Sensitivity Police Now Encroaching on Authors

Now authors are dealing with the sensitivity police?



by Gina Burgess

Successful authors now face a serious wall damming up their free-flowing creativity.

I wasn’t positive, but very much feared that political correctness and the thin-skin of some social groups would start tearing at the fabric of author creativity. This isn’t a rant against authenticity or truthful depictions of real-life stuff. I’m pointing out that the voices of a few people are trying to drown out the very real rights of the many.

The Washington Post has an article about a new kind of editor or manuscript reviewer who “will scan the book for racist, sexist or otherwise offensive content.” It seems that the few voices in some social groups can’t sit by and allow an author to express real life in all its ugliness in the form of “offensive content.” (Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to worry about foul-word bombs when reading?) Those are offensive to me, but I’ve learned to steer clear of books from certain sources (and authors) who use graphic violence, foul words, and explicit sexual scenes in their stories. I’m wondering why racist and sexist content is more offensive than graphic descriptions of bloody murder or rape? What would happen if a Christian author was graphic about Hell? The realistic depiction of Hell would melt the hearts of even the most hardened criminals. For some reason, that is offensive today.

There is a definite need for authenticity, deep research, and realistic depictions of character lifestyles for fictional characters to be believable. A good author wants the kind of authenticity that makes readers live and breath the story. Absolutely! That means deep research. It means writing what you know (and lived). Sometimes that means the depictions of stereotypes.

I have often said that a perceptive reader can figure out an author’s background because that background will bleed through. Numerous authors have vehemently disagreed with me, but numerous editors and publishers do agree. That quirky truth is what makes an author unique. This is why the sensitivity police may do more harm than good.

Their motives may be good like the woman in the article.

Clayton, who is black, sees her role as a vital one. “Books for me are supposed to be vehicles for pleasure, they’re supposed to be escapist and fun,” she says. They’re not supposed to be a place where readers “encounter harmful versions” and stereotypes of people like them.

Let’s see… what about those delicious villains such as  Roger Chillingworth in The Scarlet Letter, man in Bambi, Prof. Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Long John Silver, the White Witch in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, oh, and Captain Hook? The one that strikes me as especially stereotypical is man in Bambi. First and foremost, these are fictional villains, but very believable (and hateable) villains.

The definition of a stereotype includes standard/conventional image, received idea, cliché, etc. That comes from the fact there are so many of like-types that a standard, or cliché, has formed. It is also how axioms are formed. That in itself is a truth that can’t be ignored. We should never rewrite history or try to sweep certain ugly truths under the proverbial rug. Click To Tweet The best way to deal with a problem or ill-conceived ideais to shine the light of truth on it. Instead of removing these clichés from books, we should make sure the wrong way of thinking is addressed even in children’s books.

But, seriously! Novels are fiction. They take us places where we’ve never been through characters that we may or may not grow to love/hate, or emulate/decry. It’s one of those things that stories move along: conflict. A good story can’t live without it. So how can an author be politically correct and completely sensitive and still have a great story?

8 thoughts on “Sensitivity Police Now Encroaching on Authors”

  1. The whole idea of censorship based on someone’s sensitivity is reprehensible and at odds with freedom of speech. The fact that it would be a subjective call says enough right there–what one person finds “insensitive” or offensive is not the same as what another person deems so. Imagine if we didn’t have TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, or even GONE WITH THE WIND, because of what some may consider stereotypes? And goodbye Mark Twain. The need for different types of reading material is why we have different publishers and imprints. People should be free (and ARE) to choose what they prefer to read–but not what MAY be printed.

    1. What is sticking in my craw is that just a few people raise a stink and policies (or stories) have to change. A few years ago, one student had a problem with the first 5 commandments that had been engraved into the wall of a school when the school was first built.. He protested, and a judge told the school they would have to remove the first 4 commandments from the wall. One student had a problem with the wording “In the year of our Lord ___” on his college diploma. Now it seems that we can’t be sure who will be in our restrooms when we have to go. Why should less that 1% of the population dictate to 99.4% (Williams Institute estimates .6% of U.S. population is transgender) of the population how they should act, what they should say, and how they should think?
      Now we’ve got people trying to rewrite history by removing everything Civil War related from the South. That tells me they learned nothing in American History because the war wasn’t about slavery, it was about economics. In fact, in the state of Alabama in 1860 there were more black people who owned more slaves than white people. I wrote a novel set during the Civil War era. It needed a lot of work so I set it aside while I worked on a series. Now, I don’t think I even want to fool with it because I don’t look forward to that kind of fight. I just reread that last sentence and find it really sad I’m even thinking that way.

  2. Human relations should always be worked out in the free marketplace, but because everything is being politicized today, we now have the problem staring us in the face. Already, according to some sources, “Sensitivity Readers” are becoming a part of the process of publishing. It’s exactly what I predicted: First, it seems like a thoughtful and kind thing to do, then it’s encouraged, then expected, then required. And who is going to police the “Sensitivity Readers”? How do we know if they’re qualified to speak of the Chicano experience if they’ve never lived in the Bario, even if they are Latino? Or how Black does someone have to be before they qualify as a “Sensitivity Reader” for the Black experience? According to some if they’re Republican and Conservative, they aren’t black. Well meaning individuals started this in a Social Justice program, and now I don’t see it being reeled in. Justice is justice and is supposed to be blind, not social, but you can’t tell that simple truth to a social justice activist. They simply cannot compute anything beyond their world view. And as you said, we should recognize our history, all the facts of it. And work for the betterment of mankind.

    In the debate, there is one group that has been marginalized and trampled underfoot; the white male. The suicide rate and heroine addiction among white males is the highest in history. They feel hopeless in a world where they are deemed racist Because of the color of their skin, no matter how non-racist they may be. Even though, it’s white males who gave us everything from art to science over the past thousand years, and is taken for granted. As my scientist husband says, “Most of the people who use a cell phone, watch their television, cook their dinner in a microwave or stove, haven’t a clue how those things work.” So while some person of color finds Huckleberry Finn offensive, or Gone with the Wind, they’re living in a culture and enjoying the benefits of a system created and structured by white males, and undoubtedly don’t know the history or why it came to exist in the way it has. These people aren’t interested in the truth or historical facts. They’re itching for power and control.

    I’m with Dr. Martin Luther King when he so wisely said, “I have a dream, that a man will be judged by the content of his character and not by the color of his skin.” How beautiful! How wise! And now we’re tossing all that peaceful fight out with the baby by dividing everyone again into cultural, ethnic, and racial camps because of the false and dangerous push for diversity. It’s just another word for “he’s different from me and I can’t possibly know how he feels”. Can’t we just reward talent wherever it comes from? And realize that we’re all human beings, and we want the same things from life. We’re less different than we look, and we should never forget that, or we’ll isolate ourselves from those we could learn the most from.

  3. Unfortunately, It’s not limited to the secular areas of the population. I’m a Christian author whose novels reflect my values. The scenes where a married couple enjoys the physical aspect of their lives are definitely behind a closed door. I respect their desire for privacy.

    I used a word a couple of readers protested since they don’t want that kind of language in the books they read. The word was not the f-bomb or anything like that. It was used in context and well within the character who used it’s possible vocabulary. It was at the climax scene and fit giving authenticity to the dialogue. It gave weight to his anger and selfishness. In my humble opinion, as the writer, it added needed tension to the scene. I’m sorry, ‘He gritted his teeth and kept the expletive from escaping.’ Or, ‘The words that came out of his mouth could make a sailor blush,’ simply don’t convey the emotions the characters are going through as a sparsely used and explicit swear word.

    Since then I’ve thought long and hard when I want to use a word that might be objectionable to a reader and will do contortions to write the line without it, leaving the scene much weaker because I don’t want the overly sensitive reader to quit buying my books.

    I can’t be the writer I want to be because, just as in the overly politically correct segment of our population, there are Christian readers who object to and are vocal about every tiny encroachment of the ‘real’ world into their lives. Life is messy. People, even good, moral, clean-mouthed believers sometimes slip up in the tension of the moment. Totally avoiding the use of objectional words because one or two readers get their panties in a twist when one is used shouldn’t a limitation to how I write. Unfortunately, it does.

    We, as believing writers, must take into account our target audience. We need to be aware of their likes and dislikes. I will continue to avoid making the high tension scenes stronger by avoiding the use of an appropriate word. It normally takes another entire sentence, but hey, it ups the word count.

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