'Sensitivity Readers' Check Manuscripts For Offensive Material

"Can we no longer read 'Othello' because Shakespeare wasn't black?"

The new speech police in town are what the The New York Times referred to as "sensitivity readers," as in commissars that publishers hire to check manuscripts for any "offensive materials."

In days past, such "sensitivity readers" were used primarily for children's books. David Levithan, vice president and publisher of Scholastic Press, told the Times, "There is a newfound fervor in children's publishing to be authentic and get the story right. When any author is writing outside their own experience, we want to make sure they've done their homework."

That trend has changed, however, in recent years as more and more publishers have used "sensitivity readers" on adult novels. Authors now warn that it could lead to sanitized books that fail to transmit the author's voice.

One such example is the 2016 novel "Small Great Things," about a black nurse who treats the baby of white supremacists. Prior to the book's publishing, author Jodi Picoult hired several minorities to critique its treatment of racism. Some might argue publishers employing the same tactic will create accuracy. Others say it will stifle creativity.

"Can we no longer read 'Othello' because Shakespeare wasn't black?" the novelist Francine Prose wrote in an essay. Last February, National Review opined 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."

Advocates argue sensitivity readers are helping to guard against misrepresentation.

"It's a craft issue; it's not about censorship," said Dhonielle Clayton, a former librarian and writer who worked as a "sensitivity reader" this year. "We have a lot of people writing cross-culturally, and a lot of people have done it poorly and done damage."

The always reliably-left HuffPo welcomes "sensitivity readers" with open arms, arguing that they are necessary to prevent the spate of heterosexual white protagonists in recent young adult novels.

"To conflate sensitivity readers with peddlers of toxic drama is to place an actual diversity initiative under the same umbrella as what’s often a shallow ploy for social media points," writes HuffPo. "In February 2016, the blog Book Riot published a list of the 15 bestselling young adult books of all time, as well as the bestselling YA series. Each book on the list centered on a straight, white protagonist."

Essentially, the Left argues the need for "sensitivity readers" the same way that "Transparent" showrunner Jill Soloway argues that no "cis men" can play transgender characters. All of this runs smack in the face of art's central purpose: to lift humanity onto a universal plane of shared emotions.

Ben Shapiro highlighted the inherent lunacy of this: "The whole point of narrative is to tell universal truths by examining particular stories. If truths are universal, they don’t require people to have lived the stories they write. That’s what distinguishes non-fiction from fiction. Nobody has lived the stories in Transparent – it’s not a documentary."

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