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Anita Heiss Again

This will be my last post on this subject.

I have not read Anita Heiss’s book Am I Black Enough For You?, so I cannot comment on its literary merits.

But there seems to be to be a very clear difference between those who have left negative reviews on its Amazon page, and those who have left positive reviews.

It is not clear that the writers of the negative reviews have all read the book. Some are concerned about the quality of the writing, others about politics, the hypocrisy of the title, the shutting down of any response to Anita Heiss and her arguments. Some are quite forceful. A very few contain personal criticism of Anita or other Amazon reviewers. Even fewer could be considered mildly racist, in that they appear to make assumptions about aboriginal people as a whole. But in general, the negative reviews are well-written, thoughtful, and about the book.

The five and four star reviews are not. There is very little comment about the book and its merits, and rather more discussion of what a vile person Andrew Bolt is, and how the controversy is all his fault, and anyone who wants to ask the same questions he did must be one of his trolls and a racist.

I have copied below one review and the comments which followed. They seem to me to summarise the methods of both sides of the debate.

For more, see my earlier posts on Andrew Bolt’s trial, and Anita Heiss’s book.

Miriam Dorset

Five Star Reviews Are Politically Motivated

It is simply impossible that anyone who has read this book could give it five stars, or even four. This is the second of Heiss’s books I have read. The other was Manhattan Dreaming. On the Kindle page for that book she is described as the “best-selling author of Not Meeting Mr Right and Avoiding Mr Right.” But look at the sales figures for her books. Manhattan Dreaming is ranked 258,720th. In other words, two of Heiss’s friends have read it, and me. She writes at the same level as a moderately talented high school student. Her writing style is awkward and her plots are predictable. If she were male you’d call them puerile. I didn’t review Manhattan Dreaming because when I got to the end of it I had already given it far more time than it deserved. I could not finish “Am I Black Enough for You?” It is a trivial, self-obsessed book. The book makes it clear that Heiss, not mainstream Australia, is obsessed with notions of identity.

In 2010 Heiss was awarded $90,000 by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board to produce two non-fiction books – a collection of essays and a memoir. She has no reputation as an essayist. Am I Black Enough For You? is the memoir. On the Random House website she describes the hardships she had to endure while living in Paris at tax payers’ expense:

1. WEIGHT GAIN: I had to eat an embarrassing amount of bread and cheese, macaroons, croissants and chocolate – so I could actually write about it! This meant I had to put on weight for my job.

2. SORE FEET: Paris is a city for walking. Strolling down the Champs-Elysees eyeing all the designers stores and cafes is hard on the feet, trust me, I know, I did it quite a bit! 3. FLIRTING WITH STRANGERS: Now, let me preface this by saying, I was in character! Anita Heiss would never flirt with strangers, but for the purpose of `research’ I did what needed to be done for my craft. If you are serious about your writing, you will too!

Ms Heiss has made her race a matter of public interest, because she has claimed awards and benefits on the basis of race. The public is entitled to ask whether money given in grants, awards or benefits is going to the people for whom it was intended. She, and now the Australian ABC and her publishers, Random House, have attempted to shut down any discussion of this with which she does not agree. If it were not for this controversy, I suspect this book, like her others, would be languishing at 250,000th on Kindle, and in remainder bins at any shop silly enough to have bought it.

randr says: Great review. I also have read a couple of Heiss’s books, out of curiosity only as the genre of the books she writes are not to my taste. Regardless of any other issues she is a poor writer who I suspect would not normally get a look in by any publishing company. I’m sure she has valid points to make but is not skilled or imaginative enough to do herself justice. In many ways it’s a shame that she has generated all this response as her writing doesn’t warrant it.

Simon Santoro says: It is pretty clear that anyone who answers Anita’s question the wrong way, or even wonders about whether she is entitled to the benefits she claims, is going to be labelled racist scum or worse, or described as a hater or a blind Bolter. Silly. If there are issues here – and Anita has raised them in her book’s title – why not have a sensible exchange of views without calling people names?

The real point for potential buyers is simply that this is a dud book – boring, predictable, narcissistic.

Matthew says: Simon, if you have an opinion that is informed by facts and doesn’t resort to stereotypes and generalisation, then let’s hear it.

The problem with so many of the comments here are that they’re written by people who (a) have never read the original articles (eg people who claim they just “asked questions” or “didn’t attack anybody” or refuse to accept that there were stunning inaccuracies), (b) don’t understand (or haven’t even looked at) the case and judgement against bolt (eg people who think the judge inferred things that weren’t in the articles, or that it was all subjective or that he was only found guilty because he got irrelevant things wrong or because he was rude – all false), (c) think that there are now “illegal topics” or “illegal opinions” in australia (there aren’t – not only are mainstream newspapers – including The Oz – talking about them, the judge specifically said that he wasn’t setting a precedent to prevent discussion about anything), (d) think that andrew bolt has been “silenced” in some way (god forbid!), (e) think that he has been treated unfairly because the plaintiffs wouldn’t have won a defamation suit and took the soft option (almost certainly not true, not at all) or (f) actually believe the inferences made in those articles in the first place (a very misinformed decision).

So we get angry remarks based on misinformation by people who don’t know any of the facts of the stories, the case, the law or the truth behind the articles. They make angry generalisations that try to pin blame for serious problems on a selection of aboriginal people who – purely on the basis of skin colour and what they might happen to believe about their life story – are undeserving. And these are people whom practically nobody here would have even HEARD of had they not featured in a series of bogus articles and decided not to take the abuse lying down.

So sure, if you think you’re not one of those people, and you think you’ve got the bases covered, then let’s hear it. I promise not to call you racist

Simon Santoro says: Matthew you seem to have taken up a position as permanent Amazon commenter. I don’t have that much time. I did read Bolt’s blog posts, I followed the trial with interest, and read articles from both sides of politics afterwards. I think I am reasonably well informed on the issues. I am not quite sure why you make the assumption that anyone who sees things differently from you must be either ignorant, an idiot or a racist. The simple point is that regardless of the politics, this is a tedious, self-righteous and self-obsessed book.

Mal says: That’s right folks, Miriam Dorset must be right, because all those 1 star reviews couldn’t possibly be politically motivated could they? No, of course not. Especially since they rapidly went up after a certain Mr Andrew Bolt made an issue of it on his blog. Humbug! By the way, Miriam, you and a load of others around here obviously don’t understand that free speech generally doesn’t apply to the comment pages of corporate bodies. If it did, you and I would have blogs and columns and paychecks alongside Andrew Bolt. As to this “Ms Heiss has made her race a matter of public interest, because the public is entitled to ask whether money given in grants, awards or benefits is going to the people for whom it was intended.” – No, Miriam, Mr Bolt made it an issue by not properly researching his original articles (all of which can be read), getting a judgement against him for breaching the Racial Vilification Act, and now urging his witless followers in the most craven fashion to do his bidding for him. Finally I see that you are following the herd instinct her by attacking the person rather than reading the book.

Mal says: Stop being such a troll, Simon. In this post you are quite happily involved in the very abuse you are saying others are engaged in. And you do it in such a sneaky nasty way, don’t you. All this oleaginous concern about calling people names and then your last little piece of invective.

Simon Santoro says: I have read the book. I consider it to be poorly written and of little value. How is saying so abusive? There is a difference between discussion and criticism of a book – that is what these forums are for – and hurling abuse at people who do not share your view.

Mal says: Yes and you obviously followed his coded instruction to get on here and condemn the book, Mr Troll.

Miriam Dorset says: I am sorry my review has caused so much angst.

I wanted to make two points which seemed uncontroversial to me.

First, that by any normal measure, this is not a good book, either in insights or literary merit. This cannot be contentious for anyone who has actually read the book.

Second, when taxpayers fund special benefits or awards for people of a particular race, height, hair colour or whatever, they entitled to ask whether those who receive those benefits are the people for whom they were intended. In other words, if you claim publicly funded awards because of your race, then your race becomes a matter of public interest. Again, I cannot see how this is contentious. Nor can I see why making this point should justify such rage.

It also seems odd to me that the people who are asking why race should make any difference, and suggesting awards and benefits should be offered on the basis of merit or need are being called racists, while those who demand special privileges for themselves or others on the basis of race seem to assume a moral superiority which justifies insulting anyone who disagrees.

Cameron Dale says:

Yes – thankyou. It really is that simple:

1. This is not a good book, by any standard.

2. Race is only an issue because Anita has made it one.

Mal says: 1. Whose standard? yours and miriam actually – there isn’t any agreed upon standard about what constitutes a good book.

2. Wrong – Andrew Bolt made this and issue. The books is a partial response to that.

Mal says: Interesting that the proponents of “free speech” here are doing their best to cover up the speech of people who disagree with them.

Mal says: Watch out, folks that doyen of literary taste arbiters, miriam dorset has spoken. She has said there is no literary merit in the writing – so there mustn’t be – because miriam said it, and miriam is…Actually what are your qualifications miriam?

Mal says: And quit it with the phoney apologies while you’re at it, miriam. I also not a tone of moral superiority in your last comment.

Miriam Dorset says: If you think I am wrong, Mal, please feel free to quote some passages you think are especially insightful or well-written. I am happy to be convinced.