MUSINGS: On 'censoring' problematic books

On ‘censoring’ problematic books

If you have been following the book community on Twitter lately, you may have heard about this one particular book making waves for being highly problematic. It started a very, erh, interesting debate: should we be rate problematic books without reading them?

If you have not been following the book community on Twitter, you may not have heard about how problematic The Black Witch by Laurie Forest is. You will find a comprehensive review of it on Bookstore Babe‘s blog, since she did a very good and mentally exhausting job of recapping everything. To sum up: racism, casual misogyny and cat fights, as well as homophobia and ableism, all in one package.

Lovely, innit? So, unsurprisingly, people have been talking about it and not in a good way. And, perhaps more surprisingly, it has been highly effective and the book’s GoodReads rating has been free falling during the last few days. So, of course, people have been talking about it even more. And, of course, some people have decided they were going to get offended by this reaction.

Let’s review here: you’re offended… because people… are calling a racist book… racist?

Nice priorities, I see!

But let us be clear on one thing: this is not hate speech. This is not censorship. This is not the mindless bashing of a book. What it is, though, is ensuring that bigoted speeches and points of view are not given a platform. What it is, is silencing something terrible and awful so people don’t get hurt. What it is, is making sure people are safe.

You’d rather scream about the integrity of book reviewers than about how damaging books can be to young women (which, spoilers alert, make up 99,99% of the YA community)? Then don’t get surprise and offended when you get called out on it. It is our job as women to make sure other women are safe. And if it takes down-rating a book into oblivious to make sure young women will not have to suffer from reading it, then I’ll take it.

By saying “I will read it and form my own opinion,” what you actually mean is: the opinion of people who know their thing about those issues doesn’t matter, only mine does. What you are saying is that you will actually give money to a book you know to be racist, just to be contradictory. What you are saying is that the voices of minorities don’t matter. What you are saying is that, yeah, you’re trying your damn harder to be a bigot right now. So don’t get surprised when people call you out on it.

Don’t want to be called racist? Pro-tip from one white person to another: don’t be racist. I know, mind-blowing. But here is simple things we can do to make sure we don’t support bigoted ideas, but challenge them instead:

  • Supporting women of colour, queer women, disable women in the community, by sharing their rants, by helping them out when they are being attacked, by listening to what they have to say.
  • Using our privileges to speak up and call out people. Because, sadly, a white bigot will be more likely to listen or to be shut down by a fellow white person (re: this article).
  • Creating safe environment, by making sure highly problematic books don’t become popular enough to be a ‘must read’ and fall into the hands of people who could get hurt by those books.
  • Supporting #ownvoices books instead. It’s 2017, they’re all here ready to be loved. Love those instead.

A good start, right? Not too hard, right? So let’s do this.


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