For the past two years I have maintained and overseen the Writing in the Margins Sensitivity Readers database. I have mitigated disputes and advocated for publishers and authors alike to use Sensitivity Readers as a way to attempt to get closer to the complicated truth of what it means to be a marginalized person. It has been exhausting work that has often taken away from my own writing and time with my family, and as of March 1st I will no longer host and maintain the Sensitivity Reader database as part of Writing in the Margins.
In the past few months I have spoken to numerous Sensitivity Readers who have shared stories of being ignored, not paid, or just treated abominably. I have seen authors, when criticized for their depictions within their books, point to Sensitivity Readers as a magical shield against critical analysis. And most recently, while promoting the revised version of The Continent, editors at Harlequin Teen shared the name of their Sensitivity Readers with a reporter in an attempt to prove they had done their due diligence, despite NDAs and a moral obligation to protect those marginalized voices that do the delicate work of engaging with a problematic text.
This was never the point of Sensitivity Readers, and the more I see this process abused by people already undertaking to tell the stories of others, the less I have been able to promote Sensitivity Reading as a boon to marginalized peoples. It is, in my estimation, another way for the voices already dominating the conversation to continue to talk over the oppressed. And I may not be much, but I will no longer use my time and energy to support such exploitation.
I still believe that Sensitivity Reading can be a valuable tool for those authors who have done the due diligence and have worked hard to analyze their own place within systems of oppression. But for those who see diversity as a way to make a quick buck, it is one more tool to keep the voices of centered identities the loudest in publishing. And I cannot abide aiding that crusade in any shape or from.
I will be leaving the Sensitivity Readers Google Doc open for any to edit as they see fit, but I will not maintain it. Neither will I have the spreadsheet as a whole listed on the Writing in the Margins website. For those of you who have found a steady source of income via the sheet, I hope that continues.
And for those writing outside of their own identity, do better. Always, do better.