You may have seen a certain Daily Telegraph article doing the rounds over the last few days. If you haven’t read it go do so now, but the basic summary is that a dude discovered people on the internet calling on readers to diversify their reading habits, and that blew his tiny little mind.
How did it blow his tiny little mind? Let us count the ways.
Imagine, if you can, the unholy furore that would erupt if a white male author penned an article where he implored his readers to put a complete ban on buying books by black, Jewish, gay or even female authors.
Martin Daubney’s main fallacy in this article is one a lot of you will undoubtedly be familiar with: equating criticism (in this case not even that) with censorship.
After introducing KT Bradford’s post I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year Daubney casts aspersions on her motives:
a little-known New York feminist writer hoping – and succeeding – to cause a stink (and no doubt get publicity for her own work)
and then proceeds to accurately summarize her views and goals, under the apparent belief that this will cause his readers to recoil in shock.
She said most books were “skewed heavily toward privileged voices” and some even made her “ragequit” reading them.
These are both objectively true statements.
Perhaps predictably, Tempest’s message went down badly in certain quarters, drawing such scathing abuse that she compiled a blog featuring the most offensive tweets. She was called a “black supremacist” who was “intolerant, censorious, and an obstruction of the free exchange of ideas that is essential to freedom itself.” One simply read, “I challenge you to throw yourself in a wood chipper”.
Tellingly, there was no such outrage from the white male authors singled out for
Obviously we should give these white male authors a medal for not telling a blogger to throw herself into a wood-chipper.
Top of Tempest’s hit-list was British-born sci-fi author Neil Gaiman, a New York Times number one bestseller. He graciously tweeted a link of Tempest’s blog to his 2.19 million followers, saying it was “great” and that he didn’t “mind being the posterbook” for her contempt. He cleverly realised there was far more merit in allowing Tempest to dig her own grave than dignify her outpourings with a rebuttal.
Dig her own grave how? What would his rebuttal be? What would he be rebutting? All she did was correctly point out that the work of white men is given greater prominence in our culture and implore her readers to deliberately break out of that mindset. Daubney takes it as a given that there is something inherently offensive about this, but he never gets around to explaining what.
Yet Tempest isn’t alone in suggesting we should eschew white male writers. Days before her outburst, Sunili Govinnage wrote in The Guardian of her own experience of reading 25 books in 2014, all of which were by authors of colour. This was a reaction to a perceived “inherent bias” in publishing.
Putting something in scare quotes to imply it’s not accurate without actually giving any proof? Top-level journalist technique.
Next up, in a blog entitled “The Great Internet Debate On Not Reading White Men” fantasy author Saladin Ahmed claimed: “The market itself is racist and sexist in all sorts of unseen ways” and then offered a helpful link to his own books for sale.
Translation: they’re just doing it to pump up their own sales figures.
And you know what, even if they were, so what? They’re right, the market does privilege white men. Some of these people are trying to make a career out of their writing; correcting that bias is absolutely in their best interest monetarily.
Daubney then has a paragraph on the We Need Diverse Books Campaign, again simply summarizing its viewpoint as if it’s self-evidently nonsensical or reprehensible.
Of course, you could just say to these critics, who are hell-bent on having us stop reading books by white men: “Stop, already: we’re all free to buy the books we want”.
Daubney pretty much deflates his own point here, but he doesn’t seem to realize it. Yes, we are all free to buy the books we want, hence why bloggers asking people to read different books is not actually the censorship he seems to think it is.
If Ms Tempest et al want to buy books by transgender authors, let them crack on, as long as they’re aware that many of the rest of us don’t share their tastes.
I find the wording of this extremely weird. Why does it require any particular “taste” to read trans authors? Does Daubney think “written by trans authors” is a genre with particularly restrictive conventions?
But the big question is: do such outspoken attacks on white men (for the record, Tempest is a woman of colour) constitute some form of sexism – or even racism?
But something odd is happening, and it has the beginnings of something altogether more sinister: white men are increasingly being singled out for abuse, especially on social media, precisely because they are white and male.
Yes, white men are the number one victims of abuse on social media. Like all those male gamergate victims, and the white men who for years were targeted by many of the same people with no media attention or support at all. That is totally what’s happening here.
This bizarre trend even has a name: “punching up”, where it is OK to prejudice against white people (mainly men) – and because we’ve had it so good, for so long, we have absolutely no right to answer back.
Except that’s not actually what punching up is. Punching up means you don’t aim your anger or your ridicule at people who have less privilege than you do, and it comes with the realization that there are people below you punching up at you just as you punch up at people who are more privileged than you are. The fact that white men have no one to punch up at isn’t a reason to stop trying to end the cultural dominance of white men, it’s precisely the reason to keep doing it.
What’s even more curious is that, often, the white bashers are white themselves – and in a further bizarre twist, often it is liberal, middle-class white males doing the knocking. Are they consumed by a “white guilt” that fills them with a need to self-flagellate for the sins of their forefathers on Twitter, while approving feminists applaud?
Does anyone want to bet that Daubney thinks most criticism of white men comes from other white men because the only people he ever listens to are white men?
Is it just a timely revenge for generations of “privilege” that all white men have enjoyed, presumably even those millions killed in wars or rotting in prisons, or sleeping rough tonight.
Guess who doesn’t understand what privilege is?
Put in that context, does any of this petty, white man-bashing matter? Like anybody who still mindlessly attacks other people for having differently coloured skin or gender, should we just put it down to where it comes from: ignorance and stupidity?
I would like to remind you all that this was prompted by a handful of bloggers asking people to read more books by women and people of colour.
Perhaps I’d better read up about it – so long as the book isn’t written by a white man, naturally.
Well yes, actually, if you want to understand racism and sexism and privilege you probably shouldn’t be reading the opinions of white men. But since you’re a smug asshole I doubt you actually care about learning.