As a follow-on to my post about the furor over American Dirt, there is something creepy about the sins tradpub imagines itself to have committed, and the self-effacing ways it elects to be cleansed of guilt. Read this, courtesy of Publishers Weekly:
"Roberto, David, and I came to New York on a restorative and reparative mission," Gurba said in her statement at the press conference. "We came not only to extend an olive branch to Flatiron. We came to offer our assistance in restoring the dignity of all parties harmed. We offered Flatiron a chance to wipe away the dirt."
In a statement sent to PW Wednesday evening, Gurba added: "Overall, the meeting went well. You could smell the discomfort of some folks in the room and that was important: meaningful change is typically accompanied by 'growing pains' and B.O. I was also able to express to [Macmillan executives] that while this experience has undoubtedly been difficult for them, having my life repeatedly threatened for engaging in literary criticism has not been fun."
This goes well beyond a shakedown. Gurba describes the meeting in messianic language. She arrived on a "mission" to ritually "wipe away the dirt." But not before she laid into them, condemning them for their supposed crimes. In one hand she held their guilt, which she offered freely. In the other she held absolution, which came at a cost.
(Note how Gurba justifies the executives' pain by citing the threats she has received, as if the executives are somehow responsible for the blowback against her race-based critiques. When your life is repeatedly threatened, I suspect you're doing more than just writing book reviews.)
The cost of absolution won't be limited to the reparations Macmillan promised the apostles of #DignidadLiteraria. Ostensibly every publisher's task is to sell books. That mission is now subverted by the new task of enforcing racial quotas in their workforce and book content. As a result, Macmillan's market share will decline. Remember, if what Gurba et al. are asking for sold books, Macmillan would have beeing doing it already.
Last season, we published a memoir by a white author writing about falling in love with China, and a Chinese man. The cover featured the author wearing a qipao. Despite all I’d experienced, I didn’t see the cultural appropriation. I thought she had a “pass” because she was married to a Chinese man, because this was her lived experience. But book influencers on Instagram squarely took us to task. We read their posts, listened to their objections, and changed the cover. The dialogue with our critics was not comfortable, but the outcome was satisfactory—for us and for them.
One side lobbing accusations at another isn't "dialogue." In the social media age, it's racketeering. Dialogue is something that happens between equals, not between those who wield the power to libel and their prospective victims.
The cover depicted the content of the book, a woman assimilating to her new country, and was entirely appropriate. The only satisfactory outcome in this case was for the mob to stick their objections where the sun don't shine, and for the publisher to leverage their outrage into free marketing.
Perhaps you think I'm being too crass about this. Let me know in the comments below. I'll respond as soon as I can.
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