If you haven’t heard about “American Dirt” that’s probably because you don’t follow the social media accounts of the left-leaning celebrities who embraced it and are now awkwardly backtracking. The novel tells the story of a Mexican mother and son who are forced to flee their home for safety in the United States after they get caught up with a cartel boss. The novel was intended as a moving, albeit action-filled, tribute to immigrants who make the journey to the US border, and at first it seemed it was destined to be a huge cultural success. The book sold for a reported 7-figure sum and a movie adaptation seemed inevitable.
Oprah Winfrey read a galley of the book and praised it. She also sent copies to a number of celebrities including actresses Selma Hayek and Gina Rodriguez who similarly praised the book on social media. Last week, Oprah selected the book for her popular book club which meant the book was all but guaranteed to be a best seller. Here’s a bit of Oprah praising the book on CBS This Morning just last week:
Best-selling author @jeaninecummins joins @Oprah and @CBSThisMorning live to talk about ‘American Dirt,’ the newest @oprahsbookclub selection. #ReadWithUs https://t.co/CEMuNAUKCB pic.twitter.com/lesnvzUYnR
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) January 21, 2020
But while all of this celebrity praise was taking place, there was also a significant backlash building against the book by people who were offended that a white author who doesn’t appear familiar with Mexico and who doesn’t speak Spanish wrote a book about Mexican migrants. Today that backlash seems to have reached a new stage as the publisher has cancelled planned appearances by the author:
Three of seven bookstores scheduled to host “American Dirt” author Jeanine Cummins this week have canceled their events — two under the direction of the novel’s publisher — following an onslaught of social media criticism from Latino critics, who categorized the book as “racist” and “stereotypical.”
The much-anticipated “American Dirt” was released last Tuesday and was met with a slew of negative reviews and immediately inspired memes and a social media campaign called #DignidadLiteraria, or literary dignity, that calls for Latinos to share their stories and stage actions, raising awareness to a publishing industry that is 80 percent white…
Following the backlash, prominent Latino stars like Salma Hayek, who touted the book online, backtracked and apologized for promoting it.
Oprah has also backtracked a bit, releasing a video (see below) in which she promised “a deeper more substantive discussion.” In essence, Oprah is no longer promoting the book, she is now managing a discussion about the problems with the book.
When I first heard about this my reaction was that this sounded like another case of an author being canceled by the woke crowd over cultural appropriation (the author is white). There’s definitely some (okay, a lot) of that going on, but at the same time it sounds as if the author of this book really did open herself up to these complaints by previously saying she wasn’t qualified to write about race. From Slate:
The public debate began with a review of American Dirt by Myriam Gurba* published in Tropics of Meta, an academic blog that publishes essays on a broad range of topics. Gurba takes to task not only Cummins’ identity—she apparently identified as white as recently as four years ago, when she wrote in the New York Times that she wasn’t qualified to write about race—but also American Dirt’s similarity to other books about Mexico that Cummins used for research, as well as the novel’s ignorance of the very people the book purports to represent. “That Lydia is so shocked by her own country’s day-to-day realities […] gives the impression that Lydia might not be … a credible Mexican,” Gurba writes. “In fact, she perceives her own country through the eyes of a pearl-clutching American tourist.”
The review by Gurba is withering. It’s titled, “Pendeja, You Ain’t Steinbeck: My Bronca with Fake-Ass Social Justice Literature.” I guess the surprise here is that it’s not just the author being eaten alive it’s also Oprah and the ostensibly progressive celebrities she induced to praise this book. No one, no matter how famous, is safe from the woke crowd these days.
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