Spy novel author advised by an editor not to create black characters because he is white

This story  was reported in the BBC,  but verified by the Guardian and the TorygraphIt’s another example of so-called cultural appropriation, and an example that is risible. It involves Anthony Horowitz, an author of spy and mystery novels and a screenwriter who is well regarded, at least in some quarters, for he has an OBE. I hadn’t heard of him, but my reading in that genre stopped with Sherlock Holmes, which I loved. (Horowitz apparently wrote two Holmes books as well.)

The BBC:

Author Anthony Horowitz says he was “warned off” including a black character in his new book because it was “inappropriate” for a white writer.

The creator of the Alex Rider teenage spy novels says an editor told him it could be considered “patronising”.

Horowitz wanted a white and black protagonist in his new children’s books but says he is now reconsidering.

“I will have to think about whether this character can be black or white,” he told the Mail on Sunday.

“I have for a long, long time said that there aren’t enough books around for every ethnicity.”

Horowitz, who has written 10 novels featuring teenage spy Alex Rider, said there was a “chain of thought” in America that it was “inappropriate” for white writers to try to create black characters, something which he described as “dangerous territory”.

He said it was considered “artificial and possibly patronising” to do so because “it is actually not our experience”.

“Therefore I was warned off doing it. Which was, I thought, disturbing and upsetting.”

Horowitz, who has written a new James Bond book, went on: “Taking it to the extreme, all my characters will from now be 62-year-old white Jewish men living in London.”

And in the interest of honesty, the report adds this:

The author also revealed he had apologised to actor Idris Elba after saying he was “too street” to be the next James Bond in an interview in 2015.

He was criticised by fans who accused him of making a veiled racial remark.

Horowitz said the fallout from his remarks was “unpleasant because it went against everything I believe in”.

“The character I was being portrayed as was not the person I am,” he added. “I’m still deeply sorry. I’m still annoyed at myself, it was stupid.”

Horowitz said he apologised to Elba at a film premiere and the actor “could not have been more charming, more delightful, more humane”.

He revealed the experience changed him and he is now “more guarded, more careful and more discreet”.

Be that as it may, it’s simply ludicrous to prevent white authors from writing about black characters. Not only wouldn’t we have Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird, or Thomas Wolfe’s wonderful and sad The Child by Tiger, but, in fact, omitting black characters from literature or plays written by whites would lead to complaints of marginalization and racism. You can’t win!

Grania also pointed this out:

I wonder what will happen to Ben Aaronovitch who is writing an entire series about a black police officer in London, and the local Jamaican immigrant culture there.

He’s as cishet white male as you can get and has spent most of his career writing science fiction.

Of course his wife is not white, and neither are their children, obviously.

Does this mean that nobody can “write down”? Can whites write about Hispanics, or Hispanics about African-Americans?  Can any man write about women? If not, why not? After all, men don’t have “the woman experience”? (And vice versa, but that’s supposedly “writing up”.)

The solution, of course, is to stop this nonsense. Let writers write what fiction they want, and let everyone and the market sort it out. But let us not have this chilling a priori censorship.

h/t: Michael


  1. jeffery
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    So- I guess then, that the authors of children’s’ books must cease and desist because they’re not children- why, that’s “ageist”!!

    • Posted May 21, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Yes, the stories we read to 3-yr-olds must apparently be written by other 3-yr-olds.

  2. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Can any man write about women?

    Of course they can. Once they’ve passed the qualification of living on Venus for about 5 minutes. Bareback. At 460-464 Centigrade and ~90 ppCO2.
    I’m not sure if you’d cook, char, or dissolve first (that’s a lot of CO2, which would love to change the pH of all of your body fluids), but that’s incidental to the experience of Venus after your man’s life on Mars (-55 to -100 Centigrade, 0.01 bar and downwards).

  3. E.A. Blair
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    “Can any man write about women?”

    I recall reading an article* about writing in which a writer maintained that men are better at creating convincing fictional women than women are at creating fictional men because, traditionally, more men grow up in households where women were the principal caregivers than vice versa. That makes a certain amount of sense.

    *Don’t ask me for titles, dates or names, ’cause I don’t remember.

    • darrelle
      Posted May 22, 2017 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      Interesting. As I was reading Jerry’s article I thought to myself how some of my favorite male characters were written by female authors. But then, maybe I’m just a sensitive guy. Many male characters by male authors are very shallow, caricatures of maleness. Like an adolescent 19th century English or American boys idea of a real man.

