I’ve been thinking about lifting up marginalized voices more than often because reasons. Part of my diversity death spiral is because I’m kind of dreading what publishers will be putting out under the “diversity” umbrella in the next few years. I’ve been reading authors who write outside of their racial experiences (I had to narrow my focus because, yikes, is there a lot of problematic material) for a thesis and it’s pretty fucking awful. These books went through an agent, an editor, and a copyeditor and this is what came out? Were there beta readers from the outside culture? I kind of doubt it, and that makes me fear the future.
Part of it is because we’re at the end of conference season and online images of panels are a great visual reminder of publishing’s diversity problem. Panel after panel after panel of people, not a single brown person in sight. I’d dare you to walk outside of your house, go to the local Wal-Mart and see if the world is that monochromatic. If you don’t think the inevitable whiteness of panels sends a message, you’re wrong.
I had two panels at AWP. After each one people of color came up to me and said “I’m so glad you’re on this panel. I didn’t know if I could actually get published. Now I know I can do it. Thanks.” And…I died a little inside. Because these folks hadn’t read my books. They have no idea how good or bad of a writer I am.
But my skin color, that was validating.
I’ve been thinking about racial representation. A lot. A lotta lot. Because we talk about diversity and we talk about the importance of those hidden marginalizations also being talked about (and Yes! They are important) but at the same time it takes the focus off of what is happening in the diversity discussion to some degree.
Namely: people would rather talk about ANYTHING but race and what race and racism means in the context of publishing.
I honestly think people are more comfortable talking about neurodiversity or sexual minorities or disability than ANYTHING surrounding race. Race is scary (second place in THINGS PEOPLE DO NOT WANT TO TALK ABOUT we have Judaism and Islam, discussions of which also meet some awfully loud crickets). It’s the big Other. So instead of having uncomfortable conversations we defer to the gay white men for our diversity (always white, always male, which is interesting). Intersections? Who needs intersections? There’s a gay dude on the panel. Check the block, go home. Diversity accomplished.
Someone wrote that white people should be allowed to write people of color because people of color can write white people and that’s only fair. That statement shows so much ignorance about race, about how it functions in this country, about power structures and survival, that it didn’t make me mad.
It just made me tired.
The categories of marginalizations are deep and wide, but I feel like shifting the discussion away from race is unconsciously less about improving representation for everyone (a noble goal indeed!) and more about shifting the focus off of race. Women of color are actively silenced and tone policed in a way that other groups never are. We need to be more polite, to ask for better representation nicely. Black Lives Matter gets replaced with All Lives Matter. And to some degree, it feels like this is a very real possibility in the bookish community with regards to the diversity discussion.
Or not. Prove me wrong.
EDITED TO ADD: Kayla Whaley was kind enough to point out how I pretty grossly erased disabled folks and other categories in order to make a point about race, and since that is gross read this Storify of her tweets as well. Because it is important: