“It started with a tweet. Kate Clanchy, author of Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me posted on her Twitter account that a reviewer on Goodreads had “made up a racist quote and said it was in my book”,” author of Around the World in 80 Trains, Monisha Rajesh wrote in an Op-Ed for the Guardian.
Rajesh went on to write that Clanchy further persuaded her 40,000 followers to flag the review that claimed she had bigoted views on race, class and body image, and had used terms such as “chocolate-coloured skin” and “Jewish noses”.
Popular authors came to support Clanchy, stating that this was inhumane treatment, completely blindsiding the fact that these series of incidents were in fact inhuman towards the BAME community, especially writers of colour. The President of the Society of Authors, Philip Pullman, went on record to say: “But of all the people and of all the books to have had this happen … It’s hard to stay optimistic about the human race sometimes.”
Monisha downloaded the book and read it only to find that it mentioned a Somali boy having a “narrow skull”, a Muslim girl was described as “very butch-looking … with a distinct moustache” and used phrases like “flirty hijabs” in a context that could be really damaging for the community.
Clanchy’s supporters lost their control when Monisha Rajesh, academic and author Professor Sunny Singh and Chimene Suleyman, author and editor of The Good Immigrant USA started a dialogue on Twitter about this and called out the blatant racism in Clanchy’s work.
“A group of white women authors pointedly demeaned Singh, Suleyman and me as “activists” who were “attacking” Clanchy,” Monisha wrote in her opinion piece.
Chimene Suleyman tweeted: “Writing articles referring to 3 women of colour as a woke-mob is racially charged. This is two-fold: 1. It conflates POC with being aggressive bullies who don’t have the brains to know what we’re talking about. 2. It erases our actual dialogue and commentary from the discourse.”
Speaking to Asian Voice, Professor Sunny Singh said, “It is necessary that we recognise that words have power. They can affirm our humanity and heal or they dehumanise and harm. My plea to fellow writers, anywhere and everywhere, is to consider how we wield this power, to pause to consider if our words harm or heal. Writing does this by presenting the world to our readers, by offering ways to look at the world.
“James Baldwin said that “ if you alter, even by a millimetre, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” This change can be for good or bad. Racist, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, ableist, sexist, homophobic, classist writing can reinforce prejudices against people and add to their suffering.
“Ethical writing can change these same prejudices by making us see people different from us as fellow humans. Surely we want a world that is just and equitable, where we can co-exist without harming each other? I request all of us, not just writers, to pause and consider if our words reinforce stereotypes and harm people if we need to learn more if we need to do better. This is not censorship but the basic work of moral human life.”
Furthermore, an open letter was written by the Writing and Publishing Community in support of Monisha Rajesh, Sunny Singh and Chimene Suleyman. It read: “As members of the writing and publishing community we have watched in horror as three of our colleagues, Monisha Rajesh, Professor Sunny Singh and Chimene Suleyman have been targeted, harassed and gaslighted online for rightly pointing out the use of dehumanising, ableist and racist language and questioning the structures and processes in wider publishing that allowed them to get through the editorial process, become published and then lauded. We stand in complete solidarity with the brave writers who challenged this and condemn all attempts to attack them and obfuscate and negate the veracity of their concerns.”
It also mentioned: “This issue stands to serve as a microcosm of how marginalised writers are treated within the industry and it should be recognised that every one of us is noting the silences of our friends and colleagues, agents and publishers and the regard with which our concerns are treated. We cannot silently stand by whilst a group of marginalised women are being targeted by those with power and influence in this industry. We urge our colleagues to speak up and use the resources and influence in their gift as a force for change. Publishing must do better.”
The letter has been signed by more than 2000 writers in Britain.