      Of course that could be completely wrong. It could be that writers capable of good characterization are relatively rare period and that I have simply read much more by male authors than by female authors.

  4. Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I admit I was concerned when Stephen King’s narrator was a young girl in “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon,” and when Chris Bohjalian’s narrator was a teenage girl in “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands.” How could they possibly know what it is like to be us, no matter how many females that may be in their lives? But they were both spot on. My bias got an education.

    And of course, there is always Mark Twain and Huck Finn. I guess that’s a problem now. One more reason to ban it, probably.

    • Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I thought right away of Mark Twains’s Jim. Gee, one of the greatest of American novels. I will miss it.

  5. W.Benson
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Shall we scrub all black characters from literature? Might we do the same with Latin American, Jewish, Asian, Mormon, etc. representations? Seems like silliness to me.

    • Wunold
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      That, and all characters should be authors, except if the author has experience in other professions. Then, those professions would also be okay, but only in the time frame and other circumstances the author has first-hand experiences with.

      Thoroughly thought through, only autobiographies should be allowed from now on.

  6. GBJames
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:39 pm | Permalink


  7. Craw
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Horowitz is most well known for Foyle’s War, which he created.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      I love Foyle’s War. One of my all time favourite TV series.

      I also started to read one of the Alex Rider books. My nephew reads them and loves them and insisted I would too. It was quite good, but a teenage boy James Bond equivalent is not my usual fiction fare. I thought it would make a good teenage TV series though.

      I think what type of characters a writer can pull off depends very much on the writer. They should do what feels right. Personally, I don’t judge fiction by the background of the author, but by how much I enjoy reading what they write.

      • Craw
        Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

        That’s a slippery slope. Next you’ll be judging people by the content of their character!

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted May 21, 2017 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

          Ha ha. I’m obviously just a terrible person! :-/

    • Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      One of the episodes of Foyle’s War (‘Killing Time’) is about the treatment of black GI’s. The US army was segregated at the time, even when stationeded in the UK.

      It’s a terrific episode:


    • Randy schenck
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      Shows how little I pay attention. I loved that series on the BBC.

    • Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      Horowitz also was the director of Downton Abbey. I agree with Heather. I also loved Foyle’s War.

      When we get to the ridiculous end point where
      no one can imagine and create anything unless they’ve lived it, since no one human being has had the exact same experience as another, we’ll have to stop imagining and creating. What a terrible loss.

      There’s nothing wrong with the current approach of author’s writing whatever they want and readers evaluating after publication. Then, the reader’s have the choice of commending or trashing, and buying or not buying.

      • Craw
        Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

        No, he was not involved in Downton Abbey.

  8. David Duncan
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Better burn all of Tom Clancy’s books. He was white but his novels contained many black characters – some good, some evil.

    • Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      I read a half dozen James Patterson books before I discovered (or rather inferred) that his main character, Alex Cross, was black. At some point Patterson dropped a few clues that weren’t quite stereotypical but gave the game away, such as his grandmother’s fried chicken, cool black jazz, etc. I really found this quite delightful: an author who wrote a character in a “post racial” context. He deserves a lot of credit. I wonder how many blacks read some of his books without (or before) realizing Cross was black.

      • Posted May 21, 2017 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

        Samuel R Delany praised Robert A Heinlein’s Starship Troopers on account of the casual way Heinlein reveals that the protagonist is black about three quarters into it. It simply doesn’t matter. There are Bugs to kill.

        • E.A. Blair
          Posted May 21, 2017 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

          I inferred from the fact that Johnny Rico mentioned that Tagalog was his native language that he was Filipino. If he was also black, I missed that detail.

        • Whitt Staircase
          Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:00 am | Permalink

          In the same general area, there was James Tiptree, Jr., who at one point was rumored to be a woman. No less a luminary than Robert Silverberg asserted that Tiptree’s stuff could not possibly have been written by a woman–shortly before Tiptree was revealed to be a pen name of Alice Sheldon.

  9. Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Regarding men writing about women, here’s a New York Times op-ed from today titled Donald Trump vs. Women’s Health, written by a man.

    When I read it I asked myself “would this serve women more or less if it had been written by a woman? Would it be more or less compelling?”

    What do you think?

    • Randy schenck
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      I would say it was very good without knowing until after, who wrote it. However, it is also true that Trump really does not give a damn about anyone except whoever might be in his mind at any particular second. Like for instance, right now, he is over in Saudi Arabia sucking up to the King and thinks he is speaking to all the import Muslims when in fact, he does not give a damn about Muslims in this country.

