Aversive Racism and the Traditional Publishing Model

So, I think we’ve reached the point in the diverse books discussion where we can start talking about more nuanced aspect of publishing’s diversity problem, namely the existence of a double-standard for books featuring marginalized voices over those that support a viewpoint which centers on the white, masculine, heterosexual cultural experience.  That’s all a very fancy way of saying what Papa Pope said on Scandal:

Twice as hard for half as much.

When we get into conversations about diversity there is always a little pushback.  Most often the discussion shifts to being one of quality.  “I just think we should give the award to the BEST person, not a person who is marginalized or female or whatever.”  The problem is, if you participate in this culture of aversive racism (and by extension aversive sexism and aversive homophobia) you are still part of the problem.  By ignoring your own inherent biases and the existing, flawed structures, you are perpetuating the overt discrimination that thrives in the world in smaller, more fundamental ways.  After all, every wall is built one brick at a time.

Basically, there is no neutrality when it comes to equality for all.  You are either for making things equal or you are not.  And when you are not you are just as culpable as the dude waving the Confederate flag and burning down synagogues and black churches.

Does that sound harsh? Welp, it’s proven by SCIENCE!

Gaertner and Dovidio have found across multiple studies that when the choice is obvious, for example when a black applicant is wildly more qualified than a white applicant, the choice will go to the black applicant because people understand that to choose the white applicant would be racist.  But when the choice is more ambiguous like in publishing, the white candidate is far more likely to be chosen, which leads to discussions of “quality” and of books being written by white authors being of a higher quality than those written by marginalized voices.

This even happens when books feature characters of color.  The centering of a white perspective has made books like The Help and Eleanor and Park popular as books featuring characters from marginalized backgrounds, but these voices are not authentic.  They are filtered not only through a lens of white experience but of white cultural superiority.  The marginalized voice is subverted to the white authorial voice, resulting in at best a whitewashed rendition of the marginalized voice, and at worse a caricature or gross stereotype.

So don’t tell me that you are colorblind or that race and sexuality and disability don’t matter when you read, because they do.  The challenge is for you to recognize your own inherent biases, and to move past them.

You can’t do that if you refuse to acknowledge it in the first place.