What Do You Say, Dear? (When Your Publisher Turns out to be Racist, Sexist, and Homophobic)

Last week the wonderful publisher of three of my books insisted in an email that I remove a reference in the final page proofs of my new novel to an FBI agent’s lesbian romance. Why? Because “we actually have a policy of not supporting gay and lesbian issues, as we find that antithetical to nature.” The demand was followed shortly by this: “(Y)ou surely are familiar with recent research on IQ distribution, etc. While we have all known some relatively high-performing Blacks, your own experience surely shows that the general trend does not suggest that one could reasonably expect a Black woman (or even a White woman) to be a hotshot analyst…(W)hy on earth would a serious, educated White man support the demise of the White man?”

Oh, and this was from a publisher whose masthead reads “For a Kinder, Gentler Society” and whose claimed “message is one of enlightenment, social progress and intellectual curiosity.”

After first checking to see if the publisher’s email account had been hacked by Russians trying to sow discord in America, my first thought was of one of my favorite books to read with children when I was a Head Start teacher in the 1970’s, What Do You Say, Dear? Just how should you respond to a diatribe you might have heard in 1958, when that charming book was published?

Written by Sesyle Joslin and illustrated by Maurice Sendak of Max and his wild things fame, What Do You Say, Dear? was subtitled, “A handbook of etiquette for young ladies and gentlemen to be used as a guide for everyday social behavior.” Its humor was in encouraging polite equanimity in distinctly non-everyday situations, like your airplane crashing through the roof when the duchess invites you to “drop in” for tea (“I’m sorry” was the correct thing to say). A man introduces you to a baby elephant he is offering as a pet (How do you do?). A knight chops off a dragon’s head to save your life (Thank you very much). Your patient thanks you for saving his life after a dinosaur bit his finger (You’re welcome). You bump into a crocodile while shopping downtown (Excuse me). The queen offers spaghetti for dessert after it was already appetizer and main course (May I please be excused?). Your hostage on a pirate ship greets you each morning with “How are you?” (Fine, thank you.).

So, with Joslin and Sendak as my guide, what should I say, dear, when faced with my publisher’s antique racism, sexism, and homophobia?

Being gay is antithetical to nature. What do you mean, dear? While I defend your right to say this, I see gay people throughout my day living, dying, loving, hating, succeeding, and failing, like everybody else. What’s unnatural about that?

You surely are familiar with recent research on IQ distribution, etc. Yes I am, dear. I taught statistics at American University for many years. IQ, like the related SAT scores, is an experience, culture, and income-dependent measure with little utility in predicting genetic potential. The concept of a difference in the average intelligence of America’s ethnic groups is an artifact of fabricated data on twins supposedly raised in different social classes (Sir Cyril Burt, 1940’s) and a misreading of correlation as causation in the groups’ average test IQ or SAT score (Arthur Jensen, 1960’s).       

Your own experience surely shows that the general trend does not suggest that one could reasonably expect a Black woman (or even a White woman) to be a hotshot analyst. I’m sorry, dear, but my experience surely shows the opposite. I’ve worked for and with men and women of a variety of ethnic groups in America and Africa who blew away my abilities – and I’m a hotshot analyst myself.

Why on earth would a serious, educated White man support the demise of the White man? Kindly release me from my contract, dear (they did). For the reader’s enjoyment, I’ve posted the entire set of exchanges with the publisher on my website, calebrossiter.com, under Articles.

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