Friday, February 17, 2017

Sensitivity readers?

The Chicago Tribune's new article is trying to gin up interest in a new editing job: Sensitivity Reader. You advertise your specialty, and somebody trying to write a book that involves characters in your category pays you to read it over and decide if they're being sensitive and accurate. Or maybe an editor pays you instead of the writer.

If this is for research, it kind of makes a bit of sense. As they point out, Rowlings got some egg on her face with her most recent book that didn't portray American Indian magic creatures accurately. Inaccuracy of this sort is no crime--often it's an artistic necessity--but in general it's good to try not to dynamite willing suspension of disbelief. I have trouble reading the old Skylark science fiction books: science and technology just don't work that fast. You can't reverse engineer an entire new spaceship propulsion paradigm in a week. Ben Franklin was smart, but put him in a helicopter and see how far he flies. Or like stout Cortez Balboa when with eagle eyes He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

But I have a suspicion this isn't the focus.

Still, some sensitivity readers feel they are in part contributing to the problem. Clayton said she's unsettled by the idea that she's being paid for her expertise, but also is helping white authors write black characters for books from which they reap profit and praise.

"It feels like I'm supplying the seeds and the gems and the jewels from our culture, and it creates cultural thievery," Clayton said. "Why am I going to give you all of those little things that make my culture so interesting so you can go and use it and you don't understand it?"

Hmm. Think Dan Brown would be interested in paying a Jesuit to review his books for accuracy? Or maybe John Boorman should have hired a redneck or two for the Deliverance script? (Or did he? No idea.) Think of all the cultural appropriation being done by people writing about other people. Maybe the only safe thing to do is to write a monologue.

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