Peggy Orenstein scores a point over Shaquille O'Neal's blatantly racist comments, but asking any writer to "retool" her introduction smacks of censorship and only helps to reinforce the "politically correct" label she wishes to avoid ("The 'Other' Within," Opinion, March 2). Orenstein admits that she feels more entitled to express her outrage than most people and has better access to forums in which to do so. But in addition, she seems to think that this privilege grants her the moral authority not only to ask Ann Brashares to revise her work but to expect her to do so.
Expressing opinions is one thing, but dictating them for others is a different matter. "Keep your laws off our bodies" is an old abortion-rights chant. Maybe Orenstein should take a page from that movement's challenge to authority and keep her own laws off the body of any author's work.
Though I understand Orenstein's eagerness to protect her child-to-be from a world fraught with cultural stereotyping, I was a bit sickened by her readiness to label a harmless passage in Brashares' book as racist. Despite South Korea's ban on eating dogs, thousands of restaurants still openly serve up the meat. To dog lovers this might seem an ugly stereotype, but to many Koreans it is simply a part of their everyday lives.
I would hope Orenstein is not suggesting novelists should disregard cultural differences -- even if in incidental comparison -- in favor of a "truth" Orenstein finds more palatable.
Orenstein is right on in her remarks that stereotyping and racism are alive and well in our mainstream culture. She listed many valid examples of stereotypes and racial bigotry but failed to mention a more common example of racism these days: racism against Arabs and Muslims. Since 9/11, our mainstream culture has been flooded with accounts of racist remarks and bigoted comments toward Arabs and Muslims by politicians, talk show hosts, journalists and commentators.
It is not an accident that Orenstein missed that. Our mainstream values have internalized racism toward Arabs, so we don't see it as such. We have accepted in our subconscious that Arabs are bad people or terrorists, hence mischaracterization is not racism.