On Earned Equality

I’ve been thinking a lot about the inherent flaws of bootstrap equality, especially within the publishing sphere.  If you aren’t familiar with the term, bootstrap equality believes that those from marginalized spheres should lift themselves up by hard work.  It’s complete and utter bullshit for several reasons, mostly because it ignores the very real impact of systemic oppression while at the same time implying that marginalized groups have only themselves to blame for their problems.  Ideas of justice that rely heavily on bootstrap equality are at their heart discriminatory because they intimate that marginalized groups are inherently lesser, and therefore need to work harder to be equal to the majority.

The past two weeks have been chock full of established authors and influential librarians playing off of ideas of bootstrap equality via their criticisms of the objections made by people from marginalized groups.  More marginalized voices within publishing have become more open about objecting to problematic content and this is a good thing.  But the more people speak up, the more certain elements of the publishing establishment push back, usually with some variation of “Well, I guess you won’t get any representation, now, since you keep complaining about the representation we gave you.”

This, quite frankly, is bananapants.

The subtext here is that marginalized voices have not earned the right to quality representation, a right that was pretty much given freely to those in the majority.  If underrepped voices are equal to those in the majority, why should we have to earn a place to have our stories told and promoted and read?

Not only that, the objections here aren’t to being included, but the fact that the stories have been told by people who clearly didn’t consider the impact of their words on marginalized groups.  Sometimes, your help is not helpful.  This is akin to giving a starving man maggot-filled meat while you sit in front of a buffet.  To tell marginalized groups that they should be happy with shitty representation is saying that marginalized people don’t deserve to be represented at all.  It’s blatant discrimination, plain and simple.

Let’s be honest: people within the majority do not have the solution for better representation within kidlit.  You can’t depend on people who already benefit from an established system to fix the system.    It’s up to the well fed to listen to what the starving need.

When marginalized voices criticize, instead of complaining about all the yelling and the noise, listen to WHAT they’re yelling.  Instead of sniffing at tone, listen to the WORDS, consider the critiques and examine why you don’t share those opinions.

I guarantee you will learn something.