Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

Studying the Backlash

Sadly, there's a new trend that's emerged, one that disproportionately affects people who are curious and inclusive by nature: hateful backlash and threats on the Internet.

Good job, humanity.

It's the kind of thing that makes you weep, that makes you scared, but it always happens to other people. It's just in the video game industry, right? It could never happen to me. It could never happen to us writers. All we have to deal with is censorship, right? (Not that that couldn't be dangerous, too.)

But I read a very interesting article the other day, a report by Chloe Angyal, an editor at the Huffington Post. "I Decided Not To Read Books By White Authors For A Year. Conservatives Lost Their Damn Minds." Take a moment and go read it, then come back here and we can debrief.


Hi, welcome back.

Besides the general problem I have with people hating other people, the fear of things unknown that makes people lash out in anger, and what could possibly ever lead someone to threaten the life or well-being of another human just for implying that other humans are in fact human, there's a weird dichotomy here. Angyal is receiving vitriolic backlash for publicly stating her intent to read books by non-white authors in 2016. But Ann Morgan's project (and subsequent book) to read one book from every country in the world, A Year of Reading the World, received no such hatemail. (It's true. I asked her.) Whew.

On the surface, these two projects don't seem that different. One is publicly championing "minority" or "non-white" authors; the other, "foreign" authors. Both of these groups are part of the "unknown other" for the large section of the literary world that is white Anglophones. And although Angyal has a bigger online presence than Morgan, the latter has attracted a relatively sizable following in recent years. She's even given a TED talk.

So what is it? Is Angyal's project, shall we say for the sake of argument, designed to attract racists, by explicitly stating she won't be "reading any books by white people" this year? Whereas perhaps Morgan's project played more into the concept of exotic and attractive foreigner? Is it as simple as Angyal's idea being to NOT read certain things, and Morgan's idea being to read MORE things? I'm certainly not saying (oh gods please no) that either of these women deserve any hatred or backlash. But why the difference?

I don't have an answer. I can't figure out why Angyal's getting the response she is. I enjoy being optimistic and believing that we all can just love everyone, and I'm often disappointed. I think that reading books is fantastic, that everyone can read whatever books they'd like, and that reading books by authors who aren't like you in some way can open your worldview and bring you immense joy.

But then again, I'm a translator. Of course I would think that.