Hoisted on his own petard. Kosoko Jackson, who is black and gay, “often worked as a ‘sensitivity reader’ for major publishing houses, which meant his job was to flag just the sort of problem content for which he was now being run out of town. He was Robespierre with his own neck in the cradle of the guillotine.” Karma’s a bitch. And no one is safe, which has always been my point. The more frightening angle to this terrible story is that the smear campaign against Jackson’s book is based on the Islamic Bosnian myth that the Muslims were victims of the Christians and that a “genocide” took place, when in fact it was a war and the war crimes were on all sides. The Muslims started that war — for an independent Islamic state — it is artful how the aggressors emerged the victims, looping then-President Clinton, no less, who sent US troops to support the jihad.
Sadly, I expect Kosoko Jackson will take away all the wrong lessons from this terrible affair. But one thing he does know: Islam trumps all, black, gay, left …. everything.
Teen Fiction and the Perils of Cancel Culture
Readers, not a Twitter mob, should decide the fate of a book.
By Jennifer Senior, NY Times, March 8, 2019:
Late last month, a young man named Kosoko Jackson became the second young adult author in five weeks to pull a debut work just before it hit the shelves. His book, “A Place for Wolves,” ran afoul of the sensibilities of the Twitter gatekeeping class, which deemed it insensitive to Muslims and unduly focused on people of privilege.
There was an obvious irony to his story, a karmic boomerang: Jackson, who is black and gay, often worked as a “sensitivity reader” for major publishing houses, which meant his job was to flag just the sort of problem content for which he was now being run out of town. He was Robespierre with his own neck in the cradle of the guillotine. One of the captains of “cancel culture” — which urges people to shun the insensitive, the oppressive, the morally questionable — got canceled himself.
As often happens with these things, the online pile-on was mainly led by people who hadn’t read Jackson’s book. It did start with someone who had — a reader who’d written an intemperate, if highly impassioned, review of an advance copy for the community website Goodreads. But it most likely would have remained just that, a pan from a citizen critic, had the review not been noticed by that corner of Twitter that’s obsessed with Y.A. fiction. Even by Twitter standards, it’s a hothouse subculture — self-conscious, emotional, quick to injure. Not unlike teenagers themselves.
I have read Jackson’s book. Before I get to the actual contents, let’s get this out of the way: What happened to Jackson is frightening. Purity tests are the tools of fanatics, and the quest for purity ultimately becomes indistinguishable from the quest for power. In the Twitterverse, ideologues have far more power than moderates. They have more followers; their tweets get more traction (studies have shown that emotional tweets pretty much always have more traction); they set the terms of their neighborhood’s culture and tone.
But this does not mean they have better judgment.
This episode is proof of nothing if not of Twitter’s asymmetrical power: A semi-anonymous mob (the leader of the charge was someone with the handle @flightofstaz) can sufficiently scare an author into withdrawing his book, even though it received a starred review from Booklist and was a Kids’ Indie Next pick. (Not a small deal, that.) The die-hards in this army of crusaders will argue they’re doing it in the name of diversity, but it’s really just the opposite: If Twitter controls publishing, we’ll soon enter a dreary monoculture that admits no book unless it has been prejudged and meets the standards of the censors.
What Jackson’s case really demonstrates is just how narrow and untenable the rules for writing Y.A. literature are. In a tweet last May, Jackson himself more or less articulated them: “Stories about the civil rights movement should be written by black people. Stories of suffrage should be written by women. Ergo, stories about boys during life-changing times, like the AIDS epidemic, should be written by gay men. Why is this so hard to get?”
In a live Q. and A. for an online children’s literature conference in January, Jackson explained that he was at one point tempted to write tangentially about immigration, but his Latino friends talked him out of it: He’d be encroaching on their turf, poaching their spot on the shelves.
So he didn’t. But his first novel, “A Place for Wolves,” is not exclusively populated by gay African-Americans. His two protagonists are gay teenagers, yes, and one of them is black. But his secondary characters are … Serbs and Albanians. The book takes place in Kosovo, during the early days of its civil war in the late ’90s.
Let’s stop to contemplate this for a moment. When Jackson was left to his own devices to create and dream — rather than to simply read books for possible cultural violations — his natural, irrepressible reflex was to write about something that went beyond his own experience. Because that’s what novelists do: conjure other worlds, imagine their way into other realities, guess at the texture of other people’s consciousness. It’s part of the pleasure of inventing stuff for a living.
Did he always get it right? His bibliography is notably short, featuring books published by obscure presses. (Would it have been too much trouble for him to read the work of Tim Judah or David Rieff?) But strict historical fidelity has never been required of any art form. What raised people’s hackles was that an Albanian Muslim is one of the book’s villains, when it was the Albanian Muslims who suffered disproportionately during the Kosovo war. That, and the idea that two comparatively privileged American teenagers could be the focus of the book.
Did Jackson do this out of malice? No. It was his explicit intention, according to an author’s note, to complicate the reader’s picture of a tragic ethnic war. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with making a victim a villain, or a hero a jerk: Art is filled with antiheroes with redeeming qualities, whether they’re Humbert Humbert or Tony Soprano. Nor are two American teenagers in a war-torn country, on the face of it, a bad premise for a Y.A. book.
The book’s real sin is that Jackson didn’t do what he set out to do. Though he can write with charm and the authentic sass of an American adolescent, much of the book is painfully clumsy and poorly paced — which makes it a fairly typical debut novel, by the way. His job as a sensitivity reader also shows: “Sounded a little Eurocentric to me,” is a not unrepresentative observation by the narrator.
If the book-buying public had found “A Place for Wolves” as criminally distasteful and insensitive as Twitter did, it would have sunk the novel in slower, more deliberate ways. Librarians would have read it and taken a pass. Bookstore owners would have decided it wasn’t worth the space. Book critics would have savaged it — or worse, ignored it.
It should have failed or succeeded in the marketplace of ideas. But it was never given the chance. The mob got to it first.
The Truth Must be Told
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