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Old 07-26-16, 05:17 PM   #1
azteclady
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Hey, guess what? (race in publishing)

Yes, I know, why do I keep bringing up uncomfortable topics?

Because they are important.

A while back, on this thread, I talked about the white default in literature, I mentioned that the biggest hurdle to diverse literature is not that people from all backgrounds, experiences, ethnicities, religion, ability, etc., aren't writing. It is that established publishers routinely reject their work.

In romance, to talk about a genre I am most familiar with, I have seen authors talking about rejections that literally read, "we already have our one black author." Or, "well, that doesn't sell, no one can identify with that." Or, "there really isn't much of a market for that. Or, "well, we can't market that," and so on and so forth.

Or, which is even worse for diverse authors of genre fiction, if and when their books get published, bookstores and libraries will corner them into a section restricted by the author's ethnicity (or sexual orientation).

Which means, if you are looking for genre romance with black (or Latino, or Filipino, or Indian, etc) protagonists, you will search the romance section--and the books will be hiding in African American studies or some such.

Those same publishers and agents and editors have, and will, acquire and publish 'diverse' fiction written by white authors, and will market it according to the author's ethnicity.

Disturbingly, this is also how it works for, say, LGBTQIA authors. m/m romance written by white herero cis women? You can find it in the romance section. Same stories, written by queer men? Usually found in erotica--if they are published by traditional publishers at all.

Oh, some may say, but this is just a problem with :superior sneer: genre romance. Who really cares about that trash?

Well, the many people--from all points of the gender spectrum, and from all ethnicities, religions, etc--who read it, care.

However, this problem is not confined to genre romance, as shown by the Hugos' puppy debacle.

Further proof: Fireside Fiction's report on race in science fiction and fantasy:
"In 2015, of 2,039 stories published in 63 magazines, 38 were written by black writers. 38. That’s not even 2 percent." (Please note these numbers reflect speculative short fiction only)

"
Overt racism is only a small part of the problem, though. It’s the more subtle biases that really do us in. There’s the editor who “doesn’t get” a great story set in a black community. As N.K. says in her interview and as Tobias Buckell writes, there’s the casual dismissal of any conversation about racism by saying, “Well, here are four black authors I can name off the top of my head.” It’s always the same four authors, though. The names change, but the implications don’t. The advice to write “what the market wants” is code for white characters and white stories. The opportunities to network, like six-week writing workshops or weeklong conventions, are really only open to those with the means to miss work. The entire system is built to benefit whiteness, and to ignore that is to bury your head in the flaming garbage heap of history"
Are we, honestly, with a straight face, going to presume that ONLY two percent of black people have an interest and an aptitude for writing science fiction in short story form?

Or are we going to finally admit that there is systemic, internalized racism at work here?
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Last edited by azteclady; 07-26-16 at 05:41 PM. Reason: add rest of quote
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Old 08-09-16, 02:29 AM   #2
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Re: Hey, guess what? (race in publishing)

An excellent, if long, follow up, to the Fireside report on SSF and Black authors, with some pointed answers to oft asked questions, written by a Black, published author of SSF short stories:
Hi. I’m a small time SFF writer. I’m black. I also submit short stories to paying SFF markets. Most times I’m not successful in selling my stories. A few wonderful times, I am. Do I see lots of stories published in top SFF markets with faces like mine? No. And believe me, I search for them. It’s not the most scientific process: Are the characters black? Do I detect an inference to anything black-ish? Hmm… that author’s name sounds black, lemee google em up right quick. Again, not exactly a science. But it’s what I got. Are the gatekeepers at these SFF markets black? Rarely. At least rare enough that when one or two are, they show up in black SFF spaces to announce with hopeful desperation: “I’m working at so-and-so. Please, please, please submit your stories because the slush is whiter than a Gods of Egypt, Noah, Exodus triple-feature!”
...
Because if black SFF writers are being underrepresented in short story markets, then SFF as a whole is going to be less representative. Think I’m exagerrating? Okay. Here’s a neat trick: name five black SFF writers off the top of your head that you’ve read or even heard about–whose last names aren’t Butler, Delany, Okorafor or Jemisin. If you struggling, best keep reading.
...
When black writers are excluded from these markets not only do we lose out on connections and networking, but simple cold hard cash. That’s money that might fund a trip to a con, or to attend a writer’s workshop, or a better laptop/software, or the space and time to write, or rent, or a basic incentive to publish–cuz altruism is noble, but it don’t pay none. Given the long history of wealth exclusion for black people in America, there’s a discomfiting knowledge that under representation in some of these paying SFF markets creates a type of financial inequity that is essentially shuttering black creativity.
...
(7) Maybe “race” isn’t the only reason your story is rejected. I actually saw someone write this. With words. Thanks for splainin’ how submitting and rejection works Sherlock. No one is saying that race is the sole reason black writers are not being published in mainstream SFF. This seems, in fact, to be a sly way of making the “quality” argument: the universal lament of concern trolls to just about every appeal for diversity, in everything. When I get rejected, and it happens lots, I understand all sorts of factors go into that. Maybe the story doesn’t fit their needs. Maybe it’s not that good. Maybe they’re pretty stocked up on steampunk pirate stories. Issues of race and diversity are just one added factor. I don’t just automatically say “Bet I was rejected because I’m black!” That’s just what you see in wack 1980s and 1990s sitcoms and movies. In real life, black folks go through entire mental quantum field models of self-doubt before even raising the “R” word–if only because we expect to be finger-wagged by a society that almost never ever believes us. When you hear a black person “cry” racism, trust that we done already quadruple-checked our math. But I also understand that “quality” is as arbitrary as anything else.
...
[b] The burden of change here is on SFF markets not on black writers. I repeat, the burden of change is on SFF markets not black writers. Don’t tell black people to open up their own SFF markets. Don’t say, “well you guys gotta submit more.” If SFF markets want diverse stories, they’re going to have to do more than simply state it and then wait patiently for it to happen. Words and intentions are nice. But without concerted action there’s not going to be much change. SFF markets are going to have to take part in engaged activism to bring in black writers, to increase the submissions of black writers and to publish more black writers. It ain’t gonna happen by osmosis.
Seriously, go read the whole thing--if I could, I would quote the whole thing here, because it addresses all the many explanations and justifications given to exclude Black authors, and pretty much all minorities, from mainstream genres across the board--the same argument can easily be made when talking about romance, mystery, historical fiction...You name it, think about it, and you'll see just how true this holds for literature in a country that is not homogeneous in its makeup.
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Old 08-09-16, 03:06 AM   #3
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Re: Hey, guess what? (race in publishing)

