A social justice mob ruined a young author's career before it started

Writing at Tablet, Jesse Singal tells the story of the author of a young-adult fantasy series who appeared to have hit the big time with her first trilogy of books. But only a few months before publication the author, who is Asian, announced she had decided to put the publication on hold. This change of heart came after she was viciously attacked online by a mob of social justice warriors who, based on very little evidence, decided the books were racist.

Amélie Wen Zhao had what looked like a very promising career as a young-adult fiction author ahead of her. Last January it was announced that Zhao, who was born in Paris, raised in Beijing, and presently works in finance in Manhattan, had sold a debut three-book trilogy to Delacorte Press, a Penguin Random House imprint, in “a major deal.” In publishing-speak this means her advance was at least $500,000, an outcome most first-time authors writing in any genre could only dream of…

Last week, I was tipped off that there seemed to be some sort of drama brewing there—someone or some group had started a whisper campaign against this Zhao person. A YA reviewer with just 800 or so Twitter followers appears to have been the first to make these accusations public. She said: “I have nothing to lose by it and have the time, I’ll tell you which 2019 debut author, according to the whisper network, has been gathering screenshots of people who don’t/didn’t like her book. Amelie Wen Zhao.” As justification for airing whisper-network rumors, the woman tweeting suggested that Zhao’s alleged wanton screencapping constituted an actual threat of some kind: “Readers should be aware of this for their own protection. That’s why I’m saying it publicly after some confidential sources let me know privately.” The tweeter, who is white, explained to a skeptical replier that “I’m not ruining her life. I’m making public with permission what POC told me privately so in order to protect reviewers.” (If a confused friend ever asks you to sum up the culture of YA Twitter in one sentence, “Imagine a white woman explaining that she is spreading unverifiable rumors about a first-time author of color in order to protect people of color” will do nicely.)

…on Tuesday night, things had exploded: YA Twitter was attacking Zhao’s still unpublished Blood Heir on multiple fronts. As usual, the standards of argument appeared rather strange and lacking, at least to an outsider. L.L. McKinney, a YA author who recently published her own debut novel, highlighted for her 10,000-plus Twitter followers the fact that one of Blood Heir’s blurbs read, in part, “In a world where the princess is the monster, oppression is blind to skin color, and good and evil exists in shades of gray….” “….someone explain this to me. EXPLAIN IT RIGHT THE FUQ NOW,” she tweeted. “I don’t give a good god damn that this is an author of color,” she said later in the tweetstorm. “Internalized racism and anti-blackness is a thing and I…no.” The argument, such as it is, appears to be that because in our world, oppression isn’t blind to skin color, to write about a fantasy world in which it is is an act of “anti-blackness.”

Singal goes on to explain that the final straw for the online mob was the claim that a black character in the book died for what some considered a plot point. But as Singal points out, it’s not really clear the character in question was black. She is described as “tawny” and having “aquamarine” eyes. But whatever, the death of a fictional character who may have been black was enough for many to condemn the whole book as racist. After a week of being pounded online by social justice warriors, she gave up and like all struggle-sessions, this one ends with an apology.

You’ll notice in her apology that she claims the slavery in the book had to do with modern day human trafficking she witnessed in Asia, not American slavery. But that didn’t matter to the people who took her down. From their perspective, they own this narrative and anyone who doesn’t agree needs to be silenced for the good of others.

This is just another example of the left de-platforming people using snippets of material without context as a justification. Unfortunately, as Singal points out, there’s no doubt other publishers will take note of this and do their best to appease the mob, ensuring this bad behavior is rewarded.