The campaign is designed to view Publishing's lack of diversity as an institutional problem, and seek institutional solutions. It is not here to demonize people. Another branch of the campaign, for us writers, is to help us write more responsibly when it comes to issues of marginalized people.
When I say "Publishing is racist," that is a scary statement. That evokes images of the KKK and Governor Wallace shouting, "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." But quite simply, that is not the case. There are no Governor Wallace's in Publishing and no KKK (or, at least, I hope, hehe). There's no editor snarling whenever they see a black agent or a black writer. But Publishing is still racist. I hesitate to say the word "racist" when I am describing the actions of a friend or an individual - because they will immediately run away from the label instead of investigating their actions. "Racist" has become a demonizing term because it evokes Hitler, the KKK, etc. Racism is more than that.
Racism is a system of privilege based on skin color. It is not only a "belief" - that would be a prejudice. It is a belief that is held up and promoted by society. And this system has no figure-head.
Racism is not the hundreds of KKK members who gathered on Stone Mountain for the Confederate Flag rally. That rally became racist due to the police who defended and protected them while pepper-spraying a peaceful gathering of Black Lives Matter. Racism is not Donald Trump's demonizing of Mexican immigrants. Those statements became racist because Donald Trump surged to the top of the Republican polls after making them.
Racism is a system. And this system needs to be dismantled within Publishing in order for We Need Diverse Book's important goals to be met; we will get diverse books once we get diverse agents, publishers, editors, and writers.
Where did Publishing's racism come from? No matter how much we think otherwise, Publishing does not operate in a bubble. In 2013, the median net wealth of white households was $141,900. For black households, it was $11,000. Inner-city public schools (black and Latin@ as the majority populations) receive much less public funding than suburban (white) public schools. Becoming an agent often requires unpaid internships and a college education - two things that poor black and Latin@ students cannot afford to take on even with all those "scholarships" (myth-busting surprise: "Caucasian students are 40% more likely to win private scholarships than minority students").
Society has been structured in a way that almost guarantees the failure of black or Latin@ agents or editors. The ones that succeed are exceptions (beautiful, amazing, incredible exceptions). To point to them as evidence of racism's end in Publishing is to point at Obama and say racism doesn't exist. The current colorblind system of racism depends on black exceptionalism (black people who did beat the odds and emerge victorious) in order to maintain the facade that millions of black and brown people living in poverty cannot be due to racism, but due to some moral or cultural flaw. To demand black and brown people to work four times as hard as white people for the same job is incredibly racist.
I can tell you so so so much more about the facts. If you want, that is. Comment or tweet me. Publishing is one of the many victims - and unknowing propagators - of a system that has been operating for centuries. In order for it not to be complicit, it must actively and affirmatively steer itself opposite the norm to be anti-racist. That's the shitty part about living in a racist system. Publishing, with all its incredible (truly incredible) people, cannot only change its mindset - which it has, beautifully, due to We Need Diverse Books. It must change its actions.
And we must do the same. Because we are complicit too.
Let's take a deep breath.
Alright. So don't be afraid. Don't get scared when people call something (or even us) racist. Since America's racial system is based on anti-Blackness, all of us who are not black (including me) are automatically complicit in racism even if we do not wish to be.
Did you feel that spark of outrage? I felt it. "I'm not racist, no way!" Please reread everything that was written before in the post and really let it sink in. Really think about it. It is not your fault and no one is blaming you, individually, for it. Just like we Americans are all capitalist and all democratic simply because we exist within this system (and of no choice or action of our own), we also exist within a racist system.
Do not take that offensively, do not go colorblind and say, "It's not as bad as a racist system." Please. Lean into that discomfort, please, I'm begging. We need to get more comfortable with saying, "I, Racist."
And you have to realize that racism is not your fault, but it is your responsibility to challenge it - otherwise you are complicit. Just because the oppression is systemic does not mean people of color (and white people, for that matter) should be less outraged, or angry. They should be incredibly outraged, incredibly angry. Because people are literally dying. Outrage is essential. To paraphrase Sandra Bland, "People ask me if I want to racially unite, or racially instigate. I want to racially unite. But in that process, some will be racially instigated."
