UPDATED: Both Amanda and Seal Press have issued clear and heartfelt apologies for the images that appeared in It’s a Jungle Out There. The images will not appear in the second edition of the book. I honor the swift and unequivocal response from both Amanda and her publisher, and
in light of this necessary and rapid apology, give the book my continued and wholehearted endorsement. I appreciate in particular that Amanda and Seal both take full responsibility for the very unfortunate decision to allow these images into the book, and am particularly heartened that the publishers acknowledge that Amanda herself was in no way involved in the editorial choice to place these comics in the text.
UPDATE TWO: I was wrong. Again. The endorsement of the text stands, but as long as the words on the page are presented next to racist images, I cannot recommend buying or using this book. I enthusiastically support a new edition of the book. Though the apology by Amanda was eloquent, concise, and sincere, it is only a first step to action. And the immediate action that must be taken, and is being taken, is the production of a new edition without these images. In whatever way my endorsement counts, please understand that it is only for that new edition. I do not suggest buying currently available copies from Amazon or another source until that second printing becomes available.
The original post remains:
I’ve got Lucy Kaplansky playing on my Itunes. She’s one of the artists I play when I need calming down.
This is a hard post to write. I’ve been in the forefront of those defending Amanda Marcotte against charges of appropriation and racial insensitivity. One month ago today, I wrote an enthusiastic review of her new book It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments. I stand by the content of the review, which was based entirely on the words contained within the short, readable, accessible and often captivating text. But what I didn’t review, or even analyze in private, were the illustrations from the book.
It’s a Jungle Out There chooses, not surprisingly, a jungle theme for its imagery. Using pictures from the Marvel Comic series “Lorna the Jungle Girl”, the front cover is complemented by perhaps ten illustrations inside the book. Some of them are reproduced here. Marcotte’s theme is that feminists face a misogynist jungle; her blonde Lorna seems — and I say seems, because I don’t know what Amanda’s exact intent was — to be doing battle against those forces. On the cover, Lorna is about to spear a crocodile. But inside, Lorna does battle with dark-skinned natives. In the worst of these, Lorna delivers a mighty kick to a man with black skin and a traditional mask; she does so to rescue an apparently captive white man. Read Ilyka’s post for more.
When this discussion first came up yesterday at Feministe, my first response was to say that the images were surely intended ironically. But upon reflection, and after reading the many responses in that thread, I reconsidered. I don’t question Amanda’s intentions, or those of Seal Press. I don’t for one second believe that Amanda that anyone involved with producing the book made a consciously racist decision. But racism has damn all to do with intention, and a great deal more to do with perception. And it’s hard, very hard, to see these images as anything other than horribly racist. Given the desire to have this book appeal to the widest possible audience, I can’t for the life of me figure out how the potential interpretation of these comic drawings wasn’t taken into account.
Why didn’t I see these images the first time? I’d like to say it was because I didn’t pay any attention to the comics at all, but that wouldn’t be quite fair. When I got the book in the mail, I winced at the cover image of Lorna spearing the crocodile; my vegan heart recoiled at an act of violence… against a reptile. I “didn’t see” the violence directed at the dark-skinned “jungle natives”, and for someone who does what I do for a living (teach gender studies and cultural analysis at a community college that is 80% non-white), that’s an unacceptable level of blindness. I was wrong not to comment on that from the beginning.
I’m frustrated because I believe in this book. I’ve already bought a half-dozen copies as gifts. I think the content of the book is terrific. Amanda has done so much that is good and right in the blogosphere, and in all honesty, I remain convinced she has been hard done by in the last few weeks in the intensely emotional discussion about appropriation. She is a writer of formidable gifts. Her willingness to mentor other bloggers is legendary; she has brought countless readers and writers into the fold of the feminist blogosphere. I admire her immensely. But admiration does not buy immunity from criticism.
In a post on Pandagon, or on the Seal Press website, some public explanation of these images ought to come from Amanda, her publishers — or, better still, both. The questions are simple: “What were you thinking?” “Was there any consideration of how these might be interpreted?” I am confident that the intent was not racist. But even to my white eyes, the impact on a second and third look is unmistakable. Frankly, the choice to include them is bizarre. The chance that they would be interpreted as bigoted should have seemed obvious. It’s one thing to use blonde Lorna ironically; one thing to portray her as a rescuer of a defenseless white man. But there’s just no way that a white author can illustrate a book with images of a blonde woman in a jungle beating up dark-skinned natives and not have those images come across as indefensibly racist. Someone ought to have had a rethink. I’m very frustrated and sad they didn’t.
I’ve been one of Amanda’s most vociferous defenders on the subject of plagiarism and attribution. I remain her ardent admirer, and I remain enthusiastic about the written content of It’s a Jungle Out There. I’ve been an equally passionate defender of Seal Press, and reject calls for a girlcott of one of the most important of feminist-centered publishing houses. But… but. I cannot endorse or defend what I see within the pages of the book.
I’ve heard that the first run of the book has already sold out, which is still wonderful news. It creates an opportunity for a new edition, with new images throughout. But I can no longer recommend the book with the same enthusiasm I have previously. Indeed, my continued endorsement of the book is on hold until I read a thoughtful, satisfactory explanation of the decision to use these pictures (particularly those reproduced at the link above). Please, Amanda, as your admirer and your friend, think carefully about how to answer the racism charge here. I want desperately to support you and your vital, important, even essential work. But it’s not just your usual critics who are troubled now. This needs addressing, and it needs addressing now.
Note: This thread is not a “bash Amanda” zone. Stay on the topic of the images themselves, please.