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Society of Authors Baffles Writers by Attempting to Play Both Sides And Defend Racism

Feel free to substitute 'baffles' with 'disappoints.'

Close up of Pullman

After over a year of readers finding racist, fatphobic, and ableist descriptions of children in Kate Clanchy’s award-winning 2019 book Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, the author began a campaign to get some negative reviews taken down. When alleging that those negative reviews contained lies backfired by bringing more attention to the book, Clanchy played her final white woman card and said she felt threatened and hurt.

Notable writers like Philip Pullman and Amanda Craig swooped in on social media to protect Clancy from the scary people saying that describing children (or adults) with racist stereotypes is wrong. Pullman made the whole situation worse, too, by comparing critics of Clanchy to the Taliban and ISIS.

As The Guardian reports:

In a now deleted comment, made in response to a tweet he wrongly thought to be about Clanchy, [Pullman] wrote that those who do not read a book before condemning it would “find a comfortable home in Isis or the Taliban”. Authors of colour who criticised Clanchy, including Chimene Suleyman, Monisha Rajesh and Sunny Singh, went on to receive racist abuse from social media users. Pullman has now tweeted an apology for the harm he caused, admitting that his tweet was a “mistake”.

Act Three of this saga consisted of an apology tour of sorts. After apologies from the publisher and (kind of) Clanchy, the folks behind the book agreed future reprints would have the language changed. Pullman apologized for the act of defending Clanchy but stopped short of apologizing for his racist, Islamaphobic, and xenophobic remarks made during the defense.

Craig may have lost her ticket to the tour because not only did she fail to make a public statement, she locked her Twitter account. In trying to find info on what she might have said since last week, all I saw were book promotions and support from many TERFs, so she is probably right at home being wrong and hateful.

Moving on from the individuals, the conversation is recentering on the industry structures supporting this behavior again. This includes publishers, booksellers, and writing organizations. With many of the people involved living and writing in the U.K.—enter The Society of Authors (SOA).

Boasting over 11,000 members, they’re the largest writers union in the U.K., and Pullman also serves as their president.

After calls for a response and action on the Islamaphobic statements made by Pullman, the SOA released a statement to please everyone (a.k.a. one that pleases no one.)

Though there are some interesting word choices, the first few paragraphs of the statement are clear and make sense. SOA acknowledges that despite a belief that publishing is inclusive, it isn’t.

They even directly cite one of the prominent women of color, Singh, targeted by online harassment in the wake of the Clanchy discussion. These harassers include defenders of the Clanchy, and people agree that what Clanchy did was wrong but believe she has the right to publish racist garbage. Debate bros (of all genders) and such.

Later in the thread, Singh admits that she is not an SOA member. However, she explains that since 2005, every time she considers it, something always happens. This Clanchy situation was probably another one of those “somethings,” unless she, understandably, was already irreversibly fed up before the current situation.

The very next line of the SOA statement says simply, “We have no intention of being one of the organizations that perpetuates it.” Guess what happens next?

After listing their achievements and valuable services to the writing community, the SOA absolves themselves from making comments on what writers should and shouldn’t write.

“But we are also a community, representing more than 11,500 authors of all types and from all backgrounds. However uncomfortable we might sometimes find it, we do not comment on what they should or should not write, draw, perform or translate.”

There is a big difference between “can” and “should.” Someone can write whatever they want, but that doesn’t mean they should.

Despite calls to request the removal of Pullman as SOA president (Singh is not one of these people), SOA decided to hard pass that one too. He will serve out his final two and a half years because (according to the SOA) the position is honorary and not a part of governance.

If this position is honorary, then it should be nothing to remove him? The action might be accused as performative (especially with the rest of this statement). Still, at least it would be an action.

The letter concludes with more contradictory statements. The SOA says they approach issues by condemning hateful speech and bullying. However, it must also support the “wider author community.” By that, I think they meant the whiter author community.

When any institution in the U.K., U.S., etc., says “general audience,” “wider community,” etc., they nearly always mean white people and those who benefit from the status quo.

This is why books, movies, etc., from people of color, so often don’t get picked up or given a real chance. Something the SOA claims to be working against while perpetuating the exact PR language of equality.

The sentiment that everything will be fixed by equality alone is old and tired. Advocates of justice (including those in publishing) are demanding equity and justice. Equality means that everyone is given the same resources and solutions no matter what they start with. Equity means problem-specific solutions based on the needs of that particular group.

The final line of their letter asks for people to challenge the SOA “to be better.” They could start with following Clanchy’s footsteps and starting over because this letter was unnecessary and counterproductive. It is another reactive example of institutions trying to stay as neutral as possible until they have no choice but to change.

(featured image: English PEN on Flickr.)

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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. Still trying to beat Saxon Farm on RCT 3 (so I can 100% the game.)