In Y.A., Where Is the Line Between Criticism and Cancel Culture?

Critics felt that Zhao’s slavery narrative had erased a specifically African-American experience, and they objected to a scene in which an apparently black slave girl dies in an apparently white character’s arms, in an act of self-sacrifice. Zhao, who emigrated from China when she was eighteen, said that her book drew on “the epidemic of indentured labor and human trafficking prevalent in many industries across Asia, including in my own home country.”

…Jackson is black and queer. But a disparaging Goodreads review, which took issue with Jackson’s treatment of the war and his portrayal of Muslims, had a snowball effect, particularly on Twitter. Eventually, Jackson tweeted a letter of apology to “the Book Community.” 

…Ironically, Jackson was one of the louder voices speaking out against Zhao; also ironically, he has worked as a sensitivity reader for Big Five publishers, vetting manuscripts featuring characters from marginalized communities. “Now, Jackson has been demonized by the community he once helped police.”

…Many of Forest’s fiercest critics had not read her novel, and others conflated the perspectives of racist characters with that of the author herself.

…“From the outside, this is starting to look like a conversation focused less on literature than obedience,” Graham wrote in Slate. The Times commissioned two first-person essays, one by Drake, on the “shameful stain” of these eruptions and the “tyrannical coddling of overly sensitive readers.”

…“Purity tests are the tools of fanatics, and the quest for purity ultimately becomes indistinguishable from the quest for power.”

…In context, the scene does not feel evocative of United States history or suggest an analogy between the Affinites, with their dangerous powers, and black people. The book’s allegories seem mythic, not historical. They are about discovering one’s hidden potential, celebrating the liberation of the self. If anything, the damning readings of “Blood Heir” seem guilty of something that the Y.A. community mitigates against: the misapprehension of a cultural context unfamiliar to one’s own.

…Sensitivity readers, he said, forced authors to create ennobled images—to describe an idealized world, not a real one.

In Y.A., Where Is the Line Between Criticism and Cancel Culture? | The New Yorker


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