Opinion

The Arrogant Racism Of Rejecting A White Translator In Favor Of Someone Who Is ‘Preferably Black’

   DailyWire.com
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman speaks during the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. During today's inauguration ceremony Joe Biden becomes the 46th president of the United States.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

A translator from Spain, Víctor Obiols, was recently commissioned to provide a Catalan translation of Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” poem, which went viral after her performance at Biden’s Inauguration on January 20. 

However, once the project was completed, Obiols said the publisher chose to reject him as the translator because they instead wanted someone who was “a woman, young, activist and preferably black.”

According to BBC News, Obiols “was asked to translate Gorman’s poem and a foreword by Oprah Winfrey into Catalan several weeks ago.”

“But the editor of Barcelona publisher Univers told Spain’s Efe news agency on Wednesday that after the translation was complete, the company received a request from the US group Viking Books for the work to be carried out by a female activist with African-American origins, if possible,” the report added.

Speaking with the AFP news agency, Víctor Obiols said, “They told me that I am not suitable to translate it. They did not question my abilities, but they were looking for a different profile, which had to be a woman, young, activist and preferably black.”

“But if I cannot translate a poet because she is a woman, young, black, an American of the 21st Century, neither can I translate Homer because I am not a Greek of the eighth century BC. Or could not have translated Shakespeare because I am not a 16th-Century Englishman,” Obiols added.

This is almost identical to a story in the Netherlands, with Dutch translator Marieke Lucas Rijneveld — who is “outspoken on issues including gender equality and mental health” and “identifies as non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them” — stepping down after Janice Deul described the selection of a white translator as “incomprehensible.”

“I’m not saying a black person can’t translate white work, and vice versa,” Janice Deul said. “But not this specific poem of this specific orator in this Black Lives Matter area, that’s the whole issue.”

This viewpoint is absurd for two reasons. Firstly, it is based on an unjustified level of sheer arrogance that the so-called “Black Lives Matter” movement is a pinnacle moment in human development, and that Amanda Gorman surpasses all other poets and writers in terms of cultural significance. 

Sure, other works of literature are important, but apparently none are as important as Amanda Gorman’s poetry. Obiols may have translated Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, but he simply doesn’t “deserve” to touch the holy work of Gorman.

Secondly, it’s based on the abjectly racist logic that spoken or written content is only “truly” understandable by those of the same skin color as the author. The entire purpose of language is to provide us with the ability to communicate with one another, allowing us to explore ideas and concepts. If we refuse people the ability to even translate one set of words to another based on skin color alone, why should we then let one person even read or speak another person’s words if their differences are suddenly viewed as culturally invalid?

As Obiols implied, soon there will be no translations of past or present work remaining which will be left accessible, except for the work created by those who “look like us.”

How are we supposed to learn from one another then?

Ian Haworth is an Editor and Writer for The Daily Wire. Follow him on Twitter at @ighaworth.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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