Sunday 19 March 2017


When You're Told a Book is Racist, Why Do You Need to Judge it For Yourself?

Warning: I'm kind of angry right now, so this is an anger-filled post. I criticise some readers - though not specific people - for reading certain books after being given certain information about those books. If you are one of the people I am criticising, do please discuss your reasons with me, because I really don't understand your choices. It may turn out this whole post is wrong. I actually hope it is, that I am.

You may have seen over the last few months on bookish Twitter that a number of YA novels have been called out for being racist. Authors and readers have been tweeting about how harmful and upsetting these books are for months now, and rightly so. I'm not going to talk about the books in question, because those who have called out these books as racist have criticised them better than I could. No, what I want to discuss is what some people are deciding to do after hearing that these books are racist: deciding to read them.

Yesterday, YA author Heidi Heilig posted a thread on Twitter that got right to the heart of what was bothering me - people hearing that these books are racist, and then deciding to read them, to judge for themselves. Go read her thread before continuing with this post, I'll wait. What bothers me is that these books are racist, people are calling them out for being so, people are being hurt and upset by the painful comments or references made in these books... and then people are deciding they will read those books to judge for themselves.

I'm sorry, but why do you need to judge for yourself? Do you not believe these people who have been hurt? Do you think that your thoughts and opinions are more valid, more important, than those who have already been hurt by these books? Do you want to read these books to argue with them about how they're wrong, or to pat them on the back for being right?

Do you want to check your privilege? Seriously - check your privilege.

If I'm on Twitter, and I'm seeing a lot of people in my timeline slating a book as racist - see a lot of people talking about how this book hurt and upset them - I'm going to trust that. I am going to trust that these people know what they're talking about. I trust that people aren't going to call a book out for being racist - or homophobic, or ableist, or anti-Semitic, and so on - just for the hell of it, for a laugh. This is a serious issue, people are not going to make up crap about a book. And most of the time, these people are backing up their statements with direct quotes from the book/photos of the text (do not talk to me about needing to see these quotes in context. The person who is quoting them has read them in context, so why do you need to? They are obviously racist as is, no context is needed). This isn't something they're making up to cause controversy or drama. They're calling out books for the crap they're pulling and seemingly getting away with because, look, it's been/being published.

So when people are telling me a book is racist, or harmful in any other way, I do not need to judge for myself. I will not be touching that crap. I will not sully myself with having to read horrific things that book says. I will not waste my time - or money - on a terrible book.

I will not be so offensive to those who have been hurt by said book to say that I am going to read it and judge it for myself. In case, what? They're wrong? Or that I'll know better? Or that they have misunderstood and I'll be able to better explain things to them? Seriously? Seriously?! Can you not see how bloody offensive that is. How it's adding insult to injury. How that's pretty much saying, "I don't believe you. I'm going to read it for myself, so I can decide whether it's racist or not. Because what I think is more important than how you feel." No. No. You cannot.

Like Donna of The Untitled Book Blog tweeted, by choosing to read these books, to "judge for yourself", you are putting money in the publisher's hands. You are saying that books that include this kind of crap sell. That this is what people want to read. And so another book is published. And another. Three. I can think of three books that people have been vilifying over recent months. Thankfully, one of those books hadn't yet been released and the publishers decided to postpone publication to fix the book beforehand. But god, the damage has already been done. People have already been hurt by that book.

You can argue that it's not the intention of the author to be racist, but that's not the point. It doesn't matter if they intended to or not, that doesn't change the fact that their book is racist and has hurt people. You may argue that not all people of colour find these books racist, but I fail to see how that makes any difference, when there are still many people who do, who have already spoken about being hurt by these books. Just because some don't find it offensive doesn't mean that those who do are wrong. It doesn't mean the pain they feel should be dismissed.

It's time we readers took a stand to say we're not putting up with this crap. It's time we were supportive and stood with those who have been hurt. It's time we stopped buying this crap, telling publishers we want more. It's time we said enough, that this is not ok, that it's time authors, publishers and all who work for them do better.

It's time we stopped deciding we must judge for ourselves, but instead choose to listen, trust, and believe those have been hurt. How about we show them some respect instead?

Rant over.

What do you think of people who choose to judge a book for themselves after being told it's harmful? Are you one of these people who has done so? Please talk to me about why you choose to do so, because I really don't understand.

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  1. Completely in agreement! There are so many wonderful authors who could use our support, who we may never get to - so why waste time reading books written by an author in a racist way?! When you see multiple people calling out a book, with quotes etc. I say move on. Unless - of course - that's not important to the person.

    Tanya Patrice

    1. Exactly! Exactly! I just don't understand it. I really don't.

  2. I don't think it's ever wrong in principle to make up your own mind about something, but personally if I hear a book is racist or in some way offensive, I'm unlikely to read it. I think the problem is when people read stuff *just because* it's racist, as Tanya says, there are too many books out there to read for much better reasons. But for example, if you want to read a biography of someone with views you find offensive to try to understand their perspective, you can borrow it from the library or get a secondhand copy so they don't profit directly (I know they get a few pence for library issues, but it's better than buying). As much as I hate the phrase 'echo chamber', if we only expose ourselves to opinions we agree with, we will struggle to fully understand the world.

    1. I suppose that's true. Though I'm not sure if I'd want to understand someone who wants to cause harm - in the respect of biographies of someone, instead of YA novels. With the YA novels, it seems that racism isn't intended, it's not necessarily the views of the author. But the book still *is* racist, and the author should do better. And I've not yet seen an author or publisher have their first response to be listening, apologising, and trying to fix things. It's always defensive first. And that just gets to me. You're being told your book has hurt people, and you're going to be defensive? I just can't. I won't read those books.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I had to think hard about how to reply to this because while I understand the thought behind your argument, I don't know that I 100% agree. I don't feel the need to read the particular books you're talking about, but I don't know that I feel like we should condemn people for saying they want to judge for themselves. This sounds awfully close to censorship to me---if someone out there finds a book offensive, we tell people they aren't allowed to read it to determine their own opinion. I know that's not the spirit of what you're saying here, but when we start telling people how to think and feel about books and that they're wrong if they think or feel differently ... I don't know, it just doesn't sit right with me. In any circumstance.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction