It is always worth going back to the text, under penalty of making a big mistake. This is a bit what we say to ourselves in the face of the controversy surrounding the choice of translators for the poem. The hill that we climb that young Amanda Gorman read at the Joe Biden nomination in January. The spark that ignited the powder is an opinion piece published by the Dutch daily By Volkskrant. The author of the text is a fashion specialist and organizes events in favor of diversity in the Netherlands. In her text, she does not say that “a poem written by a black woman must be translated by a black woman”, which has nevertheless been repeated everywhere.
What she suggests, and it is more than audible, it is even interesting, is that the enormous highlighting of Amanda Gorman, descendant of slaves and raised by a single mother, could benefit a young woman with an immigrant background in the Netherlands through translation. Janice Deul talks about the many talented young black Dutch people struggling in the shadows, with women being the most marginalized. This is the heart of his request. She considers that the choice as translator of Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, who is otherwise talented but not from an immigrant background, speaks poor English (by the applicant’s own admission) and does not practice spoken word or Amanda Gorman’s spoken poetry, is not the right one.
Reading the text, one wonders how he could have aroused such an epidermal reaction, such anger. Why did the European publishing world feel so attacked by this request? He wanted to see an endangering of the very essence of the translation where what was proposed was simply to be able to continue the happening of Amanda Gorman, a sort of fist raised at the foot of the Capitol. As Janice Deul made it clear to the BBC afterwards, her suggestion only concerns that poem, that poet, in the precise context of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Could it also be the extremist climate that surrounds the cancel culture, this demand to do away with works of heritage considered as racist, this dangerous dream of rewriting history that would have immediately held writers and translators here?
That the radicalism that came from the United States, which unfortunately draws its strength from the gravity of the injustices and inequalities that persist there, worries and arouses outcry is healthy. But it should not be blind to a datum that no one disputes: the glaring lack of diversity in the publishing world. Paradoxically, this is changing in the United States. Perhaps this controversy will have the merit of launching such a movement in Europe.