Race, Policy, Social Justice

Why do white authors like Ellen Hopkins think they can profit off of black pain?

Stories of slavery and the Underground Railroad are our stories. They are not stories for white people to twist, glamorize, and consume.

Recently, Publishers Weekly announced that favored young adult author Ellen Hopkins is set to release a new novel in 2019 titled Sanctuary Highway.

It’s said to be a futuristic story of the Underground Railroad with a contemporary spin, featuring an America that is an even darker version then the one we know now.

Many readers read this pitch and instantly took to Twitter demanding answers and further clarification from Hopkins, especially black readers.

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In the past year, there’s been a lot of talk surrounding stories and media that take historically horrific events and turn them into digestible dystopia.

It started with Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, a show depicting a world post World War II if the Nazis had won.

A similar concept was penned by HBO, in which they hoped to greenlight a production that would depict an antebellum America if the Confederacy had won the Civil War. The issue with shows like these and Hopkins’ new novel is the fact that these stories make light of events that have lasting effects on the people who suffered, when they change the narrative in any way.

Whether intentional or not, these new narratives often give empathetic insight into the “villains” of the real world and trigger those who have to read and see their pain replayed over and over.

Black authors and readers alike were very concerned with this happening and spoke out against this new novel, expressing how stories like these profit off of black pain and romanticize dark moments in history.

The history of the Underground Railroad and slavery is already dark and unbearable in its own way. African Americans are still dealing with the effects today. Enough time has not passed for these events to be fictionalized, especially as many schools across America steadily censor and erase slavery from textbooks.

Authors L.L. McKinney and Justina Ireland took these concerns further and brought up an even bigger issue happening in publishing. McKinney tweeted that, “gatekeepers help maintain the disparity between books ABOUT non-white authors and books BY non-white authors.”

Stories of slavery and the Underground Railroad are our stories.

They are not the stories for white people to twist, glamorize, and consume all the while black authors can’t get their stories published. I and other black readers alike are tired of white stories being consistently spotlighted.

We want to see more stories of black love and black fantasy. I want to dive into stories written by people who look like and understand what books like this would mean to me.

Hopkins has stated before that she would utilize her white privilege to be the voice of those who don’t have one in American society. While the sentiment is appreciated, we have our own voices. We can tell our own stories and we do it well.

It’s time for white authors to put our stories down and let us speak, so that young readers of color can see stories written for them by people like them.

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Hopkins issued a reply to the criticism stating that she wouldn’t have framed the pitch as it was, but that she believes her story is worthy of shelves and will cause an impact. She has yet to release an alternative pitch or shed light on what Sanctuary Highway will actually entail, stating that readers will have to “read and see if it’s worthy of shelf space.”

This sounds shifty, as readers will first have to spend the money and put it on their shelves before they can actually determine what it’s about.

I think it’s time for black readers to follow our instincts and not spend our money on people who clearly hope to profit off of us.

It’s time we start spending on the authors who are out for more than just the black dollar.

So, here a few of my favorites authors of color that deserve acclaim and attention:

  1. Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland
  2. A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney (September 2018)
  3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  4. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (March 2018)
  5. Dear Martin by Nic Stone
  6. The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (February 2018)
  7. The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon
  8. I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi
  9. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  10. Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson

Happy reading!