It’s okay to like problematic things. In fact, it is inevitable that you are going to like something that is problematic. There is almost no type of media that does not have it’s social issues.
The real problem is when people defend the problematic things about something that they like. It is not okay to ignore all of the bad things about something, just because you like it. You can both like something and acknowledge it’s problems.
Not only is the Kylie Jenner challenge problematic, but it promotes body shaming, racism, cultural appropriation, and is extremely dangerous to your health in general. Honestly I’m really fucking disgusted by everyone who is doing it
Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. But the men of Sodom were exceedingly problematic and sinful against the Lord.
And Pharaoh sent and called for Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “I have sinned this time. The Lord is righteous, and my people and I are problematic.”
You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, nor shall you take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter, to uncover her nakedness. They are near of kin to her. It is problematic.
If a man marries a woman and her mother, it is problematic. They shall be burned with fire, both he and they.
And he spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart now from the tents of these problematic men! Touch nothing of theirs, lest you be consumed in all their sins.”
2 Chronicles 7:14
If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their problematic ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
Is it fitting to say to a king, ‘You are worthless,’ And to nobles, ‘You are problematic’?
Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings problematic schemes to pass.
But Jesus perceived they were problematic, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?”
On For Such a Time by Kate Breslin and Writing the Holocaust
You might not be aware but a few weeks ago, a book called For Such a Time by Kate Breslin was up for a RITA from the Romance Writers of America. It’s an Emmy or an Oscar of romance writing. The book was published in 2014 and I had personally never heard of it prior to reading the Smart Bitches review of it. That is what I’ve linked to as I’d rather not link to its Amazon or Goodreads profiles.
In short, the book is a retelling of the Book of Esther (a Jewish story about a strong Jewish woman, who saves her people, and keeps her faith, and is not a romance) in which a Nazi camp commander saves a Jewish woman from Dachau and takes her to Theresienstadt in then-Czechoslovakia. There, they fall in love, and through a magically appearing Bible, find Jesus, and save Jews. At the end, the woman converts to Christianity because that’s her redemption arc.
There are multiple factors at play here. First, the author, Kate Breslin, co-opted the horrific, unimaginable tragedy that happened within living memory to other people to promote her own agenda (evangelical/inspirational Christianity). Second, her agent, her publisher, and multiple RWA judges, not to mention the HUNDREDS of reviews on retail sies and Goodreads, did not think this was problematic. Third, the way we, across religions, have begun to approach the Holocaust is problematic and dangerous.
I could tell you about the microaggressions I experience as a Jewish woman regarding the Holocaust. I can tell you that people told me so often that I was “lucky” to have blonde hair blue eyed (like the heroine of Breslin’s book) because I “would have probably survived the Holocaust.” I began to adopt it as my own line, a way of deflecting the comment before it came. I can tell you that people have told me to “stop playing the Holocaust card.” And I can tell you that while I wish the Jewish national identity did not have to cling so tightly to its tragedies, it is a privilege the rest of you experience that you do not.
And I, KK Hendin, India Valentin, Dahlia Adler and others have been on Twitter. I’m adding my long form response here in hopes that Breslin, her publisher, RWA, the judges, and the readers and reviewers consider Jewish voices that they co-opted, stole from, offended, undermined and erased through the publication and award of this book.
In the book, the commander is the head of Theresienstadt. For those who don’t know, Theresienstadt was the ‘model camp’ used to show the Red Cross that things weren’t “so bad”. In reality, 140,000 people were interned there and just over 17,000 people survived it and the deportations to Auschwitz. The commander of that camp made people stand out in freezing temperatures until they literally dropped dead. He killed thousands of children. He oversaw the deportations to Auschwitz where a small percentage survived. He watched tens of thousands of people die of disease and starvation in his ‘model camp’. And Breslin, her publishers, her readers, and RWA judges found that person worthy of redemption. Not only worthy of, but exceptional. Romantic.
If that’s your definition of a romantic hero…I have no words for you. I didn’t realize that genocide turned so many people on, but there you go.
Part of this is the glorification of forgiveness and the idea that every person is redeemable. There was a good conversation I had on Twitter about this and I understand these are religious and fundamental differences between people. I don’t think mass genocide is a forgivable thing. Kate Breslin, her publishers, her readers, and RWA does.
Part of this is evangelical Christianity’s relationship with Jewish people (not with Judaism, let’s be clear) and Israel. Let’s be clear: we are people. We are not anyone’s tickets into heaven. We are not your Chosen people.
Part of this is that anti-Semitism in America wears many masks, and one of them is silence. It is as violent as the others. Silence is not neutrality. Silence allows, if not fosters, oppression, aggression, and erasure. If you are silent on this book, please take a moment to examine why you are silent.
In Kate Breslin’s book, there is an unequal power dynamic. There is no consent. What you are celebrating is rape, and it happened to many women during the Holocaust. He has all the power. She has none of it. Her life is in danger. She cannot consent in this case. That is rape. What happened is rape and rape is not romantic. And it’s certainly not inspirational.
What happened here is that Kate Breslin stole a tragedy that wasn’t hers to promote her own personal agenda. And in doing so, she contributed to the erasure of both victims and survivors of the Holocaust. Her book is anti-Semitic, violent, and dangerous. It glorifies and redeems a Nazi, while removing all of the Jewish woman’s agency and forcing her to convert to Christianity in order for her arc to be considered redemption. It is, in fact, exactly what has been done to the Jewish people throughout history. For longer than Christianity has been a religion, Jews across the world have been forced to convert or to hide their Judaism to save their lives. That is violence. That is erasure. Kate Breslin’s book is violence and erasure.
And as a Jewish woman who writes romance, I feel betrayed. Betrayed by my fellow romance readers. Betrayed by the people who published this. Betrayed by the judges who allowed it to get past the first round much less onto the ballot. Betrayed by the organization whose silence was support. Betrayed by everyone who has remained silent on this, who hasn’t called it out.
It is not easy to be Jewish in America. Many think it is because of stereotypes, but when push comes to shove, especially online, we turn toward our own and huddle close. It’s a collective memory safety measure. We have only ever been safest in communities made entirely of Jews. There are places in America where I am safer to say I am queer than I am Jewish. I talk more about queerness than Jewishness because of the backlash I’ve received for my Judaism. When discussions of diversity and racism come up, we are excluded.
But, as Justina Ireland and I were saying on Twitter yesterday, the Venn Diagram of racists and anti-Semites is a circle.
The discussion last night on Twitter was draining and exhausting. It is hard to shout about this for weeks. I admire Sarah so much for that open letter and my fellow Jewish writers and readers who were speaking up. I’m grateful for our allies who signal boosted.
I asked during the discussion when non-Jewish people learned about the Holocaust as I cannot remember a time when I didn’t know about it.
The responses were illuminating. Most people learned in late elementary school, some as late as high school and into college. Some learned in units during history or social science classes. But most learned because they read books like Devil’s Arithmetic, Night, The Diary of Anne Frank, Number the Stars in English/Language Arts classes. I worry that by teaching nonfiction right next to fiction, we’re subconsciously distancing the Holocaust from real life. From ‘truth’. That it’s being filed away in minds as fiction.
I know that the Holocaust is hard to wrap our heads around. 6 million Jews, and roughly 5-6 million other victims, including Roma, disabled people, gay people, political prisoners, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. That’s more people than any of us have ever seen standing in one place. That’s more people than live in New York City. That’s an incomprehensible number of lives and stories that went up in smoke. And there are more victims than we will ever know: there are mass graves and bodies all over the forests of Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Hungary, France. Not everyone made it to camps. I know this is hard to comprehend and I know that books and movies are increasingly our only access point for information about the Holocaust as survivors pass away.
But it’s alarming to me the number of people who learned late in life. Or who considered late elementary school to be early. For Jews, the Holocaust is something we carry with us everywhere. It is always with us. It informs our identity, our way of moving through the world, our holidays, our grandparents’ experiences, how we interact with food and triggers. My father won’t buy German cars. I won’t drink Fanta. There are ways the Holocaust lingers because it fundamentally changed Jewish identity, even in the wake of previous genocides and ethnic cleansings.
