So there's been an uproar on Twitter lately (when ISN'T there an uproar on Twitter?) regarding a certain book. Many have added their two cents regarding this issue, so I'll keep this brief. But I do feel the urge to speak up. Quietly. In my head. Writer, after all.
(Disclaimer: I have NOT looked into this with heavy scrutiny. Even just the hint of conflict tends to leave me freaking out. If you want to learn more, check #TheContinent on Twitter. Please! Do! It's important to be well-informed).
Here's what I do know:
The book in question has come under recent fire, accused of having racist depictions of certain characters. This has, predictably, sparked a hailstorm of criticism from parties on both sides, and also from somewhere in-between. Many people are pointing out this is the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to publishing and, well, life. Many others are pointing out that the accusations may be unfounded or blown out of proportion, given that many accusers have not in fact read the book.
Here's what else I know:
The post originally accusing the author posted portions of a private message, which itself was the original way in which the subject was broached from accuser to author. The public post did not contain the author's original name, so there was there the distinct possibility that she would not know about the accusations, and resulting storm, until it inevitably got around to her through grapevine activity, by which time it had already done quite a lot of damage. She even received death threats (well, "suggestions" that she commit suicide. Which, you know, is a TOTALLY huge difference [yes, that is my sarcastic voice]). She has, for the time being, retired from Twitter.
Now. Here's my take:
I am not defending this work. I fall into the camp of "read the book, draw your own conclusions", yes, BUT. If more than one person (and, also yes, it was more than one person who had actually read the book making said accusations at the end of the day) finds evidence of racism in your work, then there's obviously SOMETHING there. Therefore, although I still recommend reading it (and honestly this firestorm makes me more likely to read it than before because I'm curious now) I am most assuredly not defending the work.
Racism is a horrible, lurking, ever-present parasite in our society. It does exist, if not as overtly as once before; though at times it seems to be held back only by paper-thin walls. It exists in the publishing industry as much as anywhere else. Therefore, it can certainly exist in writers' works.
I do believe, and respect, the woman who posted the initial accusation. She was moved by frustration with this continued state of affairs in the publishing industry enough to make her post about it, so even if she could have done it in a better way, her heart was in the right place. Although I haven't seen it myself, it's pretty much a certainty that she has gotten her share of the anger going around. This is NOT right. Incendiary topics tend to bring out anger, leading to ugliness shielded by the anonymity of online. But hatred begets anger begets hatred begets anger... deep breaths, people. Deep breaths. Let's get some coffee. Sit on comfy sofas. Discuss this incredibly important topic like it most certainly should be discussed. Give it the attention and respect it deserves. And give people the respect you wish to receive in return.
Which also applies to the writer who has been accused. Yes, to her! Consider. Writers, by our nature, are good at considering other people's thoughts and feelings. Just imagine: what if this had happened to you? It could. Oh, sorry, what's that? You don't have racist qualities in your works?
Are you sure?
Because she clearly didn't think she did either.
We as writers tend to get very close to our works. We know them so well; worked so long, so hard, on them; they're our babies. We know the characters like we know ourselves. If someone even slightly, EVEN SLIGHTLY, doesn't understand them, we get instantly defensive (and kind of weepy).
Chances are good, when this author received a message out of the blue stating "your book is racist", this is how she felt: Of course that's not true! Those are strong characters! I know them, I love them, there's no way they're caricatures in any way! Well, it's just one person's opinion. Not everybody's going to like my book. And that's ok, they're entitled to their opinion.
That was her mistake. Because racism is a very heavy accusation. It's one of those rare exceptions where you can't just go "that's your opinion and I appreciate it". Ideally, we should use any criticism of our work as an excuse to look at it with a critical eye ourselves; and racism, or anything of that nature, is deserving of our serious consideration.
It's a lesson for us all. I've been looking at my own work recently with an eye toward diversity, and I don't like what I see. The good thing: I write plays; for which the characters, other than genders and sexes, can pretty much look like however unless it's important to the plot in some way, which it usually isn't. Also, I write short stories; but even then, I don't get into description a lot. So go ahead and cast my works however you want to! Make Hermione black! Then again: make her white. If you don't specify her race in the first place you're not "making" her anything.
But in my head, it's different. On careful consideration, I'm finding that I tend to think of these characters as, generally, white. It was a shock to me to realize that, but it's true and I need to acknowledge and deal with it. Even worse, white males! Gleeps! White males are fine, but overwhelmingly so?? Really, me? So I've been directing a beady eye at such depictions. They may just be in my head; but that's not to say it might not bleed through in the work. (Honestly, I do lay a certain amount of blame on the media. I watch a lot of TV and movies [waaaaay too much] and diversity is creeping along, and things are getting better, but your leads are still going to be white males a lot of percent of the time. These things can be insidious. They creep into your head and your imagination, and you may not notice them right away; you simply write what you "see"). As aforementioned: a lesson for us all.
So, yes, that was her mistake. And that's the key word: mistake. She made a mistake. A very serious mistake; but a mistake. And mistakes can be learned from.
Anger will give you some temporary relief, but it won't fix the situation. All it will do is drive a fellow writer further into the depths of insecurity that each of us harbors. We know what it's like there. Why would we willingly pull out our torches and pitchforks? It feels all wrong, in a way like a witch hunt; you burn the scapegoat at the stake, you feel better, soon you need another. Which there probably will be. Racism needs to be acknowledged, yes: but not like this. There's already been enough anger, enough violence. Let's stop know. Let's stop here.
How about forgiveness for a change? Forgiveness, and help. Let's work with her to get her through this, so that this doesn't happen again. Let's help her spot those problems in her work, specifically instead of generally; and let's understand that it may in fact be too late for this work (it's due out in May 2017, and delaying it or no is in the hands of the publishers at this point). Let's hope she learns from this (after this uproar, I have no doubt that she will); let's welcome her back in to the community, and help her make her next work all the better for those lessons learned. Instead of sitting around yelling and complaining, let's make change happen. Let's work together to make it happen.
For further thoughts on the subject, I refer you to the following:
Kaelan Rhywiol, regarding marginalized writers and how this furor may make them feel: http://kaelanrhywiol.wordpress.com
S. Hunter Nisbet, regarding the sorry state of the publishing industry and how this is more than just one writer's fault: http://SHunterNisbet.com
And last but certainly not least, Misa Sugiura with the first of two parts, regarding the best steps the accused writer can take to acknowledge her error and move on: http://misa-sugiura-sgrn.squarespace.com/blog/
(And to repeat, check out the hashtag #TheContinent on Twitter; and formulate your own opinion.)
Writer, dancer, actress, mother, me.