It’s been just over a month since the results of our Diversity Baseline Survey came out, quantifying diversity among the book publishing workforce. Since then, we’ve been thrilled to see the many turns that this conversation has taken: different ways of considering the problem, different ways of interpreting the data, different solutions offered. The study has been covered more than 40 times in major news outlets including The Washington Post, The Guardian, New York Magazine, Forbes and Salon. Here are ten of our favorite responses that offer thoughtful commentary and ideas on how to look at the problem of diversity in publishing from a new angle:
“’Just because you are a woman, that doesn’t make you an expert in the marginalization that people of color face or people with disabilities face,’ says Ehrlich. ‘Do not assume that because women are successful or are in positions of power that it means that success or power will automatically be offered out or shared with other marginalized groups.’
That sentiment is echoed by Tamara Winfrey Harris, the Indianapolis, Indiana–based author of The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America.
‘Straight, white, cis-women are as susceptible to bias as anyone else. Bias toward our own experiences is sadly human. And racism, sexism, and other ‘isms’ are sadly an ongoing feature of our society,’ says Winfrey Harris. ‘So, if we want the universe of books to reflect the rich diversity of humanity, then the publishing industry must proactively work toward looking like humanity rather than a privileged slice of it, as well as making a real effort to find and nurture projects by writers with varied backgrounds.’”
“As Kait Howard, a publicist at Melville House, points out, male representation increases to 40 percent at the executive levels of publishing, suggesting that men and women are still being promoted at different rates. A Publisher’s Weekly survey last year also found that the pay gap persists, citing an average salary of $70,000 for men versus $51,000 for women. In other words, while white women have clearly amassed a great deal of power in publishing, that power is in many cases concentrated at the lower and middle levels of the ranks, suggesting it’s too soon to declare total hegemony. But the survey is an essential, depressing reminder of the extent to which the feminist movement has swept in new opportunities for primarily straight, white, and affluent women while excluding others, especially women of color.”
“‘I think the biggest thing is: What is your comfort zone as an editor? What are the stories that you feel are your speciality? Your expertise — often it’s not going to be across race,’ de la Pena said. ‘With my case, in 2005, I had a Caucasian editor who said: ‘I want this book on my list.’ So she took a great risk.’
Dahlen said the issue extends further, into libraries. Librarians play a key role in deciding which books to stock and which to promote to readers, but librarians are still a ‘fairly homogenous’ group.
‘If we are a fairly homogenous profession, how do we know the books we are evaluating are or are not authentic?’ Dahlen said.”
“Diversity does not mean that women should dominate, any more than it means that men should dominate. Diversity means that we need to share power, share advantages, share opportunities and wages and respect and cultural development together. Parity, while it will always be elusive in its purest state, is the goal of actual diversity: hegemony for no one.”–Porter Anderson
“But there’s no ‘white guy shelf.’ There’s no ‘Lads Who Write About Gentrified Brooklyn’ shelf. And every author needs the space to write about things other than their identity moniker ascribed and recognized by wider society. We need to actively expunge the premise that the only [identity] writer on the list can write about [identity] and nothing else. I think this is a fundamental right for the life of a writer.”–Linda Z., Literary Agent
“I worked at a library and there are a lot of gatekeepers that are not those grumpy dudes from the Muppets. Everyone just needs to investigate themselves. White supremacy and the heteropatriarchy are pervasive. Even down to librarians and the people on residency committees: maybe at the top there’s a white man but there’s also a lot of white women. This is controversial to say but white women need to look at themselves. Equality can’t just stop when you get in. It can’t be trickle down. It feels that way. ‘Wait a minute when we get everything settled, then we’ll bring more of you up.’”—Angela Flournoy, novelist, The Turner House
“You will be tokenized. Even when you get to write about your own experience of being a minority in America—you know, even that can be turned against you. Are you going to be used later on as leverage against an accusation of racism? Will you then be seen as a collaborator? In most cases the answer is yes.
Hiring is a crucial step, but it is reformist. It’s not going to really fix anything, just sand off the rough edges, right? Because there is far more concern about appearing racist rather than not doing racist things. It’s not just a publishing thing. What else can I say but dismantle capitalism? And I don’t know that anything radical enough to do that wouldn’t hurt a lot of the people that we are trying to save. Barring world historical change, I don’t see really anything happening but a new paint job. It is systemic racism for a reason, it’s so essentially wound up with the system upon which everything is built. You can ameliorate it. You can palliate it. But you can’t cure it. This is what I sound like when I’m optimistic.” —Tony Tulathimutte, novelist, Private Citizens
“Despite the challenges, we’ve seen some excellent progress. Anecdotally, I can tell you we’ve recruited over 150 new reviewers, many of them from a rich diversity of backgrounds. We’ve reached out to organizations like REFORMA and local chapters of the Black Caucus to recruit new reviewers. We created a website, forum, and a monthly newsletter for SLJ reviewers, which contains resources, training material, and best practices with a large focus on how to evaluate literature with an eye towards diversity and representation. We hold monthly online chats with our reviewers, often using those informal discussions as a way to talk about diversity and evaluation of literature. And, this summer, editor Shelley Diaz (recently promoted to lead the SLJ reviews team), will be organizing a free online course for reviewers centered on examining how we look at ‘diverse books,’ how we recognize our own blinders or prejudices when it comes to book evaluation, and how we clearly articulate both praise and criticism in professional reviews.” – Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal
“People of color can effort all they can to get published and to change this industry, but the change has to come from within the dominating white culture first. White editors, agents, marketing teams, and executives have to be willing to admit that they might not know what’s best for audiences they don’t understand or are not identified with. These people also have to open their eyes. It’s probably too kind to say that the lack of diversity in this year’s Academy Awards nominations line-up is a result of blindness. Seeing this year’s sea of white nominees makes Jackson’s use of the word ‘stupidity’ somehow seem tame.”–Brooke Warner, President, She Writes Press
“But for too many writers of color, it’s a herculean task just to get into a crowded auditorium where just one of those men might be lecturing, let alone being able to publicly claim those five literary lights as your professional support system. Merely getting to the point where your writing consciously panders to those kind of men would represent a victory of sorts. From the margins, the sound of writing sounds like nothing at all. You’re a mute in a black hole, hearing nothing but braying in your head.
The critique of institutional whiteness is everywhere now. However reluctantly, there is a growing awareness that it’s not just one professional venue but an entire cultural system that’s softly seeding doubt bombs in broody crevices where dark thoughts coalesce and swirl. A glass ceiling would be an improvement on this feeling of running everywhere into invisible electrical fences shrugged off as paranoid delusions by those who aren’t shocked every time they attempt pass through them. We regret that your manuscript is not a good fit. Of course we welcome the work of diverse writers, but please don’t revise and resubmit. We’re sorry, we already have one Black writer on our list. You’re Ojibwe? But we already have one Black writer on our list. How many times must I repeat this?”—Paula Young Lee
“Farhana Shaikh from Leicester-based publisher Dahlia, which focuses on diverse writing, agreed. ‘It’s been evident for too long that the publishing industry is overwhelmingly white here in the UK,’ she said. ‘The fact that things are no different in the US is unsurprising. As publishers, writers and editors we seem to have embraced technology to champion new voices and build links globally – and yet, as an industry we’ve failed to recognise the talent and potential emerging from these diverse communities. The industry is in a state of flux, print sales are down, and yet globally, markets like India are thriving. It’s time to stop talking, and start investing in creating a more equal balanced workforce which reflects the modern, multicultural society we’re living in.'”
What are we missing? Share your favorite links with us in the comments.