We Need to Talk About Lionel Shriver Being a Mean-spirited Racist Arsehole

A few years ago, realising that I was reading, almost exclusively, books written by (dead) white women, I decided to make a conscious effort to read more novels by Asian and African writers. This did not mean that I would read just any book by an Asian or African author. My decision just meant that I made the conscious decision to seek out African and Asian fiction, which I had hitherto simply not paid attention to.


In response to Penguin Random House’s newly unveiled aims ‘that the books we publish should reflect the diverse society in which we live’, Lionel Shriver, in this piece for The Spectator, said, ‘Drunk on virtue, Penguin Random House no longer regards the company’s raison d’être as the acquisition and dissemination of good books. Rather, the organisation aims to mirror the percentages of minorities in the UK population with statistical precision. Thus from now until 2025, literary excellence will be secondary to ticking all those ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual preference and crap-education boxes. We can safely infer from that email that if an agent submits a manuscript written by a gay transgender Caribbean who dropped out of school at seven and powers around town on a mobility scooter, it will be published, whether or not said manuscript is an incoherent, tedious, meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling. Good luck with that business model. Publishers may eschew standards, but readers will still have some.’

How is being inclusive ‘eschewing standards’? It seems to me that the publisher is admitting that there are systemic faults that result in more white authors that authors of colour being published, and it is addressing this problem by making public its intention to ‘actively [seek] out talented writers from communities under-represented on the nation’s bookshelves‘. Shriver, on the other hand, is revealing her contempt for writers who aren’t white. She obviously believes that coloured communities are low on talent and that Penguin Random House will have to resort to publishing just any damn mss in order to fulfil their goals.

It’s telling how Shriver seems not to recognise/admit that mainstream publishing is a largely white, middle-class world. With most employees in publishing houses being white, it’s not hard to understand how there might be a bias (intentional or otherwise) towards white authors. So, in that situation, why don’t Shriver and other white writers worry that their work is being published purely because of the colour of their skin rather than because it’s actually good work? Because white privilege means they see themselves as racially neutral, i.e their race and skin colour have nothing to do with the lives they lead. And why does Shriver immediately assume that wanting to be more racially inclusive will result in fewer good books being published? I can’t think of any other reason besides the fact that she is a racist bag of manure who thinks that white authors are naturally more talented and able than authors of colour.

After all, surely she’s noticed that even without initiatives like those undertaken by Penguin Random House, publishing houses have published a fair number ‘meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling’, by white authors no less?

Diversity poses no threat to readers’ standards, it only challenges Shriver’s bigoted beliefs.





That skit in Little Britain, in which the Indian woman keeps getting asked to repeat a phrase that is totally intelligible? It used to happen to me when I lived in England, despite the fact that I set aside my Malaysian accent for the convenience of my British coursemates.

Once, when I was in a train from Oxford to Paddington, I chatted with a blind man all the way through and He never asked me to repeat myself. Not even once.

When it finally came up that I was Malaysian, he said he’d never have guessed from my accent. I was being considerate, as I didn’t want him to find it hard to understand me.

The difference between him and my coursemates was that my coursemates could *see* I was foreign.

Your ignorance isn’t welcome here

I met a young man just the other day, an acquaintance of a friend. He (I’ll call him Mr A) comes from a wealthy family, attended university in Boston, USA. My friend describes him as privileged and obnoxious and I agree with her. He is a cocky bastard and did not endear himself to me when he, almost as soon as we met, made what I consider to be a remark that betrayed his racism and ignorance.Read More »

Save yourself, feed Africans


‘She has no running water, no makeup, no clothes but the ones she herself has sewn, and no strict diet to follow – her figure is kept flawless because she is in a constant state of malnutrition. ‘

This and other send-ups of the “white saviour” trope are on Barbie Savior’s Instagram page.  The entries are hilarious, but also horrifying – because of they reflect the reality of widespread attitudes towards communities in Africa and Asia.

If you haven’t yet, you have to read this excerpt from Louise Linton’s memoir about how her gap year (spent saving Africa) turned into a nightmare, and also this brilliant send-up of her book.

But lies and satire aside, here’s Teju Cole‘s well-considered argument against ‘the white saviour industrial complex’.

Book Review: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

boy snow birdFirst published on 25th May, 2014 in The Star.

Review by DAPHNE LEE


Author: Helen Oyeyemi

Publisher: Picador

IN Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi’s fifth novel, nothing is what it seems, hardly anyone is what they appear to be. The whole is misdirection, right from the title, with its three names that reveal and conceal. Boy, Snow, Bird – names that make a show of telling the truth yet hint at mysteries and secrets.

Take Boy – not a boy, but a beautiful girl – an icy beauty, white-blond, black-eyed. With a name like Boy she could only be a character in soap opera or a fairy tale. She is neither. Boy’s life is a nightmare thanks to an abusive and sadistic father who traps rats for a living. The time comes when Boy decides to leave, to avoid death or maiming, and seek her fortune. She ends up in Flax Hill, a small New England town where she meets Arturo Whitmore, a widower with a daughter named Snow.

Lies are at the centre of this story, they are its foundation and its decoration. They drive the plot, and shape the lives of the characters. The story is a broken mirror (mirrors are an important in this book): each piece of glass tells a lie of some sort, and the whole is a distorted image that changes according to your perspective, and depending on the kinds of patterns you see in the cracks. Maybe there are no patterns. Maybe you see rifts, dividing lines that you can fall through, disappear into.

Read More »