It took me around a decade to find out Evelyn Waugh wasn't a woman. How prevalent can racism really be in such a faceless industry?

I'd be interested to see someone experiment by shopping around their stories using 'typical' white, black, asian, latino names, etc.
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Old 08-09-16, 03:17 AM   #4
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Re: Hey, guess what? (race in publishing)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rocky Raccoon View Post
It took me around a decade to find out Evelyn Waugh wasn't a woman. How prevalent can racism really be in such a faceless industry?

I'd be interested to see someone experiment by shopping around their stories using 'typical' white, black, asian, latino names, etc.
The presumption here is, that the only difference in writing is the name attached to the manuscript. Spoiler: it's not.

From the same piece I quoted above:
In his editorial, Troy Wiggins puts it succinctly: “A magazine that wants to publish black authors will have a masthead that includes black editors with varying levels of experience in the field and the power to influence the overall tone of the magazine.”

You may say, but do we actually need someone black in the editorial and reading staff to assure diversity? Can’t well-meaning staff of ANY background do this? My answer: Well, judging by the numbers in this report, ain’t been working out so well . Listen, I literally (LI-TRULL-LY) know of instances where stories written by black SFF authors were lifted out of the doldrums of the slush only by the keen eyes of black readers who had to painstakingly explain cultural and social identifiers that non-black readers and editors just didn’t get. I have recently sold stories featuring characters of color where the editors were also persons of color. And I’ve pondered if those editors were someone else (even very nice, smiley, well-meaning someone elses) if those stories would even be given a chance? The line on being published or not can be just that fickle–about who’s sitting at the table. Mikki Kendall in her essay points to as much: “many Black writers are telling stories that are unfamiliar to white editors. The context clues of Black culture may slip right past an editor who has no connection to the community the writer hails from, or to the cultures that the writer chooses to include.”

Case in point, back in 2014 Troy Wiggins’s story “A Score of Roses” puzzled a reviewer at Strange Horizons, for its use of black Southern dialect. For the reviewer this essential part of the story proved to be nothing more than an annoying “literary trick which works perhaps one time out of a hundred.” This was lamented as “a shame, because the story underneath all the “chil’ren”s and “yo’self”s is charming.” I saw an amazing story that ingeniously translocated and transliterated Elven folklore into a black Southern setting–both geographic and culturally. That reviewer only saw a “literary trick.” And that’s why diversity behind the scenes is important.
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Old 08-09-16, 03:56 AM   #5
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Re: Hey, guess what? (race in publishing)

I wrote a lengthy reply that got deleted when the forum died again. Basically I don't see any problem with people starting publishing houses catering to different ethnicities. According to your sources, us white people are doing it already and it seems to be going well for us.
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Old 08-09-16, 01:10 PM   #6
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Re: Hey, guess what? (race in publishing)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rocky Raccoon View Post
I wrote a lengthy reply that got deleted when the forum died again. Basically I don't see any problem with people starting publishing houses catering to different ethnicities. According to your sources, us white people are doing it already and it seems to be going well for us.
I've been trying to decide if you are being serious, just flippant, or sarcastic.

