Further Reading on Racism in Publishing by People of Color

It’s so easy to get me riled up about things that both my family and my day job colleagues basically have made a game of it at this point. I could write endless blog posts about this topic. I am deeply passionate. But I am white, and it’s time to take a step back. Here are the words and voices of people of color who have better, more informed things to say than I do. If you have read other articles by people of color I’ve missed please leave links in the comments and I’ll add to this list.


No More Diversity Panels; It’s Time to Move On” by L.E.H. Light at BlackNerdProblems

These panels easily turn into bitch sessions, in which all of the audience members, basically all of the People of Color who are in attendance at the con, join the panelists in enumerating their most egregious experiences with racism in the fandom. Alternatively, and just as annoyingly, they become Diversity 101 classes, where the panelists spend an hour educating the White audience on why diversity in fandom is important and why they should try reading one book by a non-White author. This is great, the first time. After the fourth or fifth time, it is all exactly as fun as it sounds.

Lyla N. Lee’s response to Maggie Stiefvater over on Tumblr 

We need BOTH better representation of POC characters in white, established writers’ books AND newer, actually POC voices. This balance hasn’t been reached yet–which is why, I think, all this was a big outrage–but it is my hope that it will be reached soon and the children of today and tomorrow will grow up reading more diverse books that DO NOT TELL THEM THAT THEY ARE AN OTHER.

Justina Ireland:  An Unpopular Opinion about Diversity Panels

Diversity panels do not help further the cause of diversity.  They just don’t.  They are nice and I love hearing marginalized folks share their experiences.  But they suffer from an echo chamber effect that diversified panels, panels where a member happens to be from a marginalized group, do not face.  Diversity panels make conference organizers feel like they’re doing their part to further diversity, but all they really do is further ghettoize diverse authors and marginalized voices because the audience for those panels are the people who are ALREADY LISTENING.

Sherman Alexie Speaks Out on The Best American Poetry 2015

  And, of course, I know many of you poets are pissed at me. I know many of you are screaming out a simple question: “Sherman, why did you keep that poetry colonist in the anthology even after you learned of his deception?”

Listen, I was so angry that I stormed and cursed around the room. I felt like punching the wall.

And, of course, there was no doubt that I would pull that fucking poem because of that deceitful pseudonym.

But I realized that I would primarily be jettisoning the poem because of my own sense of embarrassment. I would have pulled it because I didn’t want to hear people say, “Oh, look at the big Indian writer conned by the white guy.” I would have dumped the poem because of my vanity.

“From the Editors: The Politics of ‘Blind Submissions’ Policies” by staff at Apogee Lit Journal

By reading diversely, we come to see that it is not only content that is affected by perspective and identity, but voice, perspective, tone, diction, syntax, mood, and rhythm.

Blind submissions don’t actually protect writers from the existing prejudices of editors, and they alone do not contribute to editors reading inclusively.

“Diversity Is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing” by Daniel Jose Older for Buzzfeed

Diversity is not enough.

We’re right to push for diversity, we have to, but it is only step one of a long journey. Lack of racial diversity is a symptom. The underlying illness is institutional racism. It walks hand in hand with sexism, cissexism, homophobia, and classism. To go beyond this same conversation we keep having, again and again, beyond tokens and quick fixes, requires us to look the illness in the face and destroy it. This is work for white people and people of color to do, sometimes together, sometimes apart. It’s work for writers, agents, editors, artists, fans, executives, interns, directors, and publicists. It’s work for reviewers, educators, administrators. It means taking courageous, real-world steps, not just changing mission statements or submissions guidelines.

“Deborah Wiles, Debbie Reese, and Choosing a Revolution” by Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature

One reason, I think, is the lack of diversity within the major publishing houses. I think there’s a savior mentality in the big publishing houses and a tendency to view other as less-than. For some it is conscious; for others it is unconscious. All of it can–and should be–characterized as well-intentioned, but it is also unexamined and as such, reflects institutional racism.

“Diversity Panels Are the Beginning, Not the End” by Michi Trota at Uncanny Magazine

To put it bluntly, too many cons are resting on the laurels of having diversity–themed panels and treating them as the endpoint of creating programming that accurately represents fandom and geek culture, when in fact having diversity–themed panels is just the beginning. Yes, highlighting the need for better representation and pushing back against stereotypes are worthwhile discussions, but that is not all marginalized people are capable of talking about.

“Dear Publishing Industry: Fix Your Own Racism Before You Beg for Diverse Books” by Anonymous at SC Writes for #WriteInclusively

Agents are subjective, but subjectivity doesn’t just spring up. White agents, generally, will not be attracted to race issues as much as agents of color would be, because race is not a big part of the white life. White privilege is being able to live life not thinking about color. White privilege is being colorblind. When theentire publishing industry is based around the idea of ‘subjectivity,’ and when the entire publishing industry is so very white, race-related novels are left aside.

That’s why #WeNeedDiverseBooks makes me angry and why I can’t fully support it. I still love it, and the campaign has done some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in terms of anti-racism work. That’s where the mixed feelings come in: I love it, but I feel it has distracted from institutional change.

Nalo Hopkinson’s advice to anthology editors looking for diverse voices

Your list should include the non- (or not as) marginalized writers, but make sure you have 2-5 times more marginalized writers. Because of all the current and historical barriers to our participation, it’s going to take at least that many to get a representative sample of submissions.

Don’t know the names of that many marginalized writers? Ask around. Ask readers, other writers, editors, listserves, educators, Twitter, Facebook. People will be happy to clue you in. Get contact information for the writers they name. While you’re at it, ask them where you should be putting your call for submissions (if you’re doing a public one) in order to have a better chance of it being seen by writers from a diversity of communities. Because if you only publicize it in the usual places, you’ll only get – say it with me – the usual suspects.

N. K. Jemisin’s thoughts on anthology editors looking for diverse voices

Anthologies that solicit my work only because I’m a woman of color? Aren’t going to be good anthologies, don’t have good editors, and they aren’t going to help me. They could actually hurt me, in fact. And choosing to participate in anthologies like that, when I can see the problematic reasoning behind the invitations from a mile away, means acknowledging that reasoning as legitimate.

“The Limits of Diversity” by Jennifer Pan at Asian American Writer’s Workshop

The WNDB campaign has shone a spotlight on the deficit of non-majority perspectives both on the pages and behind the scenes in the book world. Yet the publishing industry remains a bleakly apt example of how increased representation does not necessarily confer material benefits. The same PW report that found the publishing industry to be mostly white also found that while women constituted a clear majority of the industry—74 percent of its workforce, to be precise—they continued to suffer a significant gender pay gap, earning only 70 percent of what their male colleagues did. And so it seems unlikely that increased racial diversity alone will be sufficient to ensure fair pay, equal treatment, or the dwindling of the economic barriers (such as unpaid internships and low entry-level salaries) that have long made careers in publishing available primarily to the educated and affluent.

“Where Things Stand” by Roxane Gay at The Rumpus

If women are underrepresented in certain echelons of publishing, writers of color are likely to face similar issues. As I considered this problem, I had no proof, though, and when it comes to confronting inequities in representation, people want proof. They won’t just take your word that the sky is falling. They need to see the sky shattered, on the ground. And even when you do have proof, people will try to discount your findings.

One thought on “Further Reading on Racism in Publishing by People of Color

  1. Pingback: The Privileged Person’s Guide to Being a Decent Human Being - Family Sprouts

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