In a statement published to the Shelf Awareness blog Monday, American Booksellers Association CEO Allison Hill apologized for an incident in which Candace Owens’s Blackout was accidentally featured in lieu of a social-justice-oriented book with the same title by Dhonielle Clayton and other authors.
An employee subbing for the employee who is normally responsible for curating the best-seller list, Hill said, unknowingly selected the wrong cover image for the book. A second employee new to copyediting also failed to cross-check the photo and recognize the error before mailing the list out to members.
Apologizing for the employees’ mishap, Hill wrote, “It was a terrible mistake with terrible racist implications. However, based on our investigation and the demonstrated diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) commitment of these individuals, we have no reason to believe the action was malicious in intention.”
Hill’s statement followed an official inquiry into the episode and an audit of all ABA procedures and programs in collaboration with the organization’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.
“The employees are very apologetic and very committed to vigilance going forward. They have been held accountable and have agreed to training, both on procedures as well as on DEI, and we have added layers of checks and balances to this process,” she continued.
Coinciding with the time of the Blackout mistake was another event in which Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage was included in a box mailing to 750 eligible bookstores, eliciting outrage from ABA leaders and members. In her Monday apology, Hill also clarified the details around that book’s shipment, which an earlier ABA statement called a “serious, violent incident.”
The premise of Irreversible Damage is that there is a social contagion effect of young girls rushing into invasive transition surgeries and medical interventions for gender dysphoria that they are likely to regret later.
“Publishers pay ABA to include titles in the box, and ABA sends it to eligible bookstores. Until now, no one has ever reviewed or screened the titles submitted by publishers. It has been a pay-to-play program,” she said. “The policy to not review or screen titles submitted is in line with many members’ preference to not have ABA decide what books they have access to, preferring to review books themselves to determine what they read, buy, sell, and promote.”
Hill said that many members expressed to her that they still value having autonomy over book choices, “despite being horrified by this book.” She added that the ABA Board of Directors may implement a new permanent policy to prevent the kind of injurious oversight that let Owens’s book slip through the cracks.
In the meantime, Hill said that the September box’s books will be reviewed for acceptability by a team that will escalate a problematic book that fits the United Nations’ criteria for hate speech to senior staff at the organization. The U.N.’s definition of hate speech is “any kind of communication in speech, writing, or behaviour that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are.”