Bestselling author Anthony Horowitz is claiming that an editor warned him against including a black character in his new book because he’s white — and that would be “inappropriate” and “patronizing.”
The Daily Mail reports that Horowitz, author of the Alex Spy series, told Event magazine that he had wanted his new book to feature both a black and a white protagonist — which you would think might be championed as a step toward racial inclusion — but that the editor’s comments are now making him think twice.
“This is maybe dangerous territory, but there is a chain of thought in America that it is inappropriate for white writers to try to create black characters,” Horowitz said. “That it is actually not our experience, and therefore to do so is, by its very nature, artificial and possibly patronizing.”
“Therefore I was warned off doing it,” Horowitz continued. “Which was, I thought, disturbing and upsetting.”
To be fair, Horowitz was at the center of a racial-sensitivity controversy in 2015, when he said that he thought Idris Elba was “too street” to play James Bond — a comment for which he later apologized. Now, some might look at that and conclude that the editor had given Horowitz that particular advice only because of Horowitz’s particular past, but that assumption would be wrong.
See, Horowitz is completely correct when he says the editor’s advice is an example of “a chain of thought in America that it is inappropriate for white writers to try to create black characters.” As I discussed in an NRO column in February, novelists have been employing “sensitivity readers” to avoid representing characters from other backgrounds “in an inaccurate or offensive way.” So the advice of Horowitz’s editor — to avoid including a black character at all — is just that logic taken one step further.
Regarding that editor’s comments, Horowitz told Event: “Taking it to its logical extreme, all my characters will from now be 62-year-old white Jewish men living in London” — and that’s the perfect demonstration of how absurd all this is. You cannot, by definition, write “fiction” based solely on your own experience, because then you’d be writing a memoir. I’m all for being sensitive, but writing about experiences other than your own is what fiction is. Should we just ban that art form altogether, all for the sake of avoiding offense? And even if we don’t take it that far, the kind of talk coming from people like Horowitz’s editor certainly threatens it. After all, telling artists whose craft depends on imagination that they need to be wary of using it hardly seems like the way to inspire their best work.