Stop Telling Black People to Self-Publish

One of the things that happens a lot whenever I talk about diversity and inclusion in publishing is that someone will inevitably shake their head and say “Black people should just self-publish. It’s a much better way of doing business.”  And it makes me want to turn into a molten puddle of WTF because there is so much wrong with that statement that I never know where to begin.

Let me begin by saying: I am not here to argue about the viability and importance of self-publishing versus traditional publishing. The same way I don’t get into arguments over whether burritos or burgers are better. I love burritos. But I’ll also eat a burger.  Both are good. Neither one is BETTER than the other. It all depends on taste.

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But saying that Black people should just go ahead and self-publish rather than working for equal access to traditional publishing spheres is…well, it’s fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of oppression.  And it’s a super privileged argument. Just because you’ve decided through your own processes that you don’t want access to traditional publishing no one else should? Son, that ain’t how it works.

Consider a steakhouse. I want to go have a steak at the steak house. I have my money in hand and I’ve made a reservation, but when I show up the hostess refuses to seat me.  Or she seats me and only offers me a menu with chicken. I don’t want chicken. I want steak.

The self-publishing people are essentially saying “Well, steak isn’t good for you anyway. I’m a vegan, and you really should go to this awesome tofu restaurant I love.”  Because they’ve decided steak isn’t for them they can’t understand why anyone else would want steak.  But the issue here is THEY made the decision that they didn’t want steak. In the case of Black authors, the decision is being made for them by an industry practicing anti-blackness.  There is a huge difference between eating tofu by choice and because it’s the only thing you're allowed to eat.

And that is what every single diversity discussion is about: ACCESS.  No black authors are asking to be given an unfair chance.  We’re asking to be given the same opportunity to eat a steak that everyone else has, even vegetarians. 

Why is that so hard to understand?