If you’re part of Book-Twitter, you’ve probably already come across the latest drama already; that of Mackenzi Lee drawing, leaving notes, and signing her name in other authors’ books on the title page where they would typically sign themselves. This was done, according to Mackenzi, to help promote the indie bookstore where she works. Each signature, message, or drawing was done at the request of the purchaser.
Shortly after these images were posted online to further promote what Mackenzi was doing, one of the authors commented on it. In a way, I think it goes without me saying that this was offensive to the author. In fact, many people found it horrifying that she would do this. I’ll be honest, when I first saw it all, I really didn’t know what to think but I knew that, ultimately, that wasn’t what really mattered here in the long run.
I do not know enough.
I’m always fascinated by how so many people can jump to defending white people’s actions when a person of color speaks out about something that hurts them. And when I say fascinated, I do also mean disappointed. It’s like a morose fascination, my own personal befuddlement at how people can be so ignorant to their own perpetuation of discrimination, often very much in line with racism. You see, I’m fully willing to recognize that there are things I, as a white woman, do not understand in regards to struggles and hurts and frustrations that people of color are forced to deal with.
And so, as I sat here, clicking through Twitter in search of the full story behind the anger that was filling my newsfeed, my main goal was to try and understand. So, I thought; as an aspiring writer, how would I feel if I had published a book and another author had drawn in it and signed their own name? How would I feel if they had signed their name on the title page that is reserved, more or less, for my signature?
People write in books all the time.
I’ve always, personally, been a big fan of inscriptions. I’ve done it for my friends on numerous occasions, buying a book and writing out a lengthy and heartfelt message on a page with enough space. I’ve signed my name and sent them the books. I’m not currently an author, but I hope to be one day. For me, personally, I’ve never seen that as wrong.
Some people draw in books. I, myself, have been tempted to do so at times. I have even done so on occasion. There are people on Etsy currently who sell books that they have “painted,” adding design and color not only to the covers themselves but to the pages. I tried my hand at this, as well. For me, however, I have always seen this as selling the artwork. But, taking time to think about it…is this something to reconsider? Well…
What Mackenzi did was, ultimately, different.
The fact that she is a published author herself is one difference, though for me that is not the biggest one. The fact that she is doing this for strangers who purchase a book from a store at which she works is a difference that speaks to me a bit more. The fact that she is white doing this to marginalized authors is another incredibly important one. The fact that her messages often seem crass, rude, and sarcastic adds to it. I’m sure she was trying to be funny, but honestly? I get where it’s hurtful.
And at the end of the day, I know I am not the one who can determine whether this was wrong or not. Knowing who I am and what I have experienced, I am well aware that this is not my place. I can say, personally, that had one of the WIPs I’ve been writing published and she had done this to a book of mine, I do not think I would have been upset. I like writing in books, I love inscriptions. I especially love doing it for my friends with books I adore.
That said…was this wrong?
Yes, I believe it was.
The fact of the matter is that this situation comes down to what marginalized authors go through. It comes down to the disrespect that this obviously showed them. It comes down to the fact that she did not ask for their permission. And it comes down to the fact that it is, inherently, disrespectful. And marginalized authors deserve better than this.
Do I expect for Mackenzi to have known better? No, not really. I’ve frankly become rather pessimistic and despondent in that regard. White people being unknowingly horrible to marginalized groups is something of a common theme in this world, I’ve noticed. It’s not that I don’t think she should know better because she definitely should. I’m just not surprised anymore when someone doesn’t.
Had the messages not been insulting or rude, had she thought to ask the authors of these books if they were alright with it, had she left a personalized note on separate paper instead of drawing all over the pages…I’m sure I would think differently. And though I, personally, would not have been hurt had it been my book the important takeaway here is that when something like this happens it is not my feelings nor my experiences that matter. Rather, it is the feelings, experiences, and the voice of those speaking out about things I am well aware I do not fully understand that matter.
I have not read Mackenzi Lee’s books, though they have been on my TBR for a while now. As of this moment, I’m genuinely considering taking them off my shelf. The final thing I have to say for her part is that I hope it is an experience that Mackenzi herself learns from.
Oh, and if you’ve gone out and started one-starring the books of marginalized authors because they spoke out about an injustice that they have been subjected to without reading their book in the first place, you are a shitty person.