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Race as a critical qualification for translation of Amanda Gorman Inauguration poem

Race is not a scientific concept. But as black activists move from the goal of “equal opportunity” to the goal of “equal results”, “race” is increasingly taken into consideration in the most unexpected of places. Here, a highly qualified translator from English to Catalán (a regional language spoken in Spain), has been hired and then replaced–after he translated the poem!–because he was white and didn’t fit the racial profile for such a translator. This occurred, presumably, after pressures were brought to bear on the publisher.

Translator Victor Obiols told AFP on Wednesday that Univers had commissioned him last month to translate Gorman’s work into Catalan, a language spoken in Spain and Andorra. After he completed the job, the publishing house informed him he “was not the right person,” he said.

“They told me that I am not suitable to translate it,” Obiols told AFP. “They did not question my abilities, but they were looking for a different profile, which had to be a woman, young, activist and preferably Black.”

See,

Miriam Berger, “White translator removed from Amanda Gorman poem, amid controversy in Europe,” Washington Post, March 11, 2021(01:00 p.m. EST).

Obiols, while admitting the subject was complicated and should not be treated “with frivolity”, observed in his own defense the following:

i(I)f I cannot translate a poet because she is a woman, young, Black, an American of the 21st century, neither can I translate Homer because I am not a Greek of the eighth century BC. Or could not have translated Shakespeare because I am not a 16th-century Englishman.” I cannot translate a poet because she is a woman, young, Black, an American of the 21st century, neither can I translate Homer because I am not a Greek of the eighth century BC. Or could not have translated Shakespeare because I am not a 16th-century Englishman.”

Berger also reports in her article that,

Earlier this month, an author quit a job translating Gorman’s poem into Dutch following objections to their appointment by Dutch publisher Meulenhoff because they were not Black.

For a particularly caustic and insightful commentary on these developments, see

Deniz Yücel, “Nur für People of Color,” Die Welt, den 12. März 2021.

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