A White Author’s Book About Black Feminism Was Pulled After a Social Media Outcry

The blurb for the book “Bad and Boujee: Toward a Trap Feminist Theology” says that it “engages with the overlap of Black experience, hip-hop music, ethics and feminism to focus on a subsection known as ‘trap feminism.’”

But the book, written by Jennifer M. Buck, a white academic at a Christian university, was criticized by some authors and theologians as academically flawed, with deeply problematic passages, including repeated references to the ghetto. The project was also widely condemned on social media as poorly executed and as an example of cultural appropriation.

In response to the criticism, the book’s publisher, Wipf and Stock Publishers, decided on Wednesday that it would pull the title from circulation.

The incident touched on a larger debate in the world of publishing over when, how, and even whether, it is appropriate for authors to write about subjects outside their own culture.

Wipf and Stock’s decision to pull “Bad and Boujee” was reported on Thursday by Sojourners, the website of a Christian publication. Buck did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

The theologian Candice Marie Benbow, author of “Red Lip Theology,” was “livid” to learn that a white academic had published a book about the theology of trap feminism — an emerging philosophy that examines the intersection of feminist ideals, trap music and the Black southern hip-hop culture that gave rise to it.

“It matters that you have an academic text that would situate Black women’s lived experiences and Black women’s spirituality, and it’s not written by a Black woman,” she said.

Sesali Bowen, a pioneer of the concept of trap feminism and the author of “Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes From a Trap Feminist,” also took issue with the author’s failure to properly credit or engage with the Black women who have been leading experts in the field.

“Even if another Black woman did this, the issues around citation would still exist,” she said. “The fact that this is also a white woman, who has no business writing about this because nothing about the trap or Black feminism is her lived experience, is adding another layer to this.”

In a statement, Wipf and Stock Publishers said that its critics had “serious and valid” objections.

“We humbly acknowledge that we failed Black women in particular, and we take full responsibility for the numerous failures of judgment that led to this moment,” Wipf and Stock said. “Our critics are right.”

Among the objections raised, the publisher said, were the book’s cover, which features a young Black woman with natural hair, and which Benbow called intentionally misleading and “profoundly racist,” and the lack of endorsement by Black experts. The book’s only endorsement came from another white academic at Azusa Pacific University, where the author, Buck, is an associate professor in the department of practical theology.

Buck, in her introduction to “Bad and Boujee,” briefly addresses “identity politics” and acknowledges that as “a straight, privileged, white woman” she has “not lived the embodied experiences of a trap queen,” but was drawn to the subject because of her love of hip-hop.

The wider debate about cultural appropriation, and how the stories of marginalized people are told, exploded in the book world after the 2020 publication of “American Dirt,” by Jeanine Cummins. That novel, which sold to its publisher for seven figures and debuted on The New York Times Best Seller list, follows a Mexican mother who flees for the United States border with her son after a drug cartel kills their family.

Cummins, who identifies as white and Latina, was criticized by some for writing a book of “trauma porn.” At a dinner promoting the book, fake barbed wire was wrapped around floral centerpieces.

The dystopian novel “American Heart,” by Laura Moriarty, was attacked even before its release in 2018 for what readers called its “white savior narrative,” in which Muslims are put in internment camps in an America of the future. And the author Amélie Wen Zhao canceled her own debut, a young adult fantasy novel, after an outcry over its depiction of slavery, and released it later after revising it.

Many authors, publishers and free speech advocates are concerned about how far such restrictions might go. Fiction is an act of imagination, they argue, and great books could be lost if authors are discouraged from writing outside their own experience.

In the fields of nonfiction and academia, the issue of cultural appropriation has been less of a lightning rod, in part because it’s common for journalists and academics to report and do research on communities of which they are not a part.

While publishers have pulled nonfiction books over controversies involving plagiarism or fabrication, or in some cases consequential factual inaccuracies, it’s unusual for a publisher to withdraw a book over objections about how an author approached the subject, or the author’s background.

Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, the senior director of Literary Programs for PEN America, called the decision to pull Buck’s book “misguided and regrettable.”

“There must be no hard and fast rules about who is entitled to tell certain stories or engage particular topics,” Rosaz Shariyf said in an email. “Such redlines constrain creative and intellectual freedom and impair the role of literature and scholarship as catalysts to understanding across differences.”

Some of the criticism directed at “Bad and Boujee,” which takes its title from a song by Migos, featuring Lil Uzi Vert, was aimed at the author’s approach to the subject.

Bowen said she was stunned when she read a passage from the first chapter of Buck’s book, which opens, “A trap queen is a woman who is down for the cause. She was born in the ghetto, raised in the ghetto, but she ain’t that ghetto.”

She found Buck’s use of Black vernacular “weird and cringey,” and felt that Buck’s emphasis on “trap queen,” a term that is often connected to women engaged in a criminal enterprise, like a kingpin or drug lord, suggested a superficial understanding of trap culture and the women who grew up in it.

“That is not what Black women from the hood call themselves,” Bowen said. “The fact that she has latched onto that specific terminology is weird, and it speaks to a surface-level relationship that she has with this particular community.”

Bowen said she was also unsatisfied by Buck’s responses to her critics. After Bowen sent Buck a message over social media asking how she had come to write “Bad and Boujee,” Buck replied that she had credited Bowen’s work in a footnote after her research assistant discovered it.

“She only thought that it was worth a footnote and not even any critical engagement,” she said.

Some who took issue with “Bad and Boujee” said that the problems with the book revealed a larger and more entrenched issue — the lack of diversity in the publishing industry.

Benbow, the theologian and essayist, argued that the publisher of “Bad and Boujee” should go beyond simply pulling the book and use this moment to extend more opportunities to Black women.

“Just pulling the book doesn’t go far enough, you have to do more when you’ve done this harm,” she said. “And part of that is creating opportunities where these women can publish, can be given research opportunities and funding opportunities.”

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