task that destroys the actual development of empathy through trial and error, in the very endeavour of writing. And, apparently, the readership in YA (all readership is 60% women, and I suspect YA is loaded with women buyers) is too ‘silly’ and ‘infantile’ to be able to determine what they can read, and the quality of representations in what they read, for themselves. Riiight. But, given the Big 5 have determined that is the case, *the Sensitivity Writers are employed*, and it’s in their vested interest — one that pays them well — to make a billion boxes for writers, label them, and make sure you *never* get out of yours. Not as a writer. Not as a reader. Sounding sensitive so far? Have you figured out your ‘labels’ yet?

    Of course you haven’t. Because this is madness. I dare to ‘appropriate’ Ethiopian food almost every Thursday. It’s delicious. This is madness.

    I ask you as a reasonable person trying your best to represent your characters *What is the greater crime?* Trying hard for inclusion, but failing to make a perfect representation of another culture, or being decried as a ‘blatant racist’ for trying? One is an honest effort. The other can end your career. Take it that this is the second time I’ve heard of a minority author shut down for trying to use his or her imagination to flesh out a more rounded story. “[R]acist ass writers, like Amélie Wen Zhao”, huh? I’m not sure Miss Zhao, a minority writer herself, should have been silenced in this way, and over presenting something established in Russian history. Serfdom. Miss Zhao is Chinese, btw. But like a massive ouroboros, Sensitivity Readers devour the genre that gives them life. They keep the races separate. They keep us from trying to reach across the boundary lest we make mistakes. They deem the mistakes more damning than the separation. Just *think* about that. Imagine it. *Trying to be inclusive* is your sin. Giving up is now *admirable*? If trying to be diverse and inclusive is racist, what does it mean to be racist in the YA genre? Think on this as they flash their badges and shove you in your box written up with a dozen labels for what they *think* you are, that represents what you’re ‘allowed’ to write. How bland. How smug.

    This will become a blot on the history of writing — an ornate one, but an inkblot just the same. History itself will record this as a period where the Big 5 Publishing Houses made Yet Another Bad Decision, and Indy and Self-Published writers crawled out of their billion boxes and tried (often failing, often making mistakes, then slowly improving) to be more inclusive.

    Censorship, by any other name, smells just as vainglorious. It isn’t admirable. It isn’t acceptable. Separating us and treating us differently based upon our differences isn’t acceptable. We share this world. We share this culture. We share this art that is writing. We should be kinder to one another. We should be willing to fail. Try again. And fail better.

  2. Well said, Tracy. Thank you.

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