I’m Not Sensitive to Sensitivity Readers

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

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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

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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.

 

4 thoughts on “I’m Not Sensitive to Sensitivity Readers

  1. Sensitivity Readers is a new one for me but I’m not in the publishing (other than blogs) world. Personally, it sounds like a valuable service. I’ve been raised steeped in white America culture and in all honesty probably offend way more than I realize. Someone on Instagram just gave me a whole new angle on cultural appropriation, for instance. Anyway, that’s my two cents. Hiring somebody whose sole focus is spotting stereotypical and/or problematic character portrayals seems valid.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I feel a sensitivity reader is finding out potential problematic areas for you with reasonings, but ultimately you are the writer, you decide whether it is right or not. So it is not all about finding offense just because it is their job, I feel it is more to warn the author what might hurt someone. This is purely my opinion

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think stereotypes in writing, no matter the medium, is a problem when every single character of that race or ethnicity is a stereotype or portrayed poorly. And I think it is a problem when everyone in one race is portrayed positively. There are good and bad people across humanity. Because of this, I don’t think writers should feel bad about making anyone the bad guy, good guy, or anything in between. Some people are stereotypes. Some people are the opposite of the stereotype for the group(s) to which they belong. I think it is important for a writer to consider why they chose a particular race for a certain character, especially if the character is cast in a completely poor or completely good light. If you’re going to make a black character mug someone in a story–make sure to show the complexities of the character. Don’t simply portray him/her as a thug.

    I think writers can’t be worried if someone is going to find offense because you’ll never please everyone. Tell a good story, don’t let your characters be one dimensional, and give it up to the universe. What is offensive is subjective. Just my two cents.

    Very thought provoking post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting post. I’ve come across those multi-sided controversies in real life many times, too. And in fiction, we must keep in mind that our characters are independent people who may be in need of sensitivity training regardless of the author’s worldview.

    I don’t use sensitivity readers and don’t expect I will, but I can see where they might be helpful. I beta read a book where almost every woman in the book was hit by a man at least once. I’ve also read books where the ethnic or gender stereotypes drove me nuts and I couldn’t finish them. I would consider a sensitivity reader if I was hearing the same negative comment on reviews multiple times. Hopefully, I would see that as a learning opportunity.

    Liked by 1 person

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