The Racial Problems In Publishing

This morning I woke up to find several writing/publishing friends of mine sharing an article on Facebook. The (unfortunately) titled piece, “Book Publishing Is Almost as White as the Oscars”, explores the very real problems within the publishing world. Featured in the article is an image (above) showing the significant lack of diversity in the publishing world.  The image comes from a larger infographic put out by Lee & Low Books.  Here it is in full:

Diversity in Publishing 2015 E

If you are a writer, editor, publisher, or even hope to be one or more of these, spend some time with this information. Even accounting for dynamics that would temper the results of this study do not (and cannot) do so enough to negate the depth and breadth of the problem we are dealing with.

Why is this important? Print media, like all media, plays a huge role in shape the perception of cultural norms for the wider public. As a result, when the vast majority of the material being produced and released reflects a narrow experience of one dominant group (and I mean dominant in use of power, not necessarily always in representation), people begin to make assumptions (or accept espoused “truths”) about the world that are narrow, inaccurate and prejudicial.  Even if the differing experiences of people- with respect to race, gender, sexuality, etc. (saying nothing of the intersectionality of the dynamics)- represented a minority (and they are not as minority as you might expect), the need to see them represented is even more critical.  I want my Ethiopian son to see examples of successful, strong, confident, wise, moral, funny, giving black men and women because I want him to embrace who he is and not buy into the intentional and unintentional lies that are perpetuated by a (dare I say?) supremacist worldview.

To be clear, I am a writer who falls into almost all of the most privileged categories in this study. The exception- my bisexuality- is not initially evident and therefore not always immediately problematic. (That said, I have lost a great deal of economic opportunity in writing and other fields due to my bisexuality, but that’s a post for another time).  Given my relative privilege, I have given a great deal of thought about what I can do. Again, a topic that deserves a post of its own, here are a few points I think are important, things we all can do to start seeing a change:

Buy Different Books: As a reader, I have chosen to read more books by women, non-white, LGBTQ, etc. writers. To be clear, I am not doing this out of some token impulse, but because they writers are good and are producing really good work.  People like Roxanne Gay, Drew Hart, Helen Lee, Randy Woodley, Eliel Cruz, Lisa Sharon Harper, James Cone, Margaret Atwood, Justin Lee, Jhumpa Lahiri– the list could go on and on. Not only will you benefit by reading amazing writing, but you will also send a message to publishers about what you want.

Advocate: Contact publishers and booksellers requesting more titles from a more diverse authorship. Reward companies and stores that demonstrate a commitment to move against these trends by telling, positively reviewing them, etc. You have a voice and it will be heard, so use it.

Go To Different Events: Whether you go as an attendee or as a speaker, resist participating in events, conferences, and organizations that do not reflect diversity. I don’t often get invited to speak at conferences, but in recent years, I have made the commitment not to accept invitations when, among a group of speakers, there are largely or only white men. This is not to say those events are bad, but rather that the only way to send a message to conference organizers is to refuse to help perpetuate “the same ol’ same ol'”.

Do you have a favorite writer who falls into one of these commonly marginalized categories? Tell us about them and their work.

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  1. Wow! The publishing industry is majority white, cisgendered non-disabled women! I suspect that a survey of pastors would show the same — with one difference, it would be men instead of women. And your point about the narrow experience of one dominant group being represented and promoted would apply there too… Thanks for posting this.

    btw, the link to your friends’ FB-shared article does not work.

    • Jamie (Author)

      Indeed. (Thanks, link fixed)

  2. James Baldwin
    Marlon James
    Octavia Butler
    Qiu Miaojin
    Audre Lorde

  3. James Baldwin and Audre Lorde in particular occupy a few of the ‘minority’ categories and are simply gorgeous writers.

    • Jamie (Author)

      Thanks, David. Great list.

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