Do not instinctively say "But not me!" when someone critiques white supremacy. Do not police the tone of a people who are being killed, mocked, and demonized. Remember: system, not individual, and sometimes saying "white people" is simpler, language-wise, than saying, "institutional racism that favors white supremacy". Instead of saying, "but not me!" join the conversation, see how you can use your own privileges to effectively help people of color. For example, as an Indian American, it is my responsibility to challenge the Model Minority myth at all angles. This myth exists only to demonize a race that faced an entirely unparalleled form of American oppression that has been centuries in the making.
And that's why #HireAgentsOfColor is so important. While we wait for the system to be undone (which will take decades, if not centuries), there are people of color living here, right now. Is #HireAgentsOfColor affirmative action? Yes.
Welp, that's it! *wipes hands, comes back* oh wait, you want more explanation.
#HireAgentsOfColor will not (repeat, NOT) result in hiring incapable or underqualified agents. That's not what affirmative action does. It's another big myth of college affirmative action - and test scores do not prove mediocrity. Poor students with similar SAT scores as rich students still graduate at vastly lower rates, and the SAT has been consistently shown to be a great determiner...of wealth. In fact, many colleges and universities, realizing this, have started to make the SAT or ACT optional for their application.
Affirmative action opens the institution's eyes to the unique problems facing marginalized people. Affirmative action makes the institution open its eyes to the vast amount of talent and skill within populations that the institution glanced over previously. Affirmative action ensures that the incredibly skilled black woman wanting to be an agent will not be barred as much by systemic barriers. Affirmative action does not give a free job to people of color; it ensures that employers will look at people of color and not blame their lack of experience, lack of a Harvard education, and lack of other "important" criteria as evidence of moral failure.
I know that affirmative action might make many white people angry, because it seems that people of color are getting something that people of color did not earn. Realize that all white people have gotten so much more than a job, unearned. Investigate your own privileges. We all have privileges, but different privileges, some with more power than others. Some people will say, whenever someone calls out racism, that the person of color is playing the "race card", and they'll ignore the fact that white people played the "race card" for the last five centuries and counting - and for entirely evidence-less reasons!
Affirmative action is quite honestly the best word for this policy. In order to challenge a racist society, one needs...quite literally, affirmative action. Direct action, meaningful action. Do not pity people of color who "made it" by saying they got in due to affirmative action. I've heard it said to me, and it boils my blood, as if white supremacy did me a favor by "allowing me in." No. I worked hard, and white supremacy began to realize its complicity in oppression, and decided to work against it.
But whatever. We people of color will be able to handle all those "you got in because of affirmative action" comments, because we've been dealing with them, and dealing with so much more too. Help us out, though, not to save us, but to challenge your own complicity in racism.
I'd also like to apologize. I've been, especially on Twitter, getting very angry and upset at recent news and events in America. I don't apologize for my anger, or me posting a lot about racial issues - because we cannot look away from the suffering because it makes us uncomfortable - but I do apologize because I feel like I unknowingly hurt people. I'd also like to apologize to We Need Diverse Books. They have great intentions and do some great work, and although we do not see eye-to-eye, I pressured a bit too hard on them :/
Also, the Write Inclusively contest is coming up in a month! Get ready, get excited :D
Tweetables! Click to Tweet.
"There is No "Evil Racist" in Publishing - It is the System"
"There's no editor snarling whenever they see a black agent or a black writer. *But Publishing is still racist*."
"#HireAgentsOfColor will NOT result in hiring incapable/underqualified agents. That's not what affirmative action does."
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Feel free to continue the conversation in the comments below! What did you think? What are your thoughts? I *still* get scared when I call something/someone/some industry "racist" because it is such a loaded term even though it shouldn't be. I have a knee-jerk reaction away from that word am I'm trying to get better at that.
Discuss discuss! This is a safe space. Does the word "racist" scare you?