  10. tubby
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    I remember being warned about writing characters of different races and genders, but it that it was a challenge and it was our job as writers to do our research in order to do it well. And that we shouldn’t be afraid to mess up or get it wrong (because we would) and to fix our mistakes.

    But this was around 15 years ago..

  11. Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Horowitz was criticised for saying Adrian Lester would make a better Bond than Elba. Lester is no less black than Elba. The difference is that Lester can do ‘posh’ better and Bond is posh. I think Horowitz is actually right. I like Elba but he seems to be the go-to actor for virtue-signaling critics. The same people proposing him as Bond are pushing him for Doctor Who.

    As for Aaronovitch, I’ve met him a few times. He used to write for Doctor Who in the late Eighties. There’s a scene in one of his stories where the Doctor discusses the nature of causality and with a black cafe owner over a cup of tea. The conversation begins when the Doctor is asked whether he’d like sugar. The conversation ends with the cafe owner’s line ‘If it wasn’t for sugar, I’d have been an African’. It’s quite a touching scene.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

      I agree with Horowitz both ways.

      James Bond is white, urbane and upper-class, from an old Scottish family. That’s the whole essence of the books and the entire series of films. Making him black or ‘street’ is undercutting his whole identity. Retconning the entire Bond series.

      A black ‘offshoot’ of a upper-crust Scottish family is entirely possible and could have been interesting but that’s not what Fleming wrote. Only if they killed Bond and replaced him with his long-lost cousin from the Jamaican branch of the family, could I ‘believe’ sufficiently to willingly suspend my disbelief.

      (With Doctor Who, OTOH, it would be quite possible, as would a female Doctor, next time the Doctor regenerates. No retcons needed).

      “Taking it to the extreme, all my characters will from now be 62-year-old white Jewish men living in London.”

      And there he’s put his finger on it. Imagine what e.g. The James Bond series would have been like if all the supporting characters and villains were English/American white males? (Because that’s who the scriptwriters presumably were). No women? No Russians or Orientals or Europeans or South Americans? It would have been limited, to say the least.


      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted May 21, 2017 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

        Sure, having Bond be the kind with Scottish ancestry holds true to the original stories, but lots of creative people who re-tell fictions over and over again eventually explore breaking their molds just to perk up interest and sell tickets. Like presenting Romeo and Juliet in the modern age, that sort of thing.
        I think a black James Bond would be interesting.

      • Posted May 22, 2017 at 1:20 am | Permalink

        A Scottish ‘offshoot’ or cousin would have to look biracial to be credible, and this would again rule out Idris Elba.

      • GBJames
        Posted May 22, 2017 at 7:34 am | Permalink

        “Retconning the entire Bond series.”


        I’m suspicious of this point of view, largely because I recognize it in my own response to jarring (to me) shifts in character. For example, it really annoyed me when BBC rebooted Sherlock (with Benedict Cumberbach and Martin Freeman) because I wanted my Holmes and Watson to be the traditional characters (whatever that means). My response made no sense, really. It is all just fiction and it is silly to demand nothing but the “original” King Arthur, Holmes, or Bond, or Saruman.

        Which doesn’t mean reboots always work. Often times they can just be hack productions. I would have no problem with Elba as Bond. As long as the production is good.

      • Posted May 24, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        I’m not a fan of Bond (though, oddly, I am of MacGyver, so figure that out … perhaps it is the adversion to violence he shares with me) but it seems to me that if they want to move beyond the “white Bond”, just give him a good sidekick (and not a “Bond girl”). After all, say what you want about the Hitchhiker’s Guide movie (and it was weird, to say the least), nobody batted an eye because this edition’s Ford was played by a black guy. (A black *American*, too. ;))

        (I guess I mention HHTTG because that too is a British fiction series with many loyal fans.)

  12. Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a nice piece on ‘cultural appropriation’ by a novelist on Quillette called Cultural Appropriation isn’t Real: http://quillette.com/2017/05/11/cultural-appropriation-isnt-real/

  13. JohnH
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Taken to the extreme science fiction would be eliminated since who on earth is qualified to write about aliens and no one could legitimately write about anyone except themselves.

  14. veroxitatis
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    So where does that put the late Isaac Asimov with respect to his series of short stories, “I Robot”?

    • Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      That was especially cheeky, because the title was borrowed – against Asimov’s wishes – from a story by Earl and Otto Binder.

    • Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:50 am | Permalink

      Are you talking about my favourite Asimov character: Susan Calvin?

      I note from the Wikipedia page that she is already 35. Nothing dates quite so badly as sci-fi.

  15. Historian
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    The degree of ignorance is appalling of those who somehow think it is a good thing that people should define themselves in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference or religion. Any society that consists of groups that primarily identify themselves by the characteristics mentioned in the previous sentence is headed for trouble. Indeed, if it were not for ethnic conflict in the Balkans, World War I may have been avoided. For those countries that are not homogeneous, such as the United States, the key to stability and prosperity is to emphasize commonalities, not differences. But, the proponents of identity politics seem incapable of grasping this. Consequently, the ruling class continues to rule and through its skillful strategy of divide-and-conquer have little to fear as the “oppressed” continue to fight each other. Of course, the result has been Trump, who not only screws the dupes who voted for him, but the “marginalized” groups who have failed to come up with a coherent political strategy and seem to think that whining about oppression is a viable alternative.

  16. Heather Hastie
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    That does it for Shakespeare. Will Othello go onto the banned books list of SJWs?

    • Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      Latest folk devil is Lou Reed, who’s Walk on the Wild Side is now considered transphobic.

      • Posted May 21, 2017 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        The colored girls kinda get short shrift in that particular Outrage!

        • Taz
          Posted May 21, 2017 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

          They do? (de-do, de-do, do-do-do)

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted May 21, 2017 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

        For goodness sake!

      • BJ
        Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:54 am | Permalink

        Yup, I sent that article to Jerry the other day. A campus group threw an 80’s themed party and played that song at it. They were reported for being transphobic and forced to apologize profusely.


        • darrelle
          Posted May 22, 2017 at 8:29 am | Permalink

          Ouch, I think I just sprained an eyeball. I guess I’m going to have to get rid of about 75% of my music collection.

    • Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      If one of them ever reads it, yes!

    • Posted May 24, 2017 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Othello is the great example of where there has been stupidity but also (in my limited experience) eye opening in many ways as well. I remember overhearing some (black) teenage girls on the bus in Montreal once gushing with amazement about how this “white guy from 400 years ago writing about ‘them'” in Othello – and it was praise and genuine astonishment. (A credit to them and their teachers!)

  17. Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    It would be ironic if Aaronovitch did fall foul of the latest moral panic since, according to Martin Barker’s A Haunt of Fears, Ben’s father, the Marxist economist Sam Aaronovitch was behind the EC Horror comic panic of the Fifties.

    Sam Aaronovitch was a leading figure in the British Communist Party and he was motivated by what the Communists saw as the Americanisation of British culture as much as the horror content.

    So, basically a previous attempt to police cultural boundaries by regressive Leftists.

  18. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    This is just so freakin’ wrongheaded. One of my favorite novels from the past decade is Lush Life by Richard Price, who also wrote Clockers, both of which created some of the most-realistic, most-empathetic black characters in all of American fiction.

    Price is also a screenwriter and was (along with Boston crime writer Dennis Lahane) one of the main contributors to The Wire, the best American television series ever (IMO). That series had more black characters — and more finely textured and nuanced black characters — than all the rest of American television combined.

    • Craw
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      I liked Clockers too, and of course you are spot on about The Wire. I will check out Lush Life.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      Oh, you got that right. The wire was one of the best I have seen on TV – I think 4 or 5 years on HBO.

    • BJ
      Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      Ah yes, The Wire: one of the greatest shows ever, and one of the best at demonstrating the plight of urban black youth. But it wouldn’t exist in the world these people want to build. It doesn’t matter that David Simon had an insane wealth of knowledge on the subject (a wealth of knowledge about 1,000 times greater than any these students and regressives, who are generally class-privileged, have); at the end of the day, he’s a cishet white male.

  19. Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    I will continue to read any book I want. One of my bucket list items is to read as many of the banned books as I can. I may not achieve my goal, but it amuses me to try. If you haven’t, read the banned book list on the internet, you may be surprised at the number of classics on it.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      If you’re interested in banned books, look for the old Olympia Press imprint. It’s the one who published — when no one else would — books like Tropic of Cancer and Naked Lunch and Lolita, as well as works by J.P. Donleavy and Samuel Beckett and Jean Genet and the Marquis de Sade.

      • Posted May 21, 2017 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        James Herbert wrote a book from the point of view of a dog. I by he’d never sniffed a butt in his life.

        • E.A. Blair
          Posted May 21, 2017 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

          You never know…

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted May 21, 2017 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

            See Rule 34.

  20. Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    One of the central characters in Jim Jarmusch’s new film “Paterson” is a dog. Is that out of bounds now too? (In fact it’s a female dog who plays a male dog, so how does that stack up?)

    • bric
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      Ah yes the film starring Adam Driver as a driver named Paterson, in Paterson. Nellie (the dog) won the very first Best Dog Actor award at Cannes in 2016 but sadly died of cancer before she could receive it.

  21. nicky
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Males should not write about a female character? Farewell, Alice!
    At any rate, ‘lived experience’ should be a red flag in about any context now: B.S. will almost inevitably follow.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

      ‘lived experience’ should be banned on grammatical grounds, for starters. How can you have an experience without ‘living’ it?

      I suppose it’s useful as a trigger warning for BS, as you say.


      • nicky
        Posted May 21, 2017 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I guess ‘un-lived experience’ is what one gets by reading books and watching films, (particulary books written by cishet males about anybody else).

  22. Tom
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Good luck to them with defining cultural appropriation when every society in the world has copied every other society in some way.
    There was only one area that could have been regarded as even vaguely homogeneous and that was a ghettoe.
    Does that bring back any memories?

  23. Perluigi Ballabeni
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Writers of crime stories should then kill somebody before they put murderers in their books.

    • Craw
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

      Only the dead may write historical novels.

      • Doug
        Posted May 21, 2017 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

        Yes, if one can only write about one’s own lived experience, then an African-American writer living today could not write about slavery, a female writer could not write about a woman in the 19th-century, and so on.

  24. Posted May 21, 2017 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Elba didn’t seem to mind playing Stringer Bell, a “street” character created by two white guys.

    Under the new roolz, how does one write a work of fiction containing characters of more than one ethnicity, else by committee? Will novels containing both men and women need to be written by male/female co-authors? And how on earth do we handle fictional gingers?!

    • Denise
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      I suspect something like the idea of punching up and punching down will apply: the officially oppressed will be okayed to write anything they want. Or culturally appropriate anything they want. The rules are for the oppressor class.

      • BJ
        Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:47 am | Permalink

        Exactly right. It’s always the “it’s OK when we do it, bad when you do it” approach with them.

  25. Posted May 21, 2017 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    SJW: its about time for a black James Bond.

    Fan: But he’s white in the books.

    SJW: There’s nothing specifically white about him. You could cast a black actor without altering the character significantly. He’d still be authentically ‘Bond’.

    Fan: Um, okay. Let’s give it a try.

    SJW: But you’ll need a black writer. A white writer can’t hope to capture the lived experience of a black spy. We have to be authentic.

    • Tom
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      I will have to lie down and think about this!
      Now let’s see SJW says……. and Fan says…
      No…Doctor, my brain hurts!!

    • Pali
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

      And the writer, naturally, also to have been a spy. And since we’re talking movies rather than books, I’d say the director and producers also have to have been black spies – specifically black British spies, as MI6 no doubt has its own unique cultural heritage distinct from that of, say, the CIA. Authenticity, right?

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 21, 2017 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

        But – as I commented above – what about all the *other* characters? Do they all have to be the same gender / ethnicity as the writers / director / producer? The series would lose something, I can’t quite put my finger on it…


      • Posted May 21, 2017 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

        Given the authenticity of the James Bond films, I think the writer should definitely NOT be a real spy.

    • Posted May 22, 2017 at 7:21 am | Permalink

      Actually, there is everything specifically white about James Bond. He’s the archetypal privileged product of the British public school system (note for non-Brits: “public” schools are the top tier of our private education system. What everybody else sensibly calls public schools are called state schools in the UK). Everything James Bond says and does is informed by his background.

      That’s not to say you couldn’t have a black actor take on the role, but the back story and hence the character would have to change. In fact, I think it might make an interesting change of perspective. Black James Bond would have a very different experience in private education than white James Bond.

      But why call this new character “James Bond”? Aren’t black actors a little bit resentful of being given hand-me-down retreads of tired and clichéd white parts to play? Why not write new and better non-white roles? One reason why not, I guess, is that apparently you are not allowed to write black characters unless you are black.

      • David Evans
        Posted May 22, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

        Given the extent of the British Empire (and later Commonwealth) it would be surprising if there had never been any black children at British public schools. I know that a number of upper-class Indian families sent their children to the UK to be educated.

