Different translators will have different translations of the same text. I think this is especially true in literary works, and even more so in poetry. So selecting the person with the right sensitivity, as well as the skill, would seem appropriate. However, the notion that skin color is the main criterion, or a necessary one, even though in my view it may indeed be central here, seems going a bit too far. How about political views or life path as a couple other important selection criteria?
Nevertheless, I would like to state an observation here: PC, which stands for "politically correct," could, in my view, just as well stand for "plain courtesy," as often has been pointed out. I do not understand the kneejerk reactions against PC. Calling people by the name by which they wish to be called, for starters, seems a no brainer. And every other case I've observed, without exception, of people getting on their high horse about someone supposedly being "too PC" has appeared to me to be trivial, and actually quite shallow.
As to the debate on Amanda Gorman's translator, you may need a subscription to the New York Times to read from the link to the right. Try it. But here is the text:
Alex Marshall By Alex Marshall March 26, 2021
Hadija Haruna-Oelker, a Black journalist, has just produced the German translation of Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb,” the poem about a “skinny Black girl” that for many people was the highlight of President Biden’s inauguration.
So has Kübra Gümüsay, a German writer of Turkish descent.
As has Uda Strätling, a translator, who is white.
Literary translation is usually a solitary pursuit, but the German publisher Hoffmann und Campe went for a team of writers to ensure the translation of Gorman’s poem — just 710 words — wasn’t just true to Gorman’s voice. The trio was also asked to make its political and social significance clear, and to avoid anything that might exclude people of color, people with disabilities, women or other marginalized groups.
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“It was a gamble,” Strätling said of the collaborative approach.
ImageFrom left, Kübra Gümüsay, Hadija Haruna-Oelker and Uda Strätling, who have worked together on the German translation of Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb.” From left, Kübra Gümüsay, Hadija Haruna-Oelker and Uda Strätling, who have worked together on the German translation of Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb.”Credit...Katarina Ivanisevic (center); Christoph Keller (right) For nearly two weeks, the team debated word choices, occasionally emailing Gorman for clarifications. But as they worked, an argument was brewing elsewhere in Europe about who has the right to translate the poet’s work.
Refer someone to The Times. They’ll enjoy our special rate of $1 a week. “This whole debate started,” Gümüsay said, with a sigh.
It began in February when Meulenhoff, a publisher in the Netherlands, said it had asked Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, a writer whose debut novel won last year’s Booker International Prize, to translate Gorman’s poem into Dutch.
Rijneveld was the “ideal candidate,” Meulenhoff said in a statement. But many social media users disagreed, asking why a white writer had been chosen when Gorman’s reading at the inauguration had been a significant cultural moment for Black people.
GET THE BOOK REVIEW NEWSLETTER: Be the first to see reviews, news and features in The New York Times Book Review. Sign Up Three days later, Rijneveld quit. (Rijneveld declined an interview request for this article.)
In March, the debate reignited after Victor Obiols, another white translator, was dropped by the Catalan publisher Univers. Obiols said in a phone interview he was told his profile “was not suitable for the project.” (A Univers spokeswoman declined to comment.) Literary figures and newspaper columnists across Europe have been arguing for weeks about what these decisions mean, turning Gorman’s poem into the latest flash point in debates about identity politics across the continent. The discussion has shone a light on the often unexamined world of literary translation and its lack of racial diversity.
“I can’t recall a translation controversy ever taking the world by storm like this,” Aaron Robertson, a Black Italian-to-English translator, said in a phone interview.
“This feels something of a watershed moment,” he added.
On Monday, the American Literary Translators Association waded into the furor. “The question of whether identity should be the deciding factor in who is allowed to translate whom is a false framing of the issues at play,” it said in a statement published on its website.
The real problem underlying the controversy was “the scarcity of Black translators,” it added. Last year, the association carried out a diversity survey. Only 2 percent of the 362 translators who responded were Black, a spokeswoman for the association said in an email.
In a video interview, the members of the German team said they, too, felt the debate had missed the point. “People are asking questions like, ‘Does color give you the right to translate?’” Haruna-Oelker said. “This is not about color.”
She added: “It’s about quality, it’s about the skills you have, and about perspectives.” Each member of the German team brought different things to the group, she said.
The team spent a long time discussing how to translate the word “skinny,” without conjuring images of an overly thin woman, Gümüsay said, and they debated how to bring a sense of the poem’s gender-inclusive language into German, in which many objects — and all people — are either masculine or feminine. “You’re constantly moving back and forth between the politics and the composition,” Strätling said.
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“To me it felt like dancing,” Gümüsay said of the process. Haruna-Oelker added that the team tried hard to find words “which don’t hurt anyone.”
But whereas the German translators were happy to engage with the identity politics, others expressed frustration at the translator departures and their implications. Nuria Barrios, the translator of the poem’s Spanish edition, who is white, wrote in the newspaper El País that Rijneveld stepping down from the project was “a catastrophe.”
“It is the victory of identity politics over creative freedom,” she wrote, adding: “To remove imagination from translation is to subject the craft to a lobotomy.”
Image Marieke Lucas Rijneveld was chosen to translate Gorman’s poem to Dutch but later stepped down. Marieke Lucas Rijneveld was chosen to translate Gorman’s poem to Dutch but later stepped down. Credit...Jeroen Jumelet/EPA, via Shutterstock Some Black academics and translators have also expressed concern. “There is a tacit idea that we are supposed to be especially concerned about the ‘appropriateness’ of a translator’s identity in the particular case of blackness,” John McWhorter, a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, said in an email.
Other differences between writers and their translators — such as wealth levels, or political views — were not sparking concern, McWhorter added. “Instead, our sense of ‘diversity’ is narrower than that word implies: It’s only about skin color,” he said.
Couching the discussion in terms of appropriateness was “really ridiculous,” said Janice Deul, a Black Dutch journalist and activist who on Feb. 25 wrote an opinion piece for De Volkskrant, a Dutch newspaper, calling Rijneveld’s appointment “incomprehensible.” The following day, Rijneveld resigned.