YA Twitter is eating one of it’s own. Again. I missed this the first time it came around because I was dealing with the flu, but luckily YA Twitter is the gift that keeps on giving so I didn’t have to wait long before this topic came around again. Last time, an angry mob came after an Asian woman dared to write about sex slavery in a society based on Asian historical/cultural ideas – apparently, it reminded them of African slavery and that was offensive, and the (mostly white, from what I can tell) Twitter mob attacked her until she pulled her book from publication. (An act for which she was praised for being “brave” and “doing the right thing.”)
Jesse Singal has posted a thread about the latest (unnecessary) debacle involving a person of color writing about an uncomfortable topic and being attacked for it because other people got upset because reasons. (He was the wrong ethnicity to handle the topic, or he wasn’t the right kind of marginalized person to handle it, or something equally ludicrous.)
As someone who paid for a BA and MLA in literature, I have a lot of feelings about this kind of behavior – excuse me, this kind of harassment and abuse. The Young Adult genre has a problem with diversity, but it seems like attempts to actually bring diversity into the genre are met with hostility from YA Twitter. To quote Singal:
Posing as urgent interventions to prevent the circulation of harmful tropes, the pile-ons are often based on selective excerpts pulled out of context from the advance copies of books most in the community haven’t read yet. Often, they feature critics operating on the basis of idiosyncratic ideas about the very purpose and nature of fiction itself, elevating tendentious interpretations of the limited snippets available to pass judgement on books before they have been released….
Further heightening the drama, these pile-ons are often accompanied by claims that those who have been selected for dragging or excommunication have not only sinned against social justice, but pose a safety threat to others in the community.Tablet Mag, January 31, 2019
In Zhao’s case, a (white) author complained that the book contained “internalized racism and anti-blackness.” Then an American-Asian author complained that Zhao (excuse me, “Asian writers who didn’t grow up in western countries”) did not educate herself about the potential negative cultural context of the topic of slavery and how it would be perceived by Western audiences. Audiences that, it would seem, can’t seem to imagine a world that isn’t centered around American cultural contexts.
This new case involves Kosoko Jackson, a black, gay author writing a romance-adventure set around the Kosovo War. A review (written by a white woman) was put out on Goodreads that claimed it was “fetishizing gay men,” it was ignoring the cultural context of the Kosovo War, and the main characters’ ethnicities didn’t “fit” something…. In other words, the author of the review took a few sentences out of context, made a huge number of assumptions, and then told people it was too dangerous for anyone to read.
All I hear from this is the crying of white women trying to be gatekeepers for diversity by excluding actual marginalized people from introducing diversity into the genre.
This is a huge problem. Growing up, most of the YA books I read were written by white women about white kids. With the exception of Ursula K. Leguin’s books, I, an Egyptian-American, read books by and for white people. Don’t get me wrong, I loved all the books I read and I would never tell people to stop reading the books I grew up reading (pls go read all the Roald Dahl, Caroline B. Cooney, Lois Lowry, and Judy Blume). YA NEEDS diverse voices. It does not need white women gate-keeping the genre and encouraging their tens-of-thousands of followers to attack authors whose works make them feel uncomfortable.
There’s also a certain amount of irony in a reviewer saying, “Look. I’m not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t read. I’m not one of those people.” AS THEY’RE TELLING PEOPLE NOT TO READ THE BOOK. I also think it’s ironic that the reviewer complained that the gay romance written by a black gay man “reek[ed] of women fetishizing gay men” – it is literally an LGBTQIA book written by someone in the community, but apparently it isn’t authentically gay enough.
I’m going to be honest here and say that I just don’t understand any of this. The absurdity of this level of gate-keeping and harassment boggles my mind. It’s as though cannibalizing one’s own is a feature, not a bug. It’s as though it’s designed to create controversy where there is none just for the sake of having controversy.
It also REEKS of the kind of virtue-signaling and censorship that bothered me so much about parents and religious groups demanding that school libraries “ban” books because books like “To Kill A Mockingbird” or “The Giver” or “Go Ask Alice” were “inappropriate for young people.” In other words, the adults in our lives wanted to closely cultivate the information in our lives to better control our minds so they could mold us into certain kinds of people. Groups wanted books about gays banned, books about sexuality, books with “bad language and poor role models”, books about rebellion, books with references to drugs (even if it was a cautionary tale), books with violence. (Just look at all of the stupid reasons people gave for banning these books! It all boils down to people being uncomfortable and wanting to hide the things that challenged their beliefs.)
It’s just the same kind of crap I grew up with, and countless generations before. The only difference is that we don’t have to wait for the five o’clock news to come on and tell us of a “dangerous new book” that might be in our schools, and the parents who are fighting it. Now we have YA Twitter to tell us that, based on one person’s opinion from an advance reading copy, these books and authors are dangerous, undermining efforts to correct social wrongs, and other horrors that must be eliminated!
In my opinion, this is outrage porn for bored authors, centered around gate-keeping for topics that make them uncomfortable, that also serves as an attention grab. It’s also dangerous in a genre that desperately needs diversity, that needs people to offer up new ideas for young people who need to have their beliefs and ideals challenged and who need to learn to challenge those ideals, and that needs to get out of the same tired tropes and characters.
And it sets the extremely dangerous example that when something does make you uncomfortable, when it makes you challenge your beliefs, that you have some kind of moral imperative to shut it down and attack the person who is challenging you. You can’t argue for social justice and then attack the very people you’re trying to protect.