I have been having trouble articulating my very complicated feelings regarding the recent brouhaha over reactions to Andrew Smith's interview. Many people I love and respect see this whole thing as an author getting picked on on social media for one comment in an interview; I see it differently and the exhortation to keep YA "kind" has been bothering me a good deal. For many women kidslit writers, including me, it's been a grueling, very painful week, and it's felt very unsafe to speak up. Prominent authors and industry people and teachers and librarians are rallying around Smith, and have framed this issue as solely about kindness, a nice man getting bullied, one of those "Twitter pile-ons." But the ensuing conversation has felt extremely, dangerously, traumatically unkind.
To me, none of this was ever about a person, but about some words and what they exemplified, and about anger bubbling over because of a long history of sexism in the YA world, including in the books that get lauded, and who the authors of those books are. As an observer in YA, I see that white male authors get a lot of privilege that others do not get in terms of publicity and latitude and critical praise, and when someone points out the sexism/racism in one of these highly-praised books, it's brushed off as either not there or immaterial. Problematic books by male authors rack up acclaim while female authors get scrutinized for the behavior and likability of their characters, overtly feminist books are criticized for their lack of subtlety, and books by women of color are treated as if they are only the sum of the "problems" the white gaze attributes to the characters. And this is when they're reviewed at all. Of course, people are angry.
I believe in kindness, with every bit of my being. And I never want someone's feelings to be hurt. But true kindness comes through hard hard work, and close examination of ourselves and our communities. It involves listening to people when they're angry, and giving everyone--not just the very nice, very well-intentioned man who said some words in an interview--the benefit of the doubt. It involves understanding that if people responded with anger, if people used humor and satire to blow off steam and express themselves, if people hashed this anger out publicly, it's not because these people are mean, but because something boiled over. We will be a kinder community if we can pay attention and figure out what it was and how to fix it.
I RT'ed Lindsay's Smith's excellent words, and that led to the following conversation.