“why does it matter if the best books have white protagonists?”

“When A Popular List Of 100 ‘Best-Ever’ Teen Books Is The ‘Whitest Ever'”

Read the article and the comments. I’ll wait.

In place of what I actually want to write next, just imagine a big guy with a red face yelling a lot.


Let me explain myself in a more measured way.

I have this daughter. She’s real cute. I don’t hang out with her as much as I’d like, but enough that I can’t really tell whether she can pass for white. I think maybe she can’t — though she’s changing every day, so in the long term, who knows? But even if you don’t know her mama, she does, and she’ll figure the genetics out, like you do.

It’s going to be some time before she can read at all, and some more before she can read with any sophistication. So there’ll be a period in there where she doesn’t have any idea whether “race/skin color [is] important to the context of the stories being told,” or whether a story is “ABOUT being black or Indian or Asian-American and how tough it is.” But she will have some idea whether there’s anyone who looks like her, or like her mama, in the book. And if there isn’t, and there isn’t in the next book, and there isn’t in the book after that or the book after that, she’s going to notice.

Beyond that? I’ve probably spoken too much for her already. But I’m guessing she’s going to wonder why. And I’m guessing she’s going to wonder if there might not be something weird, or off, or not quite right, about being the way she is, since no one seems to want to write about those sorts of people.

I’m white. I’m not going to pretend I know how that feels. Maybe it’s not that bad. But I’m also not going to pretend that “I’m so special that no one will write about me!” is a likely outcome.

The brain is a statistical engine. Our conscious minds are shit at probability, but unconsciously, we soak it up. We automatically notice what’s amiss.

The brain is a social engine. What’s talked about — what’s in other people’s brains — is attractive and valuable. What’s ignored and hidden is shameful and worthless.

Is this difficult? Have I said anything anybody doesn’t know?


And, by the way, what is with all this speculation that maybe a huge chunk of kid’s books contain racially ambiguous protagonists? Did you ever notice that characters have a weird way of having names? My daughter, for example, one of my own movie’s main characters. Shin-Yi and I agreed (and here, by the way, I refer not to Shin-Yi O’Shaughnessy of Cork County, Ireland, nor to Shin-Yi Kvaratskhelia of the Republic of Georgia, but to my wife, Shin-Yi Lin, whose ancestry, it may shock you to learn, is mostly Han Chinese) way before she was born that, whatever her name was, it’d be part Chinese and part Western. And we loved Una for a first name, so her last name is Lin. So, go ahead, speak to me about how Hermione Hussein Granger was really Kenyan all along.

While we’re in Q&A time, I’d also like to understand how “Making such a big deal out of things like this keeps racism alive and well.” I’d like that explained to me in meticulous detail. Is the KKK marching in the streets outside the publishers’ offices in New York, burning crosses for greater racial diversity in YA literature? I did not receive that telegram. Perhaps there was a paper jam in my fax machine.


I couldn’t give a shit about basketball, truly I couldn’t, but I gave a shit about Jeremy Lin. (No relation.)

Look, I don’t get to pick who my daughter is. She gets more of a say, but she, too, is not without constraints. When I hear people being too cool for school about Jeremy Lin my fucking brain-pan overheats, because it matters if my daughter has a pro athlete for a role model. Not in my ideal world, maybe not in the world that will be, but in the world of weird wobbly possibility that obtains when your little girl is 11 months old and might, just might, find herself able and hungry to do literally any given thing at all, IT MATTERS.

I would have blown off Linsanity a year ago as well. Being a dad has made me hella more political, in the “identity politics” sense. I have probably jumped at shadows once or twice. I’m not sorry. Protip: Do not get me started on sexism.


I am actually not fussed at NPR’s response, by the way. I think the article was badly titled, the solution of flagging the popularity-contest nature of the thing with a better title is easy and obvious, and the matter can more or less rest there. No need for NPR to distort reality, as long as they call it what it is. The top sf & fantasy list was called “Your Picks.” I wasn’t happy that NPR’s audience couldn’t bring themselves to upvote a single author of color, or that NPR was too oblivious to notice that fact, but that’s what it is. NPR listeners’ picks, which elevated a piece of STAR WARS companion merch over Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany, but there you go.