        • Posted May 22, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

          I didn’t say that no black children went to public school, I said his experience would have been very different if he had been black

      • Posted May 24, 2017 at 11:51 am | Permalink

        It occurs to me (writing this after my comment about sidekicks) that I almost take back what I said – I had a classmate in my undergraduate days who was an Eton graduate – of Indian-from-South-Africa background.

        It does depend on whether or not that it matters that Bond is *white European* or whether he’s “snooty Brit”. If he’s the latter, then let anyone play the role who can do the Eton (or whatever) accent.

  26. E.A. Blair
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    It’s a fairly easy assumption that most writers who had a character that was dying were never in that position themselves.

  27. bric
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    James Baldwin’s ‘Giovanni’s Room’ is ostensibly a novel about a love affair between two white men – in fact all the characters are white; and yet nowadays it is read as a parable of the Black American experience. Great writers (and Horowitz is at least a very good writer) can handle this perfectly well. Incidentally Baldwin’s great influence was Henry James, a very white writer.
    Another black author, Samuel R Delany said in an interview that all of his work (Science fiction set in the far future, fantasy set in the deep past, very mixed races and sexualities) was primarily about his life in New York City.

  28. reasonshark
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    These are supposed to be left-wingers, yet they embrace and enforce a dominance hierarchy narrative that’s antithetical to the very values of leftism. At what point did their movement for equality, common humanity, and open-minded fairness end up being about discrimination, ethnic comparison/competition, and segregatiion-like pigeonholing?

    • Richard
      Posted May 22, 2017 at 2:26 am | Permalink

      And just how do we decide if an author is black (or white, or brown, or Klingon, etc.)? Are we going to have racial purity tests to decide whether someone has sufficient of the correct ancestry to be allowed to write about specific characters?

      • reasonshark
        Posted May 22, 2017 at 9:52 am | Permalink

        Yes, that’s what disturbs me about the movement: how much it sounds like a case of “he who fights monsters becomes one”. Or else “it’s OK when WE do it, because WE’RE the good guys”. Makes me shudder just thinking where a mindset like that could go next.

        Still, I should be safe from them. I have 100% Klingon ancestry. Provided I write nothing but Star Trek fanfiction, no problemo. 😉

        • Richard
          Posted May 22, 2017 at 4:50 pm | Permalink


        • Wunold
          Posted May 23, 2017 at 12:31 am | Permalink

          You mean Star Trek fanfiction with only 100% Klingon characters, of course.

          • reasonshark
            Posted May 23, 2017 at 7:46 am | Permalink

            Well, maybe some Borg. They assimilated me yesterday. Or does that count as cultural appropriation?

            • Wunold
              Posted May 24, 2017 at 12:15 am | Permalink

              Cultural appropriation is not a problem for the Borg, it is their ultimate solution.

          • Posted May 24, 2017 at 11:53 am | Permalink

            Ironically, Trek already *explicitly* answered “transracialism”. See DS9: Children of Time, where “Klingons by choice” are mentioned, for example.

            • Wunold
              Posted May 24, 2017 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

              Indeed, although the TNG episode “Hero Worship” despicts the choice of the young boy Timothy to be an android as undesirable and in the end “wrong”.

              Since Data was recognized as a person years before, androids like him could be seen as a race. Hence, “Hero Worship” would negate the transracialism attemted by Timothy, at least under the particular circumstances.

              (I’m not taking it that seriously, but I like to philosophize about these things in fiction.)

  29. Posted May 21, 2017 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    From the Dailymail story:

    “…says he was ‘upset and disturbed’ when an editor told him that devising black characters could be interpreted as ‘patronising’.”

    So we are basing all these conclusions on Mr.Horowitz’s characterization of his conversation with one unknown editor. How does this constitute censorship, a priori or otherwise? Am I missing something here?

    • Craw
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

      Who called it censorship? Is censorship the only objectionable suggestion, or can we object to less forceful examples of folly?

      Nor are the reactions of the regulars here based only on this one incident. This topic has been discussed several times recently here. Google Lionel Shriver on this site for an extensive discussion.

      • Posted May 21, 2017 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

        Who called it censorship?

        Read the last sentence of this blog post.

        “Nor are the reactions of the regulars here based only on this one incident. ”

        Ok. Then base your conclusions on those related “incidents”. Horowitz’s story does not seem to be one of them. For all we know, the editor in Horowitz’s story might have been trying to convey her opinion on Horowitz’s portrayal of black characters and has said it clumsily just as Horowitz’s own comments on Elba was very clumsy (to say the least).