Whatever, I'll play.

Separate ain't equal.

Publishing, particularly in genre fiction, purports to cater to all readers. It is not a niche business, catering to specific needs for a specific group. Otherwise, all those famous literary works by mostly dead white dudes would not be required reading for all students, of all types, across the country.

Then, there's the issue of exposure. Just because the author is not white does not automatically means the story isn't of the same quality and scope as that of white authors. However, having that story published in a small, niche publication will mean extremely limited exposure. Having it appear in a traditionally mainstream publication will bring that story to the attention of many more readers--where it will truly succeed or fail on its own merit, and not on the size of the market.

But then, all this, and more, is addressed in the piece I linked to, just as the numbers are evident in the Fireside report I linked to in the original post, with several points elaborated on in the essays that accompany it.
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Old 08-18-16, 04:21 PM   #7
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Re: Hey, guess what? (race in publishing)

Justine Labarlestier, a YA author, has a wonderful essay on Reading While White, about her own evolution, as a white author, on the matter of race. I do hope you follow the link and read the whole thing, but here are a couple of short-ish quotes, to give you an idea:
For years the response to my books—glowing reviews, award nominations, fan letters from People of Colour—supported my belief that I was doing good.

I had read critiques of the white saviour complex but was sure they didn't apply to me. But one day in early 2009 a black woman blogger wrote a critique of my novel Liar.

Liar has a black teen protagonist. The blogger wrote that the book hurt her, that it was full of painful tropes, and that she would not read anything else I wrote unless it was not about People of Colour because I could not be trusted with the stories of anyone who isn't white. Further, that she wasn't going to read any more books with PoC protags by white people because we always get it wrong.

I felt like I'd been punched.

It was the most painful criticism any of my books had ever received and I've had reviews call for my books to be burnt and me to be slapped.

I sent the critique to several friends so they could reassure me she was wrong.

Yes, in the face of someone literally stating she had been hurt by the racist tropes in my book, all I wanted was reassurance. I thought my hurt feelings were more important than her actual pain.

...

Frankly, her anger got through to me more effectively than if she had been nice.

Except.

I reread that critique while writing this essay. Here's the thing: it wasn't that angry or sarcastic. It was more sad and disappointed.

It sounded angry to me back then because I didn't want to think about how my books weren't helping YA to become diverse. I didn't want to think about how I was part of the problem. I wasn't ready to listen so I heard it as angry yelling.

Until we white writers are ready to listen, until we're ready to accept that, yes, we are a part of systemic racism, yes, we benefit from white supremacy, it doesn't matter what the tone is, we won't be able to hear or understand what's being said.
There's a phrase in the second quote that I wish those reading this, and anything about race, would take to heart. Here:
I reread that critique while writing this essay. Here's the thing: it wasn't that angry or sarcastic. It was more sad and disappointed.
And that is one of the main problems when talking about race. Most often the people being hurt are not yelling or antagonistic, or 'mean' (the one most often trotted out in the circles I frequent). They have lived with this their whole lives, and they are tired of the constant bombardment, the constant demand that they be polite, and nice, and deferential, and--mostly--quiet about it.

Plus, saying that the system is racist, and that white people are privileged by it, doesn't mean "all white people are consciously racist asshats." It means, nothing more and nothing less, that all white people benefit from a system created to privilege whiteness.

That's a fact. Facts aren't rude, or antagonistic, or mean. They just are. We can accept them, and deal with them, and work to change them, or we can pretend they don't exist, and feel offended and hurt when someone points them out to us.

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Old 08-18-16, 06:11 PM   #8
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Re: Hey, guess what? (race in publishing)

It makes me feel uncomfortable. And that's really good thing!


It's important to be reminded about the white savior complex, and how fundamentally arrogant it is. Well meaning white people need to stop thinking we understand, we cannot. Stop being defensive and open our ears. Quit trying to absolve ourselves of blame. Don't say "but I'm not the problem". Just listen and hope to learn something. Which is what a lot of us do whenever az posts. Thanks, az.
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Old 08-19-16, 05:24 AM   #9
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Re: Hey, guess what? (race in publishing)

Haven't had the chance to read your reply, az, but I was being serious.

I don't know why anyone would oppose publishing houses that promote certain ethnicities' authors and works. What better way to expand the publishing rainbow?

Will post a reply to the points you raised when I get a chance.

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Old 08-29-16, 02:20 PM   #10
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Re: Hey, guess what? (race in publishing)

From Justina Ireland (one of the writers of color who contributed essays to the Fireside report on race in SFF publishing) at her blog:
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.
Also, as mentioned before, the 'mostly white in publishing' spreads across genres. SinC (Sisters in Crime) published its own report on Diversity, Equality and Inclusion in the Mystery Community, which can be read in its entirety here.
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