PS Picks: Well-Read Black Girl, Noir Reads, and Other Answers to the Sensitivity Reader Problem - Pacific Standard

PS Picks: Well-Read Black Girl, Noir Reads, and Other Answers to the Sensitivity Reader Problem

PS Picks is a selection of the best things that the magazine's staff and contributors are reading, watching, or otherwise paying attention to in the worlds of art, politics, and culture.
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This PS Pick originally appeared in The Lede, the weekly Pacific Standard email newsletter for premium members. The Lede gives premium members greater access to Pacific Standard stories, staff, and contributors in their inbox every week. While helping to support journalism in the public interest, members also receive a print magazine subscription, early access to feature stories, and access to an ad-free version of PSmag.com.

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Black Writers Are More Than Just Sensitivity Readers: In December of 2017, the New York Times published an article titled "In an Era of Online Outrage, Do Sensitivity Readers Result in Better Books, or Censorship?" To its detriment, the Times piece heavily centered on the feelings of white authors. One writer worried that if "'sensitivity readers' are given the freedom to hijack authors' visions, we’re going to lose some beloved works of art that we could have otherwise enjoyed." Another asked, "Can we no longer read 'Othello' because Shakespeare wasn't black?" There were many problems with this article, mainly that it positioned sensitivity readers as being detrimental to the creation of good literature. But the other problem with the article? It failed to note that the reason we need sensitive writers in the first place is because people of color are not telling their own stories—it's white people looking in from the outside.

The best cure to sensitivity readers, if we insist we need them, is ultimately to pass the mic. As Dhonielle Clayton, who was quoted in the original Times article, but found issues with its final form, tweeted about the piece: "I'd also like to discuss how the reason I've done over 35 sensitivity reads this year alone is b/c publishers aren't hiring black content creators but everyone wants to write about black people." Since then, black-owned organizations and book fairs have been springing up to provide support to black authors and readers, most notably, Well-Read Black Girl, a book club founded by Gloria Edim. Last weekend, she picked up the Innovator's Award from the Los Angeles Times during its annual book festival. Another black-owned organization that focuses on literature is Noir Reads, which is a literature subscription box that delivers books by black authors monthly to readers.

This PS Pick originally appeared in The Lede, the weekly Pacific Standard email newsletter for premium members. The Lede gives premium members greater access to Pacific Standard stories, staff, and contributors in their inbox every week. While helping to support journalism in the public interest, members also receive a print magazine subscription, early access to feature stories, and access to an ad-free version of PSmag.com.

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