Hi friends! Top Ten Tuesday is still on a hiatus, but I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a long time. Almost two years ago, I wrote about author attacks on John Green, Cassandra Clare, Maggie Stiefvater, and Andrew Smith. The hashtag #KeepYA Kind had just popped up related to some controversy around Andrew Smith discussing why he had a hard time writing female characters. It was a confusing issue for me. I respected a lot of the people who had a problem with Smith’s comments. I respected a lot of the people defending Smith. I’d just read Grasshopper Jungle – a book that blew me away. And I liked the fact that he’d been honest about saying he struggled with female characters instead of just saying he was the best at everything. I also felt confused about so many people admitting they hadn’t read any of Smith’s books before commenting on them.
Since that time, Keep YA Kind has popped up again and again, often in relationship to accusations of racial prejudice in books. I’ve come to see how the phrase/hashtag can a racist dog whistle. I also notice that the #KeepYAKind crew doesn’t seem to pop up when women, especially women of color, are being vilified or attacked. That makes me feel really uncomfortable. I stand by what I wrote then about Andrew Smith (while respectfully acknowledging the right of everyone who disagreed with me) but I feel really uncomfortable that I ever used the phrase.
While as a woman I think I had the right to express my opinion on the sexism or lack thereof in Andrew Smith’s books/interview, but I know the same space doesn’t exist for representations of groups I don’t belong to. I can personally agree or disagree with accusations of a problematic book, but I know that in issues of race, religion, disability, and LGBT representation, my role is to keep listening and educating myself – not tell people they are being unkind for standing up for what they believe in.
Continuing to coming to terms with my own White fragility has been a big part of my evolution in supporting the need for diverse books and figuring out how as an aspiring writer I can try to be part of the solution. I’ll admit the idea of someone calling me prejudiced or racist does make me feel really nervous – but my feelings and fears aren’t the point. They are insignificant next to those with less privilege and power in our society.
There’s a different between female authors feeling attacked and dehumanized by their readers (what Stiefvater and Clare talk about in reference to my first post) and readers calling out problematic/prejudiced behavior or writing in a public forum. I like the idea of a kind YA community. But kindness isn’t always what’s needed in a community that needs to change. Accountability is also important.