A straight white male publisher on glitches and ham-fisted errors

I self-identify myself in the title of this post because my personal background likely has more in common with the Amazon employees, however high up, than it does the with authors whose books are affected. As such I’m hereby saying to the ham-fisted error-makers: what happened was really really bad. Here’s why:

Not so long ago, gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and queer/questioning individuals had bookstores that functioned effectively as community centers–providing books, videos, bulletin boards, safe spaces, workshops, to the community. However, of the course of the past twenty years “mainstream,” heteronormative capitalism made social contracts with GLBTQ persons. We’ll sell you all that stuff, and we’ll give you discounts, and it’ll be even more convenient, and customer service will be more predictable. We’ll have shelves just for you, we’ll have categories and tags that will allow you to find all the stuff you need. (No, no one signed this contract–like the social contract that made democracy, it’s one you go along with, it’s not handed to you at birth, or on reaching the age of majority.)

Amazon breached that social contract. The breach was no less problematic if it wasn’t entirely intentional, as Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s excellent post makes clear (and boy does he have a great commentariat…). Because in a world where whiteness and straightness are “norms” and males benefit from our patriarchal history, it is always the GLBTQ books, the queer books, the non-normative books that get caught in the glitches, the ham-fisted errors.

The onus is on us, as Tim Wise has taught so well on the topic of white privilege. We cannot be given the benefit of the doubt, because it is always us who get the benefit of the doubt in our society, and if we are to take the pink and lavender dollars, and if we are to say, you don’t need A Different Light, or Oscar Wilde Bookstore, we’ll hook you up just fine, then we can never let this happen. I learned this as a straight white male publisher of queer books, it was why I took care to try to find staff who are gay or trans, to catch my complacency, my temptation to think I deserved the benefit of the doubt.

I didn’t, nor does Amazon. The vigilance and outrage demonstrated on Twitter are necessary, not because the folks at Amazon are bad people, but because the books that were de-ranked were de-ranked because it is always the outsider whose books get de-ranked and “mainstream” society and the capitalist institutions that operate within it, whether my old company or Amazon, must self-police ruthlessly in order to guard against this kind of thing happening.

They didn’t, hence #AmazonFail.

In effect: guilty until proven innocent is the standard to which we must hold ourselves. Because that’s how the other half lives, without any choice in the matter.