So You Want to Excuse a Problematic Book, Huh?

March 27, 2017 Marianne's Thoughts 0

DON’T

Hello, everyone!

I thought I would use this post today to try to unpack some of the common excuses used by people to defend problematic posts.

Note: I will not tolerate rudeness in the comments.

Let’s Begin!

1- Ignorance – “[The author] didn’t know!”

Why it’s not an excuse: Look, I’m sorry, but ignorance doesn’t excuse racism, homophobia, ableism, and anything else that makes books problematic, because you can look for information from other sources. That’s what Google is for. That’s what websites like Disability in KidLit, Latinxs in Kid Lit, American Indians in Children’s Literature , We Need Diverse Books, LGBTQ Reads, and multiple others are for. I’m not saying that learning is easy, but if you’re willing to do extensive historical or scientific research for your book, why wouldn’t you do research to make sure you’re not hurting anyone?

2- Intent – “[The author] didn’t mean to!”

Why it’s not an excuse: I’m going to use a nice little analogy for this. Let’s pretend I have a big exam, so I study really hard for it. I go into the exam with the intent to pass it. So, I’m feeling pretty confident after I take it. I mean, I studied so hard, and I intend to pass it. However, when the professor gives me the test back, I failed. It can’t be, right? So I go to the professor, and I tell them “You see professor, it’s impossible that I failed the test, because I studied very hard and intended to pass it”. The professor is obviously going to change my grade now, right?

Wrong.

It doesn’t matter what the intent was. If it’s problematic and hurtful, no amount of intent can change that. Just like no matter how much I say that I intended to pass the test, the professor still will not turn all my wrong answers into right ones.

3- Projection – “[The author] had sensitivity readers/knew a POC that told them it was okay/consulted someone who didn’t tell them it was bad”

Why it’s not an excuse: This is just shifting blame from the author to someone else. Sensitivity readers and other people they might use to consult are just that in the end: consultants. The author can choose whether or not to follow their advice. Not to mention the fact that believe it or not, the word of one (or two, or three) sensitivity reader does not mean that they speak for everyone.  POC ARE NOT A MONOLITH.

Besides, if it hurt people, it doesn’t matter if there were consultants or not.

4- Rationalization – “Well, it’s a diverse book, so it HAS to be good”

Why it’s not an excuse: You’re sweeping all diverse books with the same brush AND ignoring that we all have internal prejudices and that being marginalized doesn’t excuse problematicness. The book Everything Everything comes to mind: A diverse book written by an author of color, which has resulted in being extremely ableist and hurtful to many readers (more info, here) . I remember being hesitant to talk about criticizing it because of it being written by an author of color, but I realized that the hurt wasn’t erased because it was written by a person of color.

5-  Defensiveness – “Well if you don’t like it, don’t read it” “You’re oppressing/harassing [the author]” “This is censorship”

Why it’s not an excuse: This isn’t even a way to defend a problematic book, but to spare the author’s feelings and silence the people hurt by their actions.

Remember, if people were hurt by the book, it’s still problematic.

6- Marginalized Token – “[The author] is [insert marginalization here] so they can’t be [insert and -ism, -obic here]”

Why it’s not an excuse: This is a bit connected to point #4, but I think I need to say it again, because it’s important. Yes, you may have a marginalization, BUT you don’t speak for ALL marginalizations. For example, being disabled doesn’t mean you can’t be racist, homophobic, or yes, even ableist (internalized ableism is a thing). Just like a queer white man cannot possibly speak for a queer black man. They’re both queer, and they’re both men, but one has more privilege than the other (can you guess which one?   🙄).

Remember, even if the author is marginalized or the book is ownvoices, if it hurt someone, it’s still problematic.

7- Patronizing – “You just don’t get it.” “I’ll form my own opinion, thanks.”

Why it’s not an excuse: It’s a book, not a math equation. There isn’t just *one* interpretation of the book. Remember that we all have different viewpoints because we’ve all been brought up with different cultural and personal values, and we all carry that with us even when we read. We can’t shed parts of our identities when we’re reading. What may not seem as racist to you, can definitely be racist to someone else because they carry with them experiences that you’ll never understand. If someone says something is racist, ableist, homophobic, etc., and they have knowledge in that area and they have proof of it? Back off. Don’t presume to know more than someone and don’t pretend that racism, homophobia and ableism are things you can just form an opinion on.

So let’s recap:

  1. Do research when working on your WIP
  2. Intent is meaningless
  3. Don’t shift the blame to others, POC are not a monolith
  4. No books are exempt from being problematic
  5. Don’t be a dick
  6. Don’t hide behind your marginalizations
  7. DON’T MAKE EXCUSES FOR PROBLEMATIC BOOKS

Honestly, I’m just scraping the surface of the different ways people try to justify problematic books. And these are just the “polite” people. Don’t believe me? Ask those who are much more vocal about diversity than me. Ask them how many death threats and insults they receive every time they speak up. Ask them if they feel safe in the community. Spoiler: they don’t.

Well, I think that’s it for today.

This post has gone on long already, haha. I hope this has helped you in some way or other to understand why problematic books should not be excused.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to show some appreciation, I have a Ko-fi link you could donate to (or share!).

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I'm Marianne. Professional Fangirl, part-time Blogger. Full-time college student. GIFs are a natural part of my posts, so be warned. I LOVE reading, so definitely feel free to discuss books with me. Opinions are welcome.