So, there’s a fresh controversy rattling around book Twitter. A white lady wrote a book that dove into sensationalist subject matter, border crossings and the struggle of fleeing immigrants, got a whacking great pay day (a seven figure advance) and has since been criticised by people of the same race as those she wrote about for inaccuracies and insensitivities and the response has been… not great.
Certain forums I’ve been following have quickly devolved into bemoaning heaping criticisms onto works you haven’t read (for what it’s worth, I haven’t read American Dirt and don’t intend to) and a protracted discussion on the origin of the term Latinx. But there’s so much surface stuff here that has been disquieting. They used barbed wire as table decorations and got basic Spanish wrong (referring to a mother as abuela – grandmother).
The author knew there was controversy brewing, she wished in the afterword that someone browner could have written the story. Maybe that’s the inherent issue. Maybe I shouldn’t be writing about anyone who isn’t white, straight and exceedingly middle class. Sure, that would leave me with rather large swathes of the literary canon to play with but is it not my right to frolick in whatever sandbox takes my fancy? Precisely. The point is, there’s nothing stopping me from writing whatever story I want to, but there are certain things I really ought to think about before trying. And anyway, that’s not the point that’s being made here.
What’s my point? Thank you so much for asking, we were in danger of getting derailed. Telling stories is an important thing to do. We shouldn’t try and limit ourselves in setting them, out. But if you start edging towards turf that decidedly isn’t yours, do your research, do more research, listen to people with relevant views and promote the hell out of own voices in that area. It’s basic courtesy.
For more on this, listen to the latest episode (122 – American Dirt) of the excellent Print Run podcast.
Bury her – Crash Vegas