Thursday, November 20, 2014

Francesca Lia Block apologized for Native stereotyping in WEETZIE BAT (but see update)

Editor's note: I added "but see update" to the title of this post because after reading Block's Teen Spirit the apology rang hollow.

On November 11, 2014, the We Need Diverse Books campaign hosted a twitter chat about LGBTQ literature. During that chat, Emily Campbell (@Ms_Librarian) tweeted that Francesca Lia Block's book, Baby Bebop, was important to her. She included Block in the tweet. I replied, saying "The Native content in her bks is stereotyping 101." Here's a screencap:

Campbell asked for more information, and I sent her a link to my analysis of Weetzie Bat. The next day, November 12, Block replied to me and Campbell, saying "No offense meant. My apologies. All respect for all." Here's that screencap:

I thanked her, saying "Most ppl mean well but lack awareness, esp of Native ppl & how culture is used/misused." Here's the screencap of that; I don't know why its font is larger than the others:

She replied again, saying "I would like to learn and grow, until I am no longer alive." And I thanked her again, saying "Your voice as ally pushing back on broad/deep misrepresentations of Native ppl is important." Here's the screencap of that exchange:

I don't know what, if anything, Francesca Lia Block has said or done about this since then. Most authors who respond to my critiques of their work are defensive. Her response was different, and I appreciate that, but I wonder if she's said anything more about my critique, elsewhere, to friends, perhaps?

Block's apology came up this morning in a tweet exchange I had with a colleague about Daniel Handler, the author of Lemony Snicket books who made several racist remarks last night (November 19) at the National Book Awards. He called them "ill conceived humor" in an apology he tweeted today (November 20). His remarks weren't "ill conceived." They were racist.

Block and Handler are key figures in children's and young adult literature. They are authors of best selling books. They could change a lot of hearts and minds if they'd say more than either has said so far.

Update, November 20

There I was (above) thinking well of Block and that exchange, feeling optimistic about her response and the possibilities for change. But then I heard from a colleague about her new book. It came out this year. The title, Teen Spirit. And the spirit? Cherokee.

How to interpret her apology, now?


E.G. Moore said...

I can see your frustration. I've done a lot research on authors who misrepresent tribes and my heart hurts for those situations. As a writer who is fascinated with Native American cultures and would like to respectively reflect it in my novels, I was wondering what your suggestions are for making sure I do so?

Kaethe said...

It's disappointing that Block hasn't actually learned from the experience. By way of contrast, Handler hasacknowledged that his comments were racist, apologized, given $10k to #WeNeedDiverseBooks and is offering up to $100k in matching donations today. To take advantage of the matching funds, donate at