White translator relinquishes assignment over race

The Dutch translator chosen to adapt the poem Amanda Gorman wrote for Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration has turned down the assignment after some complained that she was not the same race as Gorman.

The translator, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, is white. Gorman is black.

“At a time of increasing polarization, Amanda Gorman shows in her young voice the power of Spoken word, the power of reconciliation, the power of someone who looks to the future instead of looking down,” Rijneveld tweeted February 23rd, explaining why she initially accepted the assignment, “When I was asked to translate all I could do was say yes and get behind her.”

Rijneveld was chosen for the assignment by Gorman herself, The Guardian reports. Her work is also well respected within the broader global literary community. In 2020, she became the youngest writer to win the International Booker Prize with her novel De avond is ongemak — translated into English as The Discomfort of Evening. It was also the first ever Dutch novel shortlisted for the prize.

Her translation of Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb,” was slated for publication by publisher Meulenhoff this month.

“I am shocked by the uproar around my involvement in the dissemination of Amanda Gorman’s message, and I understand people who feel hurt by the choice of Meulenhoff to ask me,” Rijneveld told American newspaper USA Today.

This is not the first time this year that a localizer’s race has become subject to societal critique. In January, activists slammed the decision to cast a white voice-over actor for the Danish dubbing of a black character in the Disney/Pixar movie Soul.

As MultiLingual reported at the time, the language industry typically doesn’t consider non-qualification-related factors in determining who gets the job. One major exception is on-site interpreting: In the United States, it’s not uncommon for medical and domestic violence clients to require interpreters be of the same gender as the person they interpret for.


MultiLingual Staff
MultiLingual creates go-to news and resources for language industry professionals.

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