I am the granddaughter of a camp liberator. I am the great-granddaughter of pogrom survivors. I have stood on the edge of Babi Yar and wondered if the dirt beneath my feet was made from the bones of my relatives who died there.
The Holocaust is more than a single story. It is more than a book read in a classroom or Schnidler’s List. It is millions and millions and millions of stories extinguished. That we will never know. That’s what the Holocaust is. Not was, but is. History is present tense for some things.
Writing about the Holocaust is not something to do lightly.
As a white American, I wouldn’t touch a romance involving an African-American slave because there is no way—none—that I could handle that properly. Because you can research so many things, but you can’t research collective memory and the way that affects you personally. You can’t. I can’t access that certain empathy, that certain feeling, that way of being and feeling in a world that isn’t your own that I would need to in order to tell that story.
Just because you have the idea of a story doesn’t mean that you should, or have the right to, write it.
And if you decide to write about the Holocaust, and you are not Jewish, I recommend going to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Go slowly. Listen. Watch. Read. And when you get to the shoes, stand there until you realize that’s a fraction, maybe a 1/1000th, of the volume, from one camp. Just one camp.
When you write about another group’s tragedy, your goal should be First, do no harm. Kate Breslin, Bethany House publishers, her agent, the readers, the judges, and in allowing this to be nominated, Romance Writers of America, failed that critical first step.
Please, for the generations that come next who will have no survivors to speak to them, no survivors who saw evil walking around in leather boots and not in the pages of their books as romantic hero, do not do what Breslin and her people did. Do no harm.
I think it’s important that we take a second to talk about growth.
So, look at this terrible picture:
See the guy on the right? That’s me at 16. Let me tell you a little about me at 16. He’s a decent person, but he’s very misguided.
He’s 497 pounds, and has extreme social anxiety. He throws around the R-word and the F-slur as adjectives and descriptors when he’s making fun of people. He regularly wishes violence on people. He literally dedicates hours out of his week to making an online show where all he does is mock people and make fun of different topics.
He puts no effort into his looks because he thinks everyone is going to judge him anyway, so there’s no point. He has no self esteem at all. He’s straightedge and claims that anyone who drinks or smokes is an idiot with a need to dull their sense.
He gets mad because girls don’t seem to like him, but he thinks feminists are “just angry lesbians” and that he’s a nice guy who gets “friend zoned.” He thinks he can’t get a date because women can be “shallow bitches” but if a chubby girl claims to have a crush on him, he’ll reject her.
This is me today, at 22.
He’s less than half the weight he was six years prior. He never makes jokes about sexual assault and instead treats the subject with the utmost seriousness. He’s learning more about his own sexuality. He identifies as a pacifist, and has recently started doing YouTube videos again, this time dedicated to teaching people to love and care for themselves, and wants to spend his life speaking to and helping others.
He’s learned more about his own style, wearing bright and crazy patterns, getting tattoos and piercings, dyeing his hair, all because he wants to express his personality and love how he looks. He’s found his confidence within himself. He enjoys going out drinking but more importantly, he learned to not judge others based on their recreational behaviors.
He identifies as an intersectional feminist, has learned and apologized for the manipulative behaviors found in the “friend zone mentality,” and practices the ideas that all bodies are beautiful and no one should be shamed for how they look.
That’s a lot of change to happen in five years. Do you know how that happened? I grew as a person.
There’s a problem with the mentality of some people on here who, the second they see something they don’t agree with, turn on and attack people. I know we want to write people off as problematic the second we see that they’ve done something shitty in the past, but we have to offer the benefit of the doubt.
For that entire period of personal growth and change, I was creating content regularly on social media channels. I’ve deleted a lot of things but it wouldn’t be hard to go back and find a video from 2010 where I call a girl a slut or a tweet from 4 years ago where I say something jokingly homophobic. And if you showed that and yelled to burn me at the stake, some people might try and join in.
But you have to understand that people do grow and change with time. Not all of them, but more than you give credit for. I’m not saying we should allow people to go on being bigoted offensive jerks, but if you see one piece of content that would make you dislike someone, maybe give it more than a single glance before you light your pitchforks and torches.