A book by a white author on black feminism has been taken down after an outcry on social media
The blurb for the book “Bad and Boujee: Toward a Trap Feminist Theology” says it “engages with the overlap of 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 scholar at a Christian college, has been 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 the criticism, the book’s publisher, Wipf and Stock Publishers, decided on Wednesday to withdraw the title from circulation.
The incident touched on a wider debate in the publishing world about when, how, and even if it’s appropriate for authors to write about topics outside their own culture.
Wipf and Stock’s decision to pull “Bad and Boujee” was reported Thursday by Sojourners, the website of a Christian publication. Buck did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Theologian Candice Marie Benbow, author of ‘Red Lip Theology’, was ‘livid’ to learn that a white scholar had published a book on the theology of trap feminism – an emerging philosophy that examines the intersection of feminist ideals, trap music and the Southern black hip-hop culture that gave birth to it.
“It’s important that you have an academic text that situates the lived experiences of black women and the spirituality of black women, and that it is not written by a black woman,” she said.
Sesali Bowen, 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 engage with black women who have been leading experts in the field.
“Even if another black woman did this, the citation issues would still exist,” she said. “The fact that she’s also a white woman, who has nothing to write home about because nothing about entrapment or black feminism is her lived experience, adds another layer to that.”
In a statement, Wipf and Stock Publishers said its critics had “serious and valid” objections.
“We humbly acknowledge that we have failed black women in particular, and we take full responsibility for the many failures of judgment that led to this moment,” Wipf and Stock said. “Our detractors 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 endorsement by black experts. The book’s only endorsement 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 his introduction to “Bad and Boujee”, briefly touches on “identity politics” and acknowledges that as a “straight, privileged white woman” she has “not had the embodied experiences of a trap queen. “, but was drawn to the subject because of her love of hip-hop.
The broader debate over cultural appropriation and how the stories of marginalized people are told exploded in the book world after the 2020 publication of “American Dirt,” by Jeanine Cummins. The 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 cartel of drugs killed their family.
Cummins, who identifies as white and Latina, has been criticized by some for writing a book of “trauma porn”. At a dinner party promoting the book, fake barbed wire was wrapped around floral centerpieces.
The dystopian novel “American Heart,” by Laura Moriarty, was attacked even before its 2018 release for what readers called its “white savior narrative,” in which Muslims are placed in internment camps in a America of the future. And author Amélie Wen Zhao canceled her own debut, a young adult fantasy novel, after an outcry over her depiction of slavery, and later published it after reviewing it.
Many authors, publishers and free speech advocates worry about how far these restrictions might go. Fiction is an act of the imagination, they argue, and great books could be lost if authors are discouraged from writing outside of their own experience.
In the realms of non-fiction and academia, the issue of cultural appropriation has been less of a lightning rod, in part because it is common for journalists and scholars to report on and research communities of which they are not part.
While publishers have withdrawn nonfiction books over 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 has touched on the topic or on the author’s background.
Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, senior director of literary programs at PEN America, called the decision to remove Buck’s book “misguided and regrettable.”
“There should be no hard and fast rules on who has the right to tell certain stories or address particular topics,” Rosaz Shariyf said in an email. “Such red lines limit creative and intellectual freedom and undermine the role of literature and scholarship as catalysts for understanding differences.”
Some of the criticisms leveled at “Bad and Boujee,” which takes its title from a Migos song, featuring Lil Uzi Vert, were aimed 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 opens: “A trap queen is a woman who is supportive of the cause. She was born in the ghetto, raised in the ghetto, but she’s not that ghetto.
She found Buck’s use of black vernacular “strange and grumpy”, and felt that Buck’s emphasis on “trap queen”, a term that is often linked to women engaged in criminal enterprise, such as a kingpin or a drug lord, suggested a superficial understanding of trap culture and the women who grew up there.
“That’s not what black women in the neighborhood call themselves,” Bowen said. “The fact that she clung to this specific terminology is odd, and it speaks to a superficial relationship she has with this particular community.”
Bowen said she was also unhappy with Buck’s responses to her detractors. After Bowen sent Buck a message on social media asking how she came to write “Bad and Boujee”, Buck replied that she credited Bowen’s work in a footnote after her research assistant discovered it.
“She only thought it was worth a footnote and not even critical engagement,” she said.
Some who took issue with “Bad and Boujee” said the problems with the book revealed a larger, more rooted problem – the lack of diversity in the publishing industry.
Benbow, the theologian and essayist, argued that the publisher of “Bad and Boujee” should go beyond just printing the book and use this moment to provide more opportunities for black women.
“Just pulling the book doesn’t go far enough, you have to do more when you’ve done that wrong,” she said. “And part of that is creating opportunities where these women can publish, can have research opportunities and funding opportunities.”