Kate Clanchy book may be updated to remove racial stereotypes after criticism

Picador, the publisher of Kate Clanchy’s award-winning Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, is in discussions to update future editions of the book after several of Clanchy’s descriptions of her students, particularly children of colour, were widely criticised.

The Orwell prize-winning book, about poet and teacher Clanchy’s time working in state schools, was first published in 2019. More recently, it has been criticised on Goodreads and Twitter, where passages in which Clanchy described children of colour and autistic students were shared.

In particular, readers criticised the inclusion of racial stereotypes such as “almond-shaped eyes” and “chocolate-coloured skin”, and references to one student as “African Jonathon” and another being “so small and square and Afghan with his big nose and premature moustache”.

Another passage in which Clanchy describes two autistic children as “unselfconsciously odd” and “jarring company” was also highlighted, in which Clanchy writes “probably, more than an hour a week” in their company “would irritate me, too, but for that hour I like them very much”. Diary of a Young Naturalist author Dara McAnulty, who is autistic, shared the passages and tweeted, “Some people didn’t believe me when I shared some of my education experiences and how teachers felt about me … We can understand how you really feel about us.”

Clanchy initially flagged the criticism herself last week. In a tweet that has since been deleted, she wrote that she had wrongfully been accused of racism on Goodreads by reviewers. She later claimed the quotes were “all made up”, then that the descriptions had been taken out of context by reviewers, with writers such as Philip Pullman and Amanda Craig coming to her defence. Meanwhile, authors of colour who criticised Clanchy’s response, including Chimene Suleyman, Monisha Rajesh and Sunny Singh, went on to receive racist abuse from social media users.

After days of criticism, Clanchy shared a statement on Friday in which she described the experience as “humbling”.

“I have been privileged to learn every day from wonderful students who have taught me about the world through their eyes,” she wrote. “As every teacher knows though, education is never complete. Many of the responses to extracts from my book, especially those taken out of context, have been difficult to hear; but I am grateful to those who took the time to challenge my writing, and to present me other lenses through which my words might be read. I will continue to strive for self-knowledge about my role in the classroom and the privileges I enjoy. I will also take time to reflect upon views of the many readers of colour who have responded to my writing to put these learnings into practice in my work as both teacher and writer.”

Picador also responded on Friday with a statement, in which it said it was “grateful for the insights that this exchange has given us and we continue as a company to strive to become ever more inclusive”. They also announced they were “discussing the best way to update the book for future editions”.

On Monday, the publisher released a second statement to address public anger at its initial lack of response and lack of apology. “We realise our response was too slow. We vigorously condemn the despicable online bullying of many of those who have spoken out. This has no place in our community,” they wrote, and apologised “profoundly for the hurt we have caused”. A spokesperson confirmed to the Guardian that discussions about future editions of the book would begin on Monday.

Suleyman thanked Picador for finding a solution, but asked “why content of this nature even reached bookshelves, schools, and was celebrated by prestigious awards.”

“The unsettling escalation we have witnessed is not simply down to one author’s book, but an alarming and distressing reaction from our publishing peers when engaged with on this,” she told the Guardian. “I would, similarly, like to ask publishing how they will be addressing authors and peers who have contributed towards the heinous racism and ongoing harassment against writers such as myself, Monisha Rajesh, and Sunny Singh for speaking out on the matter.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: