A new book is garnering a lot of attention right now for controversial reasons: CNN commentator Sally Kohn's debut book, The Opposite of Hate, contains a quote attributed to Call Your Girlfriend co-host Aminatou Sow, but Sow claims that she does not recall making the statement, and that she never gave Kohn permission to quote her in the first place.
The Opposite of Hate hit store shelves on Tuesday, but "the dispute began in mid-March," according to The Cut. Sow learned through a group email chain that Kohn quoted her in the book, but Sow writes on Twitter that she "do[esn't] remember sitting down for an interview or agreeing to be quoted." The quote from the book, as shown in a picture Sow published on Twitter, and which The Opposite of Hate publisher Algonquin Books confirmed to be accurate in an email to Bustle, reads:
"My friend writer Aminatou Sow has cautioned that there's a compounding unfairness, even oppression, in expecting the most marginalized among us to take the high road. Why is it black women are always asked to do the work,' Aminatou chides one day as we're in a cab and I'm telling her about my book. 'Once you're provoked, the rules of engagement change,' she adds, 'and I can fucking kill you and I'm justified in doing that' — metaphorically speaking."
According to Sow, the passage not only misquotes her, but also "grossly misrepresents [the] relationship" between the two women. The podcast host said on Twitter that she "knew [Kohn] very casually" in July 2017, when the supposed conversation took place, and admits that she "was very aware of the reservations I have about [Kohn's] politics in general."
In a statement to Bustle, Sow says, "I have no recollection of telling Sally Kohn the words she attributes to me. At no point do I remember her pulling out a notebook or a device. At no point did she circle back to make sure that she was quoting me correctly or that she had basic biographical information about me right. She did not request a formal interview. When I approached her about my reservations, she seemed wholly focused on her book launch, which shouldn't have surprised me. Sally's reputation as someone enamored with fame and status precedes her, and I wish her all the best in her endeavors."
Here's Sow's Twitter thread on the matter:
Sow also tells Bustle that, "Knowing the state of the publishing industry, it is very hard for me to imagine a woman of color getting an opportunity similar to Sally's and being as reckless and getting away with it. This moment has been rather instructive for me as well: there has historically been a really insidious use of black feminist adjacency and genius by white women. It is still happening today. Perhaps acknowledging that is one of the first steps towards dismantling systems of hate." She reflected on this racial disparity in her Twitter thread:
Sow's attempts to set the record straight have not been entirely unfruitful. Algonquin has amended digital versions of The Opposite of Hate to not include Sow's name. The publisher also released the following statement Thursday night on Twitter:
The fallout from this misquoting scandal has gone beyond Sow, Kohn, and Algonquin Books, however. Sugar in the Raw author Rebecca Carroll has withdrawn from an event at which she was scheduled to co-headline with Kohn, citing what she calls "the recent revelations that Sally [Kohn] grossly misquoted Aminatou Sow":
Kohn has also issued a statement, saying that she "continue[s] to be deeply sorry that [she] ha[s] hurt and upset Aminatou Sow." The apology also includes a short section of typed, "UNEDITED NOTES," purportedly from the car ride she and Sow shared. Those notes include the statement "once ur provoked, the rules of engagement change [sic]," but, as Reveal reporter Aura Bogado observed, the opening line attributed to Sow in the print version of The Opposite of Hate does not appear in Kohn's notes:
In one further attempt to tell her side of the story, Kohn appeared in a Friday-morning interview with AM to DM on BuzzFeed News. She stressed that "[w]e're [living] in an era where journalism and journalistic standards are under attack," in what reads like an attempt to deflect valid criticism of her work onto larger and very real problems regarding the state of journalism across the world. "Here we're all talking about the [James] Comey book," she says. "They didn't go and check with Donald Trump about Comey's quotes."
Sow's response to Kohn's Twitter apology was brief:
"Is there a world in which it's no big deal that someone misquotes you, or, worse, fabricates a quote from you, but it doesn't matter because the book doesn't sell well and celebrities don't performatively display it on their bookshelves? Sure, maybe," Sow tells Bustle. "But we live on planet earth where words have meaning and consequences. I don't care how many printed copies of this book are floating around, but I do know that the Internet is forever and this book will be indexed in Google Books. Who knows how this can be taken out of context and weaponized in the future? These are important questions I now have to contend with."