This may end up being a unpopular opinion post though I’m not sure. Let’s just hope that no one attempts to ‘cancel’ me for writing this.
With all the changes, good and bad, happening across the political and cultural landscapes in the US (I can’t speak for other countries of course), I think it’s great that people are being more outspoken regarding inequality and marginalization.
However, when it comes to the book community (and it seems particularly the YA community), I don’t think it’s being handled correctly; at least not all of the time. It doesn’t help that we’re in a very digital age where it’s easy to post something fueled by a strong emotion without much of a second thought where it can easily become viral. I believe that it’s easy for many to say and do whatever on the internet because you’re behind a screen and no one can interact with you face to face; it seems that many don’t think the consequences apply to them or will be as bad.
This ‘cancel culture’ and readers being outspoken about books and authors who are deemed racist or not sensitive enough first became apparent to me when the news about Amélie Wen Zhao pulling the publication of her novel Blood Heir because readers were offended by her depiction of slavery (I believe that this was the main issue).
I understand why so many were against her book being published. However, we’re in a culture where things go viral regardless if everything being said is true or even in full context. One or two people call an author out for showcasing slavery or racism in the wrong light and suddenly it’s been retweeted a few hundred times, at least, and everyone is demanding her book be pulled.
It’s frustrating when people get sucked into these parts of our culture. How many of these people actually read the whole book before giving an opinion?
I am also appalled at every single person who has sent death threats to authors, publishers, and people who didn’t outright hate a book that people deemed wrong to publish.
How is sending threats to someone and being an online bully helping to create constructive conversation over this issues?
This is no way me saying that a book that doesn’t depict situations of things like slavery, racism, sexism, etc well should be published. Yet, I haven’t seen a lot of evidence showing anyone stepping up to explain why it offends or why it’s written wrong. Or even offering up solutions or advice on how to improve!
Sure, there are people who are professional sensitivity readers now and are found to be very helpful. However, I worry if these professional readers read the summary or get info from the author or editor about where any inspiration came from. I say that because Zhao’s depiction of slavery was apparently drawn from Chinese slavery while everyone thought she was trying to showcase American slavery. Yet no one seemed to listen to her.
I worry that we’re setting grounds for an (interesting and concerning) form of censorship. At some point we have to say that if you don’t like a book or don’t think you’ll like it, then don’t read it. If enough people do that, the publisher and author won’t get their money. I’m very much a millennial and most of my views are stereotypical millennial views. However, while I feel in the middle about all of this, I do lean more away from the crowd on this.
I think we’re in a weird transitional period a la middle school where we still have a lot to learn in order to better adapt and grow with the changes occurring, especially since so many changes are happening rapidly.
Check out the discussion regarding the Guardian’s article (linked below) on reddit here. It’s very interesting.
What are your thoughts on this cancel culture that is occurring in publishing?
How do you think we as readers should help authors and publishers become more aware and educated on what could cause issues with certain readers/ groups?
The Guardian’s Torn apart: the vicious war over young adult books by Leo Benedictus
The New Yorker’s In Y.A., Where Is the Line Between Criticism and Cancel Culture? by Katy Waldman
Slate’s An Author Canceled Her Own YA Novel Over Accusations of Racism. But Is It Really Anti-Black? by Aja Hoggatt
Women’s Media Center’s The problem with “cancel culture” by Garnett Achieng
Paper’s Why Cancel Culture Doesn’t Work by Stephanie Smith-Strickland