It has come to my attention that there is a new type of editor in town, someone termed a sensitivity reader. What does a sensitivity reader do? Simply put, they review an author’s manuscript to see if there are any problematic representations of different minorities, genders, or sexual orientations. Their goal is to help the author to correctly represent those who they are writing about, so that nothing hurtful or stereotypical may be written.
In theory, I have no problem with this. There is too much hatred in this world, too much oppression. I am in full agreement that many minorities and others have for far too long been mispresented, disenfranchised, and have faced continual bigotry and or racism. I agree that more stories being written in which women, blacks, Mexicans, and so forth are a welcome breath of fresh air. The world is a diverse place and we need that represented in literature. Therefore, with all that said, why do I have a problem with sensitivity readers?
Looking for offense just to find offense.
Hey, if I write something that you deem offensive about another group of people, let me
know and I’ll greatly consider changing it if my book hasn’t been published yet or if it already has been published I’ll remember your advice when I write a future book. It’s not my goal to offend different minorities, different genders, and gender preferences and whatnot. However, if you hire someone looking to find offense then they are going to find offense, even when none was intended. This brings up the next point.
Can a sensitivity reader speak for everyone in that group?
It would be easy to write a story that didn’t offend anyone if everyone thought the same. But here are the cold facts, they don’t. Not even individuals within the same group of people will think the same. Let’s look at non-blacks wearing dreds. This is a contentious issue for some. It first came to my attention when I saw a few Youtube videos of blacks saying that non-blacks shouldn’t wear dreds. Before jumping on the bandwagon, I looked up other videos and found just as many blacks counter-arguing that viewpoint, proclaiming just as loudly that anyone can have dreds, even whites. When I asked a bunch of African-Americans in person, most were perplexed that there were some who said non-blacks couldn’t have dreds. Only one had an issue with it. Or how about the celebration of Cinco De Mayo and the wearing of sombreros? Most of my Hispanic friends are absolutely cool with non-Hispanics celebrating Cinco De Mayo and wearing sombreros. The only thing they asked was that immigrants not be treated cruelly. A more than reasonable request. Let’s also not forget about the row of what happened in Utah, in which a little non-Japanese girl was berated online for having a Japanese tea party for her birthday. Or how about the art museum that was criticized for letting non-Japanese try on a kimono? There were many Japanese, who criticized those who took offense at those who were offended at the little girl’s Japanese tea party and to those who were offended by those non-Japanese trying on a kimono.
By now, the question is inevitably popping up about what this has to do with sensitivity readers and getting feedback from a community you are writing about. The short answer is that both writing about a different culture, race, or group of people, as well as dealing with cultural appropriation issues with fashion, hairstyles, and holidays, all go down to the core of representation of a group of people. Do they like the representation? Just as someone gets a variety of viewpoints from different people in the same group when it comes to cultural appropriation, one is going to get different readers from the same group with different sensitivities from each other. It’s possible to find someone from India who may like how the writer portrays Indians and another who finds it offensive, or a Chinese person who finds the way Chinese are portrayed as problematic, another right on the dot. Therefore, it’s important to remember that….
It’s dangerous to try and please everyone.
I wish it was easy to please everyone. As a writer, I don’t want to offend different
religious groups, races, nationalities, or ethnicities. I want all sorts of people to read my books and to love them. But the uncomfortable truth is that I know I am going to accidentally offend someone. Realize that I don’t mean to. Realize that most writers don’t mean to.
However, that doesn’t mean I still won’t ask people in different groups for feedback.
Okay, so I’ve gone off about how I don’t trust sensitivity readers. That doesn’t mean that I still won’t ask different people in races, groups, ethnicities, religions, and genders for input when writing a book. I value input, and I want to be accurate. I just don’t want to hire someone who is looking for offense.
Am I Wrong?
Okay, I said my piece. Now I ask you, my dear reader friends, if I have it wrong? Am I looking at this issue incorrectly? Do you agree or disagree with me? Please explain why, civilly that is, in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you.