I didn’t know who Milo Yiannopoulos was until Dec. 26, 2016, when I was on Facebook and saw that Phil Bildner, a children’s book author, had posted a link to the article in the Hollywood Reporter announcing the deal for Milo’s book Dangerous. “Hey, Simon & Schuster,” Phil wrote. “This is disgusting. Are you okay with this, S&S Kids? If you are silent, you are complicit.”
I don’t work at S&S, but I am the editorial director of FSG Books for Young Readers. I spent some time researching Milo and wondering, am I okay with this?
The answer is no. If you look into Milo, you will find out that he was permanently banned from Twitter for leading the charge in a wave of racist abuse targeting African-American actress Leslie Jones. You will also learn that he played a key role in Gamergate, a movement that repeatedly attacked female game developers with death threats, rape threats, and the public leaking of women’s personal information.
These things are troubling, and we could almost write them off—almost—as jokes falling on the deaf ears of liberals. Humor and trolling are, after all, two of Milo’s hallmarks, and lack of humor is one of his main critiques of PC liberals like me. We can’t take a good joke about rape, or about black women looking like apes.
But the worst thing about Milo, the self-dubbed supervillain of the Internet, is what he does as an editor at Breitbart, where he turns the sincere desperation of working-class Americans into fodder for his own amusement, and money in his pocket.
In Milo’s Breitbart articles and on his Dangerous Faggot tour, he tells young white American men it’s not their fault that they’re out of work, or that they’re struggling. They don’t need a college education. The reason they are not succeeding is because of women, people of color, immigrants, and Muslims. From now on, it’s not ladies first. It’s not people of color first. It’s not trans people first. It’s white men first. It’s America first.
Sound familiar? It’s not a coincidence that Trump went from a reality television star to president of the United States, thanks, in part, to the radicalization of the white working class. And a lot of the leg work was done by Milo and his mentor, Steve Bannon.
Milo is more than a provocateur. He is a terrorist, shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. The fire is otherness—that which is not white, Christian, and male; the crowded theater is America.
If you think Trump’s presidency is the last gasp of the white male patriarchy, think again. Milo’s book is sure to be a bestseller, and the men who are going to read it are young, white, and angry. Dangerous indeed.
By announcing the deal quietly, in the week between Christmas and New Year, I assume S&S hoped no one would notice. But quite a lot of people noticed, including authors and illustrators from the children’s book community. A total of 160 people, including S&S children’s book authors, illustrators, and agents, wrote to the president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, Carolyn Reidy, imploring her to reconsider publishing the book. She responded with a letter stating that although S&S does not “support or condone, nor will we publish, hate speech,” it is going forward with the book anyway. Now hate speech is a slippery thing; one person’s hate speech is another person’s rape joke. But when an author’s brand is racism and misogyny, what can we reasonably expect from his book?
I’m from the children’s book world, and you may think this shouldn’t concern me. A children’s imprint isn’t going to sign Richard Spencer’s Alt-Right Bedtime Storybook—at least I hope not. But as a publishing professional and a citizen of this country, I would ask my colleagues on the adult side to think long and hard about future publishing deals that give a mainstream platform to the so-called alt-right and their so-called alternative facts. When a major publisher legitimizes old-fashioned hate and lies rebranded as alternative, our authors lose, our books lose, and our country loses.
According to PW’s September 2016 publishing industry salary survey, our industry is 88% white. My guess is that the higher up you go on the management ladder, the whiter—and more male—things get. I wonder if Milo’s book would be published at all if the industry was predominantly run by women of color as opposed to white men. My guess is that it wouldn’t.
Joy Peskin is the editorial director of FSG Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. The opinions expressed here are hers and not those of Macmillan or FSG.