        The point is we do not know. All we have here is one sentence from Horowitz himself. Apparently, that (combined with a sensational headline) is enough for passing sweeping judgements these days.

        • BJ
          Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:45 am | Permalink

          Until other evidence comes to light, this is what we have to go on. People would be more skeptical if this hadn’t been an issue for years now, with people telling nasty white cishet men that they can’t write about anyone but themselves. People believe the incident is as described because it has happened so many timmes.

          If you’re skeptical of whether it happened this particular time, then you could argue about whether the concept itself is pernicious and absurd or not.

          • Posted May 22, 2017 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

            We agree, the concept of cultural appropriation is pernicious, sensational, and nonsensical.

            But how does overcompensating help us battling it? Horowitz may well be a terrible writer at creating black characters and it may help him and his readers if he didn’t write a black character!It may also be the case that this editor represents a wider problem. I don’t know. I have not read any of his books. I don’t know all the details.

            But I don’t feel the need to jump to any conclusion only because there is a lot of cultural appropriation going on in the society right now. There is no need to be jumpy and sensational about it. Not paying attention to content “at all” and simplifying all debates to the point of portraying one side of a debate as totally stupid is also a very pernicious thing in my view.

            • BJ
              Posted May 22, 2017 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

              Who is overcompensating? All I said was that this story is being believed and reported because it has happened over and over, these words have been said to white male authors over and over, and thus the available data makes it a likely true account.

              I don’t know what you mean by “overcompensating.” Are you saying we shouldn’t continue to report stories like this?

              • Posted May 22, 2017 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

                I would certainly say characterizing this as a call for censorship is overcompensation.

                Besides, how do we know “it happened again?” What do we have except Horowitz’s own characterization of the conversation he had with an editor which could be about his real ability to portray black characters not necessarily a cultural appropriation thing.

                Then, one editor is still one person. I don’t know how we jump from criticizing one unknown person’s opinions to claiming there is vast cultural appropriation going on.

                Isn’t it better to base a claim on solid evidence rather than hearsay?

              • BJ
                Posted May 23, 2017 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

                You know what? If you want to take the “I’ll pretend none of this is true even though it’s happened thousands of times over the years and absolutely nobody has come out to rebut it or offer an alternative explanation,” then fine, go ahead. I mean, what’s the point of your argument? Even if, after all I said above, it turns out not to have happened in this one instance, your argument means nothing. It has happened over and over, is happening over and over, and will continue happening over and over no matter how many times you question the veracity of each individual instance. This blog post is against the entire idea, not just this one instance. You’re arguing over grains of sand while coconuts fall from the sky.

                This is a part of the regressives’ core philosophy. It’s not going away.

  30. Posted May 21, 2017 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a wonderful novel written in the authentic voice of an autistic boy. Under the new roolz, for that perspective we’d be stuck reading Richard Carrier.

  31. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    There have been some cringeworthy attempts to portray other ethnic groups on the part of European writers.

    One well known one is the Chinese detective Charlie Chan. But these stories are quite popular in the nation of China although not so much among Chinese Americans.

    Uncle Tom’s Cabin inadvertently created some rather negative stereotypes, but that does not negate its important role in helping to abolish slavery.

    Mark Twain tried to rise above racial stereotypes and did not fully succeed. Nor did Harper Lee IMO.
    However, the consciousness-raising value of these books is enormous.

    • Craw
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      Have bad white writers ever created badly written white characters?
      What is your opinion of the characterization of Simon Templar in the Saint books?
      Are you familiar with the term cherry picking?

      • BJ
        Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:42 am | Permalink


      • BJ
        Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:42 am | Permalink


  32. Posted May 21, 2017 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    I am writing a novel with a mixed-race semi-villain (nobody’s really a hero or really a villain, except for one very villainous white guy). I’m wondering if, I can ever get the damned thing published, if I’ll get pounded for that fact when most of the characters, including the protagonist, are white. The novel is based in Silicon Valley, my stomping grounds, and is based on the demographics of the area. Plus, I’m white, and I really don’t have the experience to write a non-white main character. I just don’t.

    My semi-villain is mixed-race because it makes her, in my opinion, less likely to become a villain in the circumstances of the book, which increases the surprise value when she’s finally revealed. She also plays against stereotype for her occupation, which seemed to be a good thing. But otherwise her race doesn’t much matter. I might change it. I’m annoyed at having to do this calculus…but I really DON’T want to offend anyone over something so trivial.

    I’m NOT color-blind. I’m very aware of systemic racism in my society. But my characters are composites of people I’ve known, and it’s hard for me to vet them properly or see past the real human beings who, in bits and pieces, contribute to my imaginings. I can see Dana’s face, hear her voice, in my mind. It’s hard to change that.

    • BJ
      Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:41 am | Permalink

      “Plus, I’m white, and I really don’t have the experience to write a non-white main character. I just don’t.”

      Sure you do. Believe in yourself! I’m serious. An author has to put themselves in the shoes of the character they’re writing about. Do that as best you can. Your character should react the way you would react if you were in that situation, etc.

  33. Deni Pisani
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think, as a white middle aged hetero 6′ male, I am qualified to even READ a novel that contains any characters that are female, african american, indigenous, little people, LGBTIQ.

    Could the bookshops pls label a section for me, just next to ‘self-improvement’ and adjacent to ‘young adult’ (I promise not to stray).

    ps: plot for next novel: cisgendered man reaches enlightenment, decides to never leave house again so as not to cause offense, decides to pass the time writing a novel…about a cisgendered man who never leaves the house. Work of art…unfortunately, it’s appearance on bookshelves triggered all non-cisgendered middle aged white males to harm themselves when revealed that the book referenced, briefly, a god who was not a black queer women living in a shared LGBTIQ dorm, but a white bearded man looking down from above.
    Clearly, one of those descriptions is ridiculous.

  34. Ken Phelps
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    “Not only wouldn’t we have Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird, or Thomas Wolfe’s wonderful and sad The Child by Tiger…”

    Sadly, I believe that the sort of morons who foist this shit off on a far-too-easily intimidated academy would be happy about that.

    • BJ
      Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:38 am | Permalink

      Oh,absolutely. I’ve seen college students argue that To Kill a Mockingbird is a racist book about how a white savior has to come in and save the savage black man, and should therefore be banned from campus classes. Same with Huckleberry Finn, except for the reason that it calls a character “Nigger Jim” and, despite historical context, that’s triggering, oppressive, and marginalizing toward students of color.

  35. Christopher Bonds
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Horowitz should just get another editor, or perhaps publisher. Creation of characters is a craft. Characters in a work of fiction are built of words, and it’s the writer’s job to make you imagine a real person simply by his or her choice of words. The argument that you have to be some type of person in order to write “authentically” about that type is fallacious. The comments above offer many examples. If I’m an author writing a story about a violinist, nobody cares whether I myself am a violinist or even a musician. It may help–like Robin Cook being a doctor or John Grisham being a lawyer, but nobody thinks about that. It’s because racism has poisoned things to the point where some people think you can’t have a black character in a book who is just a person. They have to be a BLACK person with a BLACK identity and a BLACK point of view. And even if it’s desired to bring those things out, it’s still a matter of knowing how to build a character out of one’s own experience.

    You don’t have to kill someone to get into the mind of a murderer to make your crime novel authentic.

  36. Steve Pollard
    Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    I find it slightly odd that the critical comment is ascribed simply to “an editor”. Editor of what? Horowitz refers to a “chain of thought” in America: does this imply that the comment was by his US editor? If not, then by whom? I think we should be told.

  37. BJ
    Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    You guys (aahhh, gendered term!) are looking at this in all the wrong ways. If you’re a white man who wants to write a female character, just claim to be trans. If you want to write a black character, say you’re trans-racial. If anyone gives you shit for writing any character, tell them, “this is how I identify. How dare you try to marginalize me and oppress my identity! I’ve been living with people trying to keep me from showing my true identity for years!” It will leave them flummoxed.

  38. TJR
    Posted May 22, 2017 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Very many middle-aged, middle-class professional writers do indeed write largely about the lives of middle-aged, middle-class professionals.

    Hey, its authentic.

  39. Tom
    Posted May 22, 2017 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Had this dictum beeen in vogue in 1961 we would never have had “Black Like Me” by John Howard Griffin

  40. Posted June 13, 2017 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Probably the wrong posting to post this to, but I thought of this post as I listened to this VPR (Vermont Public Radio) show:

    UVM Student Examines Cultural Appropriation Of Poutine at http://digital.vpr.net/post/uvm-student-examines-cultural-appropriation-poutine

    and at:
    The dark side of poutine: Canada taking credit for Quebec dish amounts to cultural appropriation, academic says

%d bloggers like this: