Why Is Cancel Culture Within The Bookish Community Toxic – A Discussion

Hi. You can tell from the title of this post what I’ll be talking about today. I wanna preface this post by saying that the opinions I am stating on here are my own – I am not claiming I am right – but this is what I think and how I feel about the current situation. I am willing to discuss this issue further in the comments, and I welcome people to disagree with me in a respectful manner, as what I am writing on here is not aimed to harm anyone and I will not welcome any harm directed back at me. I have a voice and I will use it in a way I see fit, as long as I am not harming others by it.

We all know what this is about – the absolute shit storm concerning Emily A. Duncan and Jay Kristoff. In the light of the current stop AAPI hate movement, and an ongoing BLM movement that has gotten a lot of traction last summer, both authors were called out as racist and bullies, for different reasons. I am not basing this post off those two and their behaviour, on anyone else who is involved in the conversation and controversy, and I am definitely not here to make excuses for anyone. If you expect a post shit talking an author and pointing out every single thing they did and said wrong, move along. I am here to talk about the fallout after these things were mentioned, and how we handle it as a bookish community, and why I think that’s wrong.

I don’t know a single person who has never in their life been disrespectful, racist, dismissive or oppressive in any shape or form. Whether we did things intentionally and meant it in a malicious way, or said things due to miseducation or simply ignorance, we have definitely done things that harmed others in some capacity. There is always room to improve, always a stance we can educate ourselves on, especially those who are not part of a minority. Yes, I am a white, straight passing female – I was born into a life where I didn’t have to worry about being oppressed, because of my race, religion or culture. My opinions on this issue may not be the most valid as I don’t have the authority to speak on things that don’t concern me personally. However, I can do my part in spreading awareness, and try to reach people who already listen to what I want to say and maybe change their opinions. Doing that is great and I think everyone with a platform should speak up on issues concerning racism, sexism, bullying and many other.

Where is this going, then, you ask? I have been noticing every single time someone calls out a famous author, many other people jump on that hate train without doing any research themselves and without educating themselves on the matter. It’s not enough to repost Instagram or Twitter posts, bashing said author and telling people to stop reading their work and promoting it, if you yourself don’t look deep into the issue and make sure that you really understand what’s going on. I have seen so many stories, linking to an Instagram post, basically captioning it – I don’t know the whole story, BUT read this post to educate yourself. I know, I know… it’s not their JOB to tell me, the follower, what is happening and why it’s bad, but if they really felt strongly about the matter, they would do EVERYTHING to reach the people who might still be ignorant, and not just repost an info graphic etc. That is not doing the work. That is false accountability just to not be called out. It creates a vacuum of people repeating the same things without really understanding them. People who tell you to educate yourself half the time forget to do the same. Those people then take the time out of their day to, for a lack of a better word, harass others because they post or read books by certain authors.

Do you see where I’m going with this? The time and efforts are completely misplaced. Instead of going onto someone’s post to shit talk them for posting about a book they’ve enjoyed, how about you make sure that you post alternatives to said books on your platform. Uplift marginalised voices ALWAYS, instead of posting a story saying “I can’t believe X amount of people I follow STILL follow that author and didn’t delete photos of their books off their feed”. Being bitter achieves nothing.

This is what cancel culture does, in a nutshell. It’s okay to call out an author who appropriates cultures that are not their own. It’s okay to take a stance and say it’s not a voice that should be uplifted. But there’s a fine line between appropriation and inspiration. Jay Kristoff can’t write about anything Japanese inspired, because he’s not Japanese, and a white male, but Sarah J. Maas can base her world on the UK and Ireland and make the Irish the evil fairies? Is it okay for Kiersten White to write about genderbent Vlad the Impaler, or for Leigh Bardugo to base her world of the Russian Empire? If the answer is no to any of these, then why are those books still insanely popular, and those authors reaching the bestsellers list with any new books they come out with? Why are bookstagrammers, book bloggers and booktubers those who suffer the most in the fallout? For such a small community, we should be uplifting others, instead of bringing them down. We should be making sure that our voices are heard by the authors doing wrong things and their teams and their publishers. And we should let those authors apologise and give time to do better. And lastly… we need to respect people’s boundaries. No, not everyone has the privilege to be comfortable at all times, and there are situations in which we need to step out of that comfort zone to have important conversations. But it’s no one’s right to impose on other’s comfort zone, as in can do more harm than good.

This post is really long, and I’m not sure if in the end I made myself clear. The subject is very broad, and this is just one side of it. And anyone who knows me knows I get rambly all the time. It’s probably not good enough for many as I haven’t called out authors on anything, but, like I said I am not the authority on the issues and no one needs another white person getting outraged on the Internet.

If you’ve read up to this point – thank you. I’d love to know your thoughts, if you’re willing to share them in the comments.

Talk soon.

8 thoughts on “Why Is Cancel Culture Within The Bookish Community Toxic – A Discussion

  1. This is an excellent point. I saw as well how as soon as these issues came out on Twitter a lot of people jumped on the hate train without doing enough research on the issue. As you said, the lines between appropriation and inspiration are blurred at the moment. I read somewhere that even The Lunar Chronicles should be considered a problematic read (cultural appropriation), and to be honest with you, it broke my fantasy reader heart. I agree with you, it’s important we continue to support and uplift marginalised voices, but we should not forget that there is freedom of choice. A person should be able to read whatever they feel like, without fear of being called out by the wider bookish community.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I couldn’t agree more. I think every single book ever written will have something in it that people disagree with and deem problematic. It’s like we can’t enjoy anything anymore in fear of offending others. It’s making a lot of people quit blogging and bookstagramming, or take a long hiatus, and it’s honestly really sad to see. We’re a small community, compared to others, we should stick together.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey! I want to start my (very long) comment by saying that, though I know some people disagree, I think everyone should share their opinion on matters like this regardless of race. Ofcourse the opinions of the people whose culture has actually been appropriated (in Jay Kristoff case Japanese) or religion has been smeared (antisemitism in both cases) will be more educated on the matter and we should prioritise their opinion the most- but everyone is allowed to make their own mind up.
    I will say that I disagree with quite a few points you make. First of all, I think there’s a huugee difference between white authors appropriating poc cultures and white authors using other white cultures (such as an American writing Russian inspired folklore). One of the biggest reasons this is because poc authors find it more difficult to get their books published when they write characters and worlds based off of their own culture. A lot of the times publishers will literally say that the book is not marketable enough, the culture and characters aren’t relatable enough, and the world is too difficult to understand. This is not the case with Russian inspired worlds or Irish inspired worlds. Publishers will never deny a manuscript because the book is set in a Russian inspired world . This is why its such a huge blow to poc authors when a terrible book is published based on their culture and its written by a white author. It’s simply not fair. The white author either ends up writing a digestible, westernised, whitewashed version of the culture or like in J kristoffs case just entirely butchers the culture, fetishises the women and writes non sensical dialogue. What you end up with is an orientalised version of the culture- again something that can simply not happen in the portrayal of a white culture. Not to say that the author can’t get the white culture terribly wrong, it’s just not as damaging. Aside from that (and correct me if I’m wrong), white readers have never had to worry about representation in a book whereas poc representation is precious to poc readers. Seeing a terrible but popular representation of your culture is annoying when you barely get any as it is.
    Secondly, yes, of course people say unintentionally racist things sometimes, maybe they’re tweeting something only to realise later what they said is wrong. There are two problems with comparing this to Jay Kristoff and Emily Duncann. Firstly, Jay Kristoff wrote and profited off inaccurately portraying an entire culture. Not only did he mix up Japanese culture with Chinese culture, he sexualised and exoticised female characters- something many POC characters have faced over and over again. Secondly, Writing a book is not just tweeting something, it is months of hard work and research, authors like Emily Duncan acknowledged that they knew about the anti-semitic aspect so why did they not decide to remove it? Why hurt already ostracised communities? We need to start seeing writing as a job where intense research should be normalised when portraying someone else’s culture. Especially in Jay kristoff and Emily duncans cases where both authors are popular and can definitely afford sensitivity readers. Also, Jay Kristoff was told 8 years ago that he inaccurately portrayed cultures and fetishesed the female characters within his books- but like he’s doing now, he chose to ignore it. There was no acknowledgement from him whatsoever that he made a mistake- no attempt to rectify his mistake. Rick Riordan made a small mistake in accidentally generalising something some Muslims followed in Ramadhan for one of his side characters, and when he found out he not only acknowledged it and apologised. He made sure all future prints were corrected. He didn’t ignore it and pretend like it never happened. It’s completely unfair to compare a comment or two to published and popular books! Is it unfair for communities to demand accurate portrayal of their cultures and to prevent being exoticised? I don’t think it is. Why are authors above criticism? You have to understand whilst you might not get hurt by incidence such as this, other communities do. I wouldn’t have realised Wicked Saints was anti-semitic unless a Jewish person told me, antisemitic ideolgies are so deeply rooted in books and movies, should Jewish communities, and we as allies, do nothing about it? Exocticising asian culture is also normalised, should we ignore this as well instead if demanding authors do better? I highly doubt these authors will get cancelled. They will probably not get a slap on their wrist from their publishable. It’s up to readers then to hold them accountable.
    Anyway, it was interesting to read your opinion on this matter! I think open discussion is the best in matters like this.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi. Thank you for your comment and all your insight. I might’ve not expressed myself clearly, partly due to being an absolute scatter-brain and partly because I’m not good at compositions, and English is not my first language. I was never trying to make a point about the two authors that started this conversation, nor about any authors in general. I agree with many things you said, actually, some of them being the importance of recognising POC authors and voices and uplifting them as oftentimes they don’t get a chance to get their own stories. Authors are absolutely not above criticism, and with the likes of Kristoff or Duncan, like I said, there are many people to blame for the hurt they’ve caused – the authors themselves, their teams and the publishers. And of course I do think that everyone can state their opinions regardless of race. I mean, that’s what I did, too. The issue that arose in current situation that was detrimental to me writing this post was the hate that we give and direct toward other creators, bloggers and reviewers in the community, which was especially apparent on Bookstagram (a platform I’m active on the most). I tried to, and maybe didn’t manage, to say that it’s not okay to harass other readers for the books they like or post about, or for not speaking up about an issue the second it arises. There were many instances where people have gotten nasty DMs because they’ve posted about a certain author, or not posted about what was happening in the bookish community. I think as important as it is to call out authors on their bullshit and make them understand that they’re causing harm to many other authors and readers alike who are part of any kind of minority, we need to do more than that and uplift marginalised voices and promote books that are more deserving. We should take time to email and contact publishers with letters of concern for the things they are putting out. It’s a tale as old as time that bad press is still press. And I think instead of spending our time messaging other readers about how shitty an author is and how dare they still support them, we should post and give the much needed press to POC and marginalised authors instead. Wicked Saints has been on my tbr and I’ve removed it after I heard about Duncan, and yet I haven’t seen a single person mention a similar book in plot/vibe done by someone else, or alternatively a book by a Jewish author. Once again, the time and efforts are misplaced. I don’t much agree with what you said about white authors writing about Russian or Irish inspired folklore, though. I think considering the historical POV there is much damage than can be done by portraying the cultures of those wrong, as the repercussions from the historical events they’ve experienced are still hurtful and real to those who experienced it (ie. history between the Irish and the English, the Slavic countries occupied by Russia and Western/Central Asian countries which were part of the Russian Empire e.g. Kazakhstan). That part of the conversation is a completely separate one and I’m not trying to talk about that. My point was only about readers harrasing readers, and how cancel culture lead to it and makes the community toxic.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hii again, sorry for the late reply I didn’t realise you’d replied! Firstly, gosh your English is better than most people in the UK so I didn’t realise it wasn’t your first language.
        I was referring to the part where you said Jay Kristoff can’t write anything inspired by Japan because he’s white and male but Sarah J Maas can write about Irish and English etc, which wasn’t about responding to readers but rather what authors can and can’t write. Firstly, it’s the first time I heard someone say Sarah J Maas’s characters are based on English and Irish, and if they made the Irish the evil ones that would of course be completely wrong. Especially since much of Ireland is still trying to get England off its back. From what I know SJM based her world on the Mediterranean, since Illyrian is a city that used to exist in ancient Greek times and most of her characters are ‘tanned’. (Except if you’re talking about Throne of Glass series, honestly I’m not surprised SJM has problematic books) Again, that being said if SJM did do that then readers should definitely call her out for it. That’s why I think its great when bookstagram joins forces and calls out Authors.
        I do still stand by my point that underrepresented groups are at much greater harm when being wrongly represented, because we barely get rep as it is. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to misrepresent ‘white’ cultures, but in many cases the impact is not as bad because those cultures have been given a lot of positive representation as well. Again, of course it should still be criticism and called out.
        About you saying we should spend our time supporting marginalised voices- of course we should do that! I’m not sure why you didn’t see posts promoting other books when criticising the authors who misrepresented asian culture, that’s literally all I saw! After criticising those authors who were in the wrong, own voice asian authors were promoted all over bookstagram and twitter. Now, we should be doing all the things you mentioned, and then on top of that also calling out Authors. We can’t just ignore calling out these extremely popular authors, because they contribute to the publishing culture. As for your last point, there’s no point with bullying other readers, but we also shouldn’t ignore our friends on bookstagram supporting problematic authors and ignoring the entire situation because they have the privilege to do so. Discussions (such as this) are vital! I wouldn’t have known about the Irish and England representation in SJM books if you hadn’t mentioned it, and now I’m going to research it. From what I saw, mostly big platforms- accounts with a lot of followers- were told- or pushed- to speak out about the issue because, in my opinion, those with more influence have a bigger responsibility to do so. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Again, I appreciate all the insights you shared here. If only every conversation on the internet was this civil, maybe I wouldn’t feel like I had to write the blog post.
        I am not an expert on any culture, not even my own, but the maps in Sarah J. Maas’ books are glaringly obvious. Along with the names… Hybern and Prythian. One can draw their own conclusions.
        I didn’t want to use examples for the longest time, because they lead to misconceptions. It wasn’t my angle to expose authors or inadvertently support authors in the post. I just wanted to highlight that they are humans, too. And with being a human comes making mistakes, errors, and whatnot.
        I do understand that underrepresented groups are the ones affected most, because they get close to no representation. And while taking away stories from “own voices” authors and letting someone who at most just did research publish them is not at all right, the publishing world here is to blame. There is a lot more “production” for a lack of a better word, behind publishing each and every book. In the end, it exists not for readers solely, but like any business, to make money. Authors need to make money, too. No, I’m not saying “well, they need to eat and pay bills so let them write whatever they want”, I’m saying as human beings, they’re susceptible to making mistakes especially when money and livelihoods are considered.
        As for your last point. I don’t think I agree. If you’re genuinely friends with someone on bookstagram and you notice them doing questionable things, sure, have a conversation with them about how you think it affects others. If you’re just mutual followers, who interact through comments, it is not your right nor your job to come on their profile and tell them what they are, or aren’t doing right. My most active demographic on bookstagram are people within my own age group, 25-34. Those people have jobs, homes and families. Just because they created a page dedicated to one of their hobbies, which is reading, doesn’t mean they absolutely have to follow what is going on it the book world, or take part in it. We don’t get paid for book blogging. It’s what we do in our spare time, and we can use our own free time the way we see fit. The lack of boundaries is absolutely astounding to me. I’ve seen small accounts being harassed. I’ve seen people with a similar following to mine taking time off posting because they didn’t feel safe on their own platforms. And this is what sparked this post.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s