OP-ED: Don’t Ban Things Just Because You Don’t Like Them

This post has been on my mind for a few months now. Like others, it’s being written in advance for posting. But in a way I’m glad, because I’ve already written it once and retooled it. After some consideration, I think the best way to go with this post is to be short and sweet.

There’s been a real rash in the last decade or so of folks seeking to “remove” what they don’t like from the public sphere. Various methods are being used, from twitter mobs that go after creators to try and get them removed or banned from communities or positions, to the latest incarnation, which is to use politicians and laws to block or remove things simply because one disagrees with them.

I wish I were joking. Kentucky just passed a law that, as I understand it, gives state politicians ultimate say over all public library funds and what they go toward. The implication made by the supporters of the bill is that it will allow them to examine what books are on public library shelves or requested by readers and then block all library funding until the “problematic” titles are removed. A similar bill is being pushed in Idaho that would launch an investigation into public libraries of that state to find “problematic material” and remove it from the library (likely, from what I’ve gathered, along with punishments to the library and staff for offering such “problematic” literature).

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Invisible Censorship and Books

I made an interesting and alarming discovery a few weeks ago.

Like most authors, I happen to love reading books as well. Between my local library, the occasional purchase, and my Kindle, I go through a good number of them every year. I have my entire life. Sands, in my small-town library, if I happened to be around the librarians would sometimes ask me if I knew a book a patron was asking about. I read a lot.

So, naturally, I gravitate to places online that talk about books. Forums that offer book reviews, or book chats, etc etc.

It was on one of these forums that I discovered an extremely disturbing trend.

Let me catch you up. One of the book places I hung out at quite regularly—or did, before this discovery, which all but killed my interest in it—was a place for book recommendations. It was pretty simple and straightforward: One person posts what they’re looking for, be it a historical romance with specific traits, or just something like what they’d already read and enjoyed, like Dune. Then, participants could post replies listing, detailing, or talking about other books that the poster might be interested in.

Good idea, right? I sure thought so. And so I went to it. It was fun dredging my brain sometimes for lesser-known authors or books that someone might have missed, or thinking “Oh, what was the name of that book!” and digging back several years through my Goodreads list to find it.

It was pretty good … Or so I thought.

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Book Burning: Now Available Digitally

So by now, if you’ve got your focus enough on the book industry that you’ve got a decent feel for the pulse, you’ve probably heard a little about Amélie Wen Zhao. If not, well, here’s the basics of it.

Zhao was one of those individuals who wanted to be an author. So she worked hard, polished her craft, wrote a trilogy, and with a little (okay, a lot, it’s publishing) luck, got a publisher to bite for her first trilogy.

Note that I used the word “was” rather than “is” in that paragraph. That’s because Zhao no longer is. Why? Well, because the “eternally socially conscious” crowd descended upon her before her books had even been released, slamming her with one-star reviews and accusations of racism to the extent that she contacted her publisher and asked to please cancel the publication.

Why? What grave crime did this woman commit that could see her so hounded that she asked her publisher to cancel everything? Everything, mind, on the first of three books, which had already made it as an ARC to early reviewers where the feedback was averaging four out of five stars, no mean feat for a first release? What sort of horrible, socially unjust thing was she doing?

Actually it was two things. One was that she dared write a book where oppression was not based on skin color, but on something else. And, as one one-star Goodreads review put it, that ‘is just bad.’ Because clearly all oppression should be based on skin color, apparently. How dare Zhao write about people finding other ways to oppress people?

But second? She wrote about slavery, and she is not Black. Yes, you read that right. She was attacked for writing a book that had slavery in it because she’s Asian, and as such should not be allowed to write about slavery. Because clearly China  never had slavery or anything like that.

So yeah. In the face of mass harassment from these “socially minded” individuals (and sadly, even other authors), Zhao pulled her book, issued an apology, and backed out.

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