I've been meaning for ages to respond to the many comments left on the last blog entry which links to my essay
on white privilege in children's publishing. And thanks to the many people who have addressed each others' comments, I think much has already been said for me. So here are a few more general musings from me on the subject.
My friend Ben from high school was the first to comment (thanks Ben), and he wondered how much the issues I discussed have to with race/racism in particular, and if using the word "racism" is helpful. And here's the thing, I've probably avoided such strong words as "racism" and "white privilege" in the past, just because they can make people uncomfortable. And as I wrote in the essay, I don't think the problem is a bunch of racist individuals working in the publishing industry. As I know from working within it, mostly the industry is full of passionate, dedicated book-lovers, who work too many hours for too little money. And as author Tony Medina reflected in his comments on my essay
(which are posted at the end of the essay), the editor's role is primarily to improve a story and make it work better. That's what I aimed to do as well.
But this all happens within a particular institution, and the publishing industry is by-and-large capitalist, money-making, white, middle class, and in children's publishing, female. All of this is going to affect the kinds of books produced, as are the distribution networks, the review outlets, and so many other factors. When a room is full of people from a similar background, chances are they are going to respond to certain kinds of stories based on their background.
wrote a guest blog on Justine Larbalestier's
blog entitled: From Margin to Center: Writing Characters of Color
. Do read it, as Neesha
(whose blog and work I've only recently discovered) is articulate, honest, and speaks openly about issues which really need discussing. Susan from Color Online
wrote a comment to this posting which I think sums up the situation nicely:
Let’s talk books again.This is going to be overly simplistic so bear with me. Imagine a group of editors discussing what to publish next. Everyone in the room is female, white, mid 20-30s. They’re all educated. They’re all readers. All of them have only read other educated, white, female writers. Collectively they’re favorite genres are chick lit and books published in the last 20 years.
They get in a stack of manuscripts. Books by men, books by people of color, themes include sci-fi, horror and true crime.
The editors look at the works. They agree the writing is competent, but none of the editors have a real point of reference to compare the works. These aren’t anything they read, these are books they normally don’t check out in the bookstore. They don’t have any marketing numbers to suggest how well these books would sell.
And whether one says it or not, somebody is thinking, “Where’s the chick lit?”
Now imagine if the group of editors had males, people of color, readers who read sci-fi, horror and true crime. That person can share a different perspective.
We’re not going to debate if that editor could influence the group but being there and saying something brings something that wasn’t there before- a different experience.
Yes it does. And so does openly talking about issues that make people uncomfortable. Which segues nicely to the W.A.R. part of my title to this posting. School Library Journal blogger Amy Bowllan, along with Zetta Elliott, have been running a series of blog postings on the topic of War Against Racism (W.A.R.). I was flattered to be asked to contribute, and everyone is responding to the following three questions:
Briefly describe the impact racism had on you as a young person.
Has your personal experience of racism impacted your professional work as a writer/educator?
In what way can literature be used to combat the effects of racism and promote tolerance?
You can read my answers here. And read the many other contributors by going to Amy's blog and scrolling back. The questions and answers reveal how the personal and the political are intimately linked. Each person has their own experiences, their own stories to tell - and all of us have connected to and through literature as a way of combating racism in the ways that we can.
So thanks again for all who have commented on the essay. And please continue to add your voices. The more of us who speak, who confront the uncomfortable, who push the status quo - the higher the chance that the situation will shift and change. Working together, from all backgrounds, races, classes, and any other "others", we have a powerful voice.