Michelle Madow writes and deletes racist Tweet, offers apology

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While most of social media last night was paying attention the uprising happening in Baltimore – the latest in a long series of protests against the murders of black citizens by police – author Michelle Madow was sharing texts between her and her mother.

“My mom and I are so mature,” Tweeted Madow with a half-dozen emojis. She included a screenshot of a text, in which she had said “They made politically correct people emojis. Next we need politically correct poop emojis with varieties of colors.”

The texts would have been racist and problematic no matter the time of day, but to send them in the middle of an active protest about the problems facing the black community made the Tweets doubly offensive. Justina Ireland was one of the first to notice the Tweet in the morning and sent off her own series of Tweets about it, critiquing Madow and showing how the ‘joke’ was part of a larger problem of micro-aggressions against people-of-color in the publishing community.

Later that morning, Madow deleted the Tweet.

After waiting a few minutes, in which others discussed that it had been deleted without any apology, she then Tweeted an apology to “anyone offended” by her Tweets.

An apology for the actual content of her Tweets and texts may have been more appropriate, as We Need Diverse Books founded Ellen Oh pointed out.

Madow is the author of multiple YA novels. She was previously featured on YA Interrobang.

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About Author

Nicole Brinkley

Nicole is the editor of YA Interrobang. She has short hair and loves dragons. The rest changes without notice. Follow her on Twitter at @nebrinkley or Tumblr at nebrinkley. Like her work? Leave her a tip.

9 Comments

  1. This article and the above comment made me sad. Michelle Madow is one of the nicest authors I know – I’m part of her street team and have worked with her on multiple occasions – and I really don’t think we should be judging her so harshly based on this one tweet. First off, I wouldn’t call her joke “hella racist.” It sounds to me like she was making fun of the way some corporations seem to care more about diversity for the sake of political correctness than diversity for the sake of realism and representation (which is an issue that needs calling out). She wasn’t degrading diverse emojis or diverse people; she was criticizing – in a humorous way – the problematic mindset of adding diversity just because it’s the thing to do. And even if you do get a slight racist vibe from her joke, it’s not appropriate to vilify her for it. She clearly didn’t intend for her comment to have any racist undertones, and when we start attacking people for small, honest mistakes, we start scaring and alienating people. Racial microagressions are definitely a thing (and as a white person, I can’t begin to understand how awful it must be to deal with them on a daily basis), but many of the people who commit them don’t even realize what they’re doing and would make a conscious effort to change if someone KINDLY pointed out that their actions/words were slightly offensive. As you so deftly pointed out, there are huge issues and tons of oppression facing the black community in the U.S. right now. We need to use our rage to fight those issues. We need to use kindness to fix the smaller missteps of good people who are willing to own up to a mistake. And then we need to forgive them – because everyone makes mistakes – and consider reading their books – because, like The Secret Diamond Sisters, their books can be pretty awesome.

    • Nicole Brinkley

      Hi, Emily! I would argue that ‘nice’ isn’t a good enough reason to point out that something was, in fact, racist. What her intention was and how she came across might not have aligned, but at the end of the day, what she said was racist. She’s not being “vilified” for it. Nobody, that I’ve seen, has called her evil or Cruelle de Vil; we’re not calling for her head on her pike. Her words – which were problematic and offensive – have been called out and discussed.

      “When we start attacking people for small, honest mistakes, we start scaring and alienating people.” This wasn’t a small and honest mistake – it was an intentional comment that had racist undertones, and if Madow couldn’t see it, it’s because she comes from a place of privilege. It’s something she should work on. Nobody here is being scared or alienated except, perhaps, Madow’s fans of color, who she just dismissed in their entirety.

      Since you are a white person, I would suggest deferring to people of color in this area, as I often do. If they were offended and said something was racist, then Madow should own up to it. Instead of apologizing for “offending,” she should apologize for her words and strive to learn better. Kindness is being used here to call her out, to encourage her to learn. Nobody has attacked her. They’ve critiqued her. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

      For the record, “diversity for the sake of political correctness” isn’t really an issue. Most of that diversity is misrepresentation or not actual representation. There’s nothing wrong with having emojis with different skintones. There is something wrong with comparing people of color to, pardon the term, shit.

    • Kaye

      Hi Emily!
      I know, in a way, how you feel, because when I saw Michelle’s tweets (we are in a mutual follow), I was disappointed, hurt and grieved.
      With all due respect, though, I don’t think it’s vilifying to call out someone who should know better when they do something wrong. As a girl who faces micro aggression as a Muslim and a woman of color every day, it wasn’t just a joke. It was awful. It was hurtful. The quick deletion of the tweets was an admission that yes, she knew she did wrong, but she still would stick to her guns that we should have found it funny.
      Being compared to excrement, on the night when Baltimore was being shaken to its core and people were facing police brutality, isn’t humorous.
      I’m sorry that for you and Michelle, diversity is politically correct. For me, it’s who I am, and I don’t feel like we’re asking too much for respect and a seat at the table and not to be compared to foul things that I’m sure if it were you, you wouldn’t be finding excusable.
      I feel like Nicole has been more eloquent than I can be in the hurt and anger I felt after reading this comment. I hope that you educate yourself and open your heart to how others felt when they saw that tweet. I hope that you learn about tone policing PoC’s rage, and I hope that you learn more about diverse books and how beautiful the world is when everyone has their chance to share their story.

