The Jungle Book

After threats of a "girlcott," race and gender still battle for the title of king.

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Which seems to me to point out one of the obvious lessons from this controversy: There are very few truly diverse corners of the online world. Black women were having one discussion about the book, Seal Press and the ignorance of the mainstream publishing world in one set of sites, while white women were self-flagellating over on another set. And when large numbers of (mostly) white liberals get together online to talk about race, they typically fall all over themselves trying to prove how non-racist they are—unless, of course, they fall all over themselves trying to prove how totally down they are. Which is when the stupidity tends to happen.

As one of the posters pointed out, on the Seal Press apology site, “you don’t get to joke around about oppression or try to ‘reclaim’—when you’re the oppressor.”

This hits at the crux of the matter, it seems to me. When I was the one white editor at the late great Africana.com, I batted around story ideas with black colleagues and friends all the time, but when it came to writing a piece that was “post-black,” I knew I wasn’t the woman to do it. You can’t be post-black if you aren’t black. But it’s a lesson frequently lost on white Web writers of all kinds—even those who would never cop to their own racism, love to tease the line a bit and declare it “daring” or “edgy.”

But there’s another lesson here, too, one that needs to be repeated in those white offline corners where mainstream publishing happens: The book industry needs to seek out diversity among its staff —or, to put it another way, black people need to storm the industry and impose diversity upon it. Only when there’s some chance that an editor will know racism when she sees it will we stop seeing covers like Marcotte’s (or magazine covers like Vogue’s Lebron James-as-King Kong photo). And only when a publisher employs editors with real-life experience in racially polyglot America will we stop seeing such credulous acceptance of fake memoirs like Love and Consequences (and A Million Little Pieces, for that matter).

I’m not saying all white editors—or all white feminists—are ignorant. Some of us are much better than others. But what helps is both knowing your limits and trying to expand them. If you’re not in a position to be personally affected by racism, you’ll never understand it the same way as someone who is. But that doesn’t let you off the hook for trying to be mindful, conscious and aware. And if nothing else, when someone tells you you’ve offended them, it’s not only your moral duty but it’s frankly in your best interests to listen to them.

What might have seemed like it was going to be the blogger’s version of hitting the big leagues— publishing a real, tangible book, maybe ending up as a talking head on Bill Maher, maybe even making a little money off your words and opinions—turned into something else for Amanda Marcotte and her publisher. It seems like Marcotte will land on her feet. As for Seal Press, I’d be interested to see what’s on their list the next few years. There’s a girlcott just waiting for the next mistake.

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