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Readers Rush to Defend Kate Clanchy’s Racist Book at the Expense of People of Color

White tears coming through.

Tweets by Clanchy over an image of an empty classroom. (Image: by 潜辉 韦 from Pixabay , and Twitter.)

Amid the thunderous praise for Kate Clanchy’s 2019 book Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, there were also growing concerns about racist, fatphobic, and ableist descriptions of her past students. The award-winning memoir documents Clanchy’s thirty years as a (white) educator, emphasizing the need to support multicultural classrooms.

On that premise alone, this book should have been more critically examined. It already has a faint whiff of white saviorism and imperial gaze, and that is before getting into the word choice that started the discourse on it.

As the book got into more hands, reviews on websites such as Twitter, Goodreads, The Storygraph, and more began to point out the problematic to outright offensive ways of talking about the students. Clanchy not only denied the quotes that came from her book but asked Twitter users to flag the Goodreads reviews as “false.”

Piecing together the story through screenshots of now-deleted tweets, she at first claimed that people were lying. When that became harder to do, she pivoted to the “oh well, now that is just taken out of context” and “if you read the book, then you would understand.” That caused the already terrible situation to escalate.

In a move that at this point should surprise no one, she activated her white women fragility trap card. This prompted high-profile authors like Philip Pullman and Amanda Craig to fly to her defense.

Like “Central Park Karen”, Mary Beard, and infinite white women before them, Clanchy weaponized her tears to shield herself against mounting criticism. In doing that, she put targets on the backs of high-profile authors of color like Chimene Suleyman, Monisha Rajesh, and Sunny Singh.

Book cover for "White Tears/Brown Scars" by Ruby Hamad. (Image: Catapult.)

In Ruby Hamad’s book “White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color,” she writes,

White women’s racial privilege is predicated on their acceptance of their role of virtue and goodness, which is, ultimately, powerlessness. It is in this powerlessness—or, I would argue, this appearance of powerlessness— that governs the nature of White Womanhood.

When Clanchy realized that enough people weren’t agreeing with her, she expressed this powerlessness. Many of her defenders made the bad faith argument that they, too, were powerless if they couldn’t talk about race as offensively as Clanchy—again, making it about themselves rather than the people who were the focus of the descriptions, as if describing Black people (in this case children) as “chocolate” were appropriate. Just when you think the “describing brown skin as food” discussion is done, this happens.

All of this while Clanchy wrote to position herself as the white savior figure and bringer of culture to those with “African voice,” “slanted eyes,” and “Jewish nose”—all words she used in her book to describe children.

Not only did His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman run to her defense, but he also did so by defending racism with more racism. Pullman compared the criticism of Clanchy by these women to ISIS and the Taliban’s censorship.

While he did give an actual apology for defending Clanchy and Ayn Rand, he did not apologize for the racism and Islamophobic remarks he made. In the thread with the apology, he continues to extend racist conversations.

Since then, Clanchy offered a non-apology in which she centered herself and outright said, “many of the responses to the extracts from my books, especially those taken out of context, have been difficult to hear.”

Since posting the “apology,” Clanchy has indicated that she’ll be editing the text for future editions. The sensitivity readers (plural) that should be hired for this process better be well compensated for the trauma they will be taking on.

Last place in the apology tour goes to Amanda Craig. Instead of an apology or even a non-apology statement for defening Clanchy’s book, Craig decided that locking her Twitter account was the best course of action.

In speaking with The Guardian, Suleyman said she is thankful for Picador’s (the publisher) response and asked “why content of this nature even reached bookshelves, schools, and was celebrated by prestigious awards.”

This should surprise no one, but between 1950-2018, 95% of books from major publishers (Penguin Random House, Simon and Schuster, etc.) were from white authors. The 2018 numbers rested, still, at 89%.

If publishing (from acquisitions to marketing) and those who fortify canons like academics and award judges had a more diverse staffing in every respect, rather than reactionary inclusion training, this would not happen as much. It wouldn’t be perfect because we internalize these violent words as okay when it really is anything but.

CORRECTION (9/28/2021): We inadvertently linked to the wrong article regarding Mary Beard. This is the correct article.

(featured image:  潜辉 韦 from Pixabay, and Twitter)

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(she/her) Award-winning artist and blogger with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. Starting as an Online Editor for her college paper in October 2017, Alyssa began writing for the first time within two months of working in the newsroom. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3, Apex Legends, and CS:GO. Still trying to beat Saxon Farm on RCT 3 (so I can 100% the game.)