It’s the self-satisfied complacency of the commentariat that’s nasty. Race is done, am I right? If you didn’t hear about it before it was cool, then it’s lamestream. (That’s right, you fuckers, I just called every one of you a hipster Sarah Palin.)

I don’t like the concept of “derailing.” I don’t like sniping over “privilege.” But I am starting to get where all this anger is coming from.

Thm. ∀ w ∈ women, set H of w’s possessions, ∃ x (x ∉ H)

I had a whole thing brewing here, but Rebecca Traister got there first:

Here is what is wrong, what has always been wrong, with equating feminist success with “having it all”: It’s a misrepresentation of a revolutionary social movement. The notion that female achievement should be measured by women’s ability to “have it all” recasts a righteous struggle for greater political, economic, social, sexual and political parity as a piggy and acquisitive project.

What does “having it all” even mean? Affordable childcare or a nanny who speaks Mandarin? Decent school lunches or organic string cheese? A windowed office or a higher minimum wage? Public transportation that reliably gets you to work or a driver who will whisk you from kindergarten dropoff in time for the board meeting? Does it mean never feeling stress or guilt? Does it mean feeling satisfied all the time?

It is a trap, a setup for inevitable feminist short-fall. Irresponsibly conflating liberation with satisfaction, the “have it all” formulation sets an impossible bar for female success and then ensures that when women fail to clear it, it’s feminism – as opposed to persistent gender inequity – that’s to blame.

(Anne-Marie Slaughter approves, for what it’s worth.)

So anyway. At this point, the only thing I have to add is: While all this has been going on, the NYT has published a couple of pieces on achievement without (explicit) regard to gender: Alina Tugend’s “Redefining success and celebrating the ordinary” and Tim Kreider’s “The busy trap”. You can read them if you want, but I think the angles are pretty clear from the titles.

And it just seems funny, doesn’t it? That, although people in general need to chill out, somehow women, who are people, ought to be really focused on quantifying precisely what they can and cannot achieve and how they ought to time things to maximize that achievement? I don’t wish to pin this inconsistency on Tugend or Kreider, who have not endorsed it; it’s just funny and maybe instructive to have these two issues in the zeitgeist simultaneously.

I also don’t mean to suggest that conversations like those Anne-Marie Slaughter has sparked shouldn’t happen. Other (better-paid) commentators have already taken this angle and it’s wrong — and frustratingly wrong, because the sort of “suck it up and deal” language employed in the linked article is exactly one of the things Slaughter was, very reasonably, protesting in her own essay. The issue isn’t that we shouldn’t talk about the obstacles to women’s achievement, or try to sort out what’s reasonable and unreasonable for women or men to expect from life, or even whether some degree of gender difference in various outcomes is ineradicable. The issue is how we talk about what women want. Because it’s insulting and useless to talk as though half the world wants the same things and they are, as Traister puts it, piggy, and acquisitive, and impossible.

(Or, you know, more so than average. Women are, after all, only human.)

(The title of the post refers to a little photo collection linked by Traister, which is priceless in a sad sort of way.)

(H/T TNC, again.)

they grow up so fast

I almost cried when I watched this. In general, I’m excited for my daughter to grow up and not nostalgic for her younger, less capable incarnations — but I couldn’t shake the feeling that baby Lotte was going away, or being replaced, and that was heartwrenching. I don’t feel that with Una on a day-to-day time scale, but seeing it compressed into seconds somehow magnified that sense of loss.

I think this video may be the first thing that’s really helped me understand Shin-Yi’s compulsion to immerse herself in and memorialize Una’s babyhood. It’s funny that, even though I see Una so much less than Shin-Yi does, I’m so much less sensitive to the march of time and development than she is.

Via Andrew Gelman.