      • Kaye

        (Also, there’s nothing wrong with having a problematic fave.

        There is something wrong when you defend their being problematic in the face of other people’s injuries and pain.)

  2. I’m trying to keep this short, but I figured I should respond, so:

    I definitely didn’t mean to say that the tweet wasn’t at all problematic. And I also didn’t mean to invalidate any offense that people of ANY skin color might have taken. I just meant that, by treating Michelle like the enemy, we’re scaring people away from discussing race-related issues. And that’s not a productive thing to do. Free discussion about issues like race is SO important to progress, and I don’t think we can really speak freely if we’re terrified of the Internet turning on us for accidentally saying the wrong thing.

    And I DO think kindness is the best course of action for events like this one. Kindness isn’t always the answer—obviously, we can’t get policemen to stop their racial profiling by nicely asking them. But when possible—when dealing with a single person who is sweet and willing to accept her wrong and apologize—it’s important to be kind. 

    Also, I dislike the misconception that non-marginalized voices can’t share their opinions on issues regarding marginalized voices. Like I said, I have no idea what it’s like to deal with systemic racism, so obviously I can’t speak with authority on how offensive the comment was to people of color (or anyone besides myself, for that matter). That’s a relevant point, which is why I noted my skin color. But I do still have valid opinions about our reaction to comments like Michelle’s, and I just wanted to share them, especially since Michelle truly is a great person. Like I said before, discussion is key to progress, and another roadblock to productive discussion is the fear of being discredited for not having enough personal experience with a given issue. 

    Anyway, that’s about all I have to say on this issue. Thanks to both of you for taking the time to respond to my comment—we may have to agree to disagree about some things, but we’re all aiming for an equality-filled future, which is the important thing. 🙂

    • Nicole Brinkley

      I would just like to clarify again that Michelle is not being treated like an enemy by anybody, Emily. Nobody is being scared away from discussions. If you can cite an example of Michelle being treated as an enemy, I’d love to see it. All I see are her words being critiqued.

    • Kaye

      With all due respect, Emily, you keep implying that allies’ voices mean more than PoC and marginalized voices being able to express themselves.

      “I just meant that, by treating Michelle like the enemy, we’re scaring people away from discussing race-related issues.”

      This is tone-policing. After years of systematic oppression, brutality and suppression, people of color and marginalized voices have the right to call out harmful actions. We talk nicely, we’re stepped on. We speak out and call out actions and demand apologies, and we’re being cruel. Nowadays, I’ve learned just to say what needs to be said and not feel as though I need to keep my mouth shut.

      “I don’t think we can really speak freely if we’re terrified of the Internet turning on us for accidentally saying the wrong thing.”

      I agree. That’s why I’d love to see less backlash against the victims of tweets like these, and discussion on what the perpetrators can do better. Whether you like it or not, Michelle was in the wrong and she owed everyone she upset an apology and not a casual delete.

      “But when possible—when dealing with a single person who is sweet and willing to accept her wrong and apologize—it’s important to be kind.”

      I’m sorry, but Michelle has shown no willingness to accept her wrong and apologize. There is no apology in the single tweet she released an hour after deleting her tweets. I’ve interacted with Michelle and she’s always been kind, but like Ellen said, it wasn’t enough. People were genuinely hurt. You don’t seem to understand that. Michelle isn’t the one asking for an apology and some kindness here, and I don’t see what a simple article and comment can do to harm her when she harmed and alienated numerous friends in the community.

      “Also, I dislike the misconception that non-marginalized voices can’t share their opinions on issues regarding marginalized voices.”

      Here’s a truth: there is no one saying that non-marginalized voices can’t get involved in marginalized issues. However, their opinions take a backseat. You even admitted it: you have no idea about systematic racism. Thus, you have no right to tell people of color that they are reacting too angrily, that they feel too much pain. Sometimes, you have to be silent, still your typing fingers, and boost and listen and learn.

      It might seem odd after years and years of having marginalized voices be silenced for the sake of the majority, but that’s the way it needs to be done.

      “Discussion is key to progress, and another roadblock to productive discussion is the fear of being discredited for not having enough personal experience with a given issue.”

      There is being discredited, and there is being told that yes, you do not have personal experience and this is not your space to talk on or over.

      Thank you for responding, Emily, and I do hope, like I mentioned before, you keep your mind open and learn about empathy and how diverse voices really feel. At the end of the day, again, it wasn’t Michelle who came out of this wounded.

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