A White Author’s Book About Black Feminism Was Pulled After a Social Media Outcry

The blurb for the book “Bad and Boujee: Toward a Trap Feminist Theology” says that it “relates to the overlapping of the black experience, hip-hop music, ethics, and feminism to focus on a subsection known as ‘trap feminism.’ ”.

But the book, written by Jennifer M. Buck, a white academic at a Christian university, was criticized by some. authors and theologians as academically flawed, with deeply problematic passages, including repeated references to the ghetto. The project was also widely condemned on social media as poorly executed and an example of cultural appropriation.

In response to criticism, the book’s publisher, Wipf and Stock Publishers, decided on Wednesday to withdraw the title from circulation.

The incident touched off a broader debate in the publishing world about when, how and even if it is appropriate for authors to write about topics outside their own culture.

Wipf and Stock’s decision to withdraw “Bad and Boujee” was reported Thursday by Sojourners, the website of a Christian publication. Buck did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Theologian Candice Marie Benbow, author of “Red Lip Theology,” was “furious” to learn that a white academic had published a book on the theology of trap feminism, an emerging philosophy that examines the intersection of feminist ideals, music trap and the black southern hip-hop culture that gave rise to it.

“It’s important that you have an academic text that situates Black women’s life experiences and Black women’s spirituality, and it’s not written by a Black woman,” she said.

Sesali Bowen, a pioneer of the concept of trap feminism and author of “Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes From a Trap Feminist,” also took issue with the author’s failure to properly credit or relate to Black women who have been leading experts in the countryside.

“Even if another black woman did this, the citation issues would still exist,” she said. “The fact that she’s also a white woman, that she doesn’t have to write about this because nothing about cheating or black feminism is her lived experience, adds another layer to this.”

In a statement, Wipf and Stock Publishers said their critics had “serious and valid” objections.

“We humbly acknowledge that we failed Black women in particular, and we take full responsibility for the many misjudgments that led to this moment,” Wipf and Stock said. “Our critics are right.”

Among the objections raised, the publisher said, were the book’s cover, which features a young black woman with natural hair, and which Benbow called intentionally misleading and “deeply racist,” and the lack of support from black experts. The only endorsement of the book came from another white scholar at Azusa Pacific University, where the author, Buck, is an associate professor in the department of practical theology.

Buck, in her introduction to “Bad and Boujee,” briefly addresses “identity politics,” acknowledging that as “a privileged straight white woman,” she “has not lived through the embodied experiences of a trap queen,” but rather she was drawn to the subject because of her love of hip-hop.

The broader debate about cultural appropriation and how the stories of marginalized people are told exploded in the book world after the 2020 publication of Jeanine Cummins’ “American Dirt.” That novel, which sold its publisher for seven figures and debuted on the New York Times bestseller list, follows a Mexican mother who flees to the US border with her son after a drug cartel kills his family.

Cummins, who identifies as white and Latina, was criticized by some for writing a “traumatic pornography” book. At a book promotion dinner, floral centerpieces were wrapped in fake barbed wire.

Laura Moriarty’s dystopian novel “American Heart” came under fire even before its 2018 release for what readers called its “white savior narrative,” in which Muslims are interned in camps in a future America. And author Amélie Wen Zhao canceled her own debut, a young adult fantasy novel, after an outcry over its portrayal of slavery, releasing it later after reviewing it.

Many authors, publishers and free speech advocates are concerned about how far such restrictions might go. Fiction is an act of imagination, they argue, and great books could be lost if authors are discouraged from writing outside of their own experience.

In the fields of nonfiction and academia, the topic of cultural appropriation has been less of a lightning rod, in part because it is common for journalists and academics to report on and investigate communities they are not a part of.

While nonfiction books have been withdrawn by publishers for controversies involving plagiarism or fabrication, or in some cases consequential factual inaccuracies, it is unusual for a publisher to withdraw a book over objections to how an author approached the subject or the author’s background.

Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, Senior Director of Literary Programs at PEN America, called the decision to withdraw Buck’s book “misguided and unfortunate”.

“There should be no hard and fast rules about who has the right to tell certain stories or address particular topics,” Rosaz Shariyf said in an email. “Such red lines restrict creative and intellectual freedom and undermine the role of literature and scholarship as catalysts for understanding across differences.”

Some of the criticism leveled at “Bad and Boujee,” which takes its title from a Migos song featuring Lil Uzi Vert, was directed at the author’s approach to the subject.

Bowen said she was stunned when she read a passage from the first chapter of Buck’s book, which begins: “A trap queen is a woman who is committed to the cause. She was born in the ghetto, she was raised in the ghetto, but she is not that ghetto.”

He found Buck’s use of the black vernacular “weird and embarrassing”, and felt that Buck’s emphasis on “trap queen”, a term often connected to women involved in a criminal enterprise, such as a capo or a drug lord, suggested a shallow understanding of trap culture and the women who grew up in it.

“That’s not what black women in the neighborhood call themselves,” Bowen said. “The fact that she has latched onto that specific terminology is strange and speaks to a superficial relationship that she has with this particular community.”

Bowen said she was also unsatisfied with Buck’s responses to her critics. After Bowen messaged Buck via social media asking how he had come to write “Bad and Boujee,” Buck replied that he had credited Bowen’s work in a footnote after his assistant investigation found out.

“She just thought it was worth a footnote and not even a critical engagement,” he said.

Some who took issue with “Bad and Boujee” said the problems with the book revealed a larger, more entrenched problem: a lack of diversity in the publishing industry.

Benbow, the theologian and essayist, argued that the publisher of “Bad and Boujee” should go beyond simply withdrawing the book and seize this moment to provide more opportunities for black women.

“Just getting the book out isn’t enough, you have to do more when you’ve done this damage,” he said. “And part of that is creating opportunities where these women can get published, can be given research opportunities and funding opportunities.”

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