When it comes to diversity and inclusion, we need more than words.
Tell the Big Five publishers to devote resources towards real racial equity.
Literacy has always been of vast importance to Black people. Beyond access to economic or educational opportunities, literacy represented pride and defiance in the face of racial oppression.1 From Black-led newspapers that challenged the US government to current day book drives for equitable representation by Black youth, reading and literacy translate to power for Black communities.2,3 Yet Black authors, reviewers, and editors are being shut out of the publishing industry more than ever, to disastrous effect. The problem is not simply a monoculture but a mono-ideology, a mono-perspective of whiteness.4 The publishing industry cannot accurately or authentically tell the stories of Black people and other people of color without their inclusion and input.
Tell the Big Five publishing houses to establish annual internships specifically for students of color, with stipends to cover housing and cost of living.
The 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey, conducted by Lee & Low Books, shows just how homogeneous many publishers are.5 79% of publishing and review journal staffers are white. A full 86% of executives are white. These statistics cannot be changed unless the most influential publishing institutions create and sustain opportunities for Black and minority professionals. Moreover, college-educated Black women are the group in the U.S. most likely to read books, and Black people read more of every type of book.6 People of color currently make up 37% of the US population, and will be the majority of the U.S. population by 2020.7 When we reached out to the CEOs of the five largest publishing houses, only one responded to us seeking to engage and make positive change: John Sargent, of MacMillan Publishers. What does it say about the publishing industry that when Black folks speak up and seek inclusion, only 1 in 5 of the most influential leaders in the industry responds?
Lack of insight into sensitive historical and cultural issues can lead to harmful, ignorant books by white authors and editors being published despite protest from Black communities.8 Recently a children’s book, called “A Fine Dessert”, told a story set in slavery-era South Carolina that whitewashed the harsh realities of historical enslavement in America.9Controversy over the depiction of slaves in another children's book, “A Birthday Cake for George Washington”, led the publisher to stop its distribution.10 The books that children are exposed to can affect their lifelong perceptions of race, equality, and self-esteem.11 Children, and people of color of all ages, deserve accurate and dignified portrayals of their experiences and history. For that to happen, the publishing industry must devote resources racial inclusion and equity.
Black communities read more books than anyone else. We deserve equitable representation and inclusion in the publishing industry.
Authors, reviewers, and editors of colors are not waiting for the publishing industry to recognize or invest in them.12 Yet it remains undeniable that for many people of color, who often come from low-income backgrounds, the barriers to entry of literary circles are nearly insurmountable. And although self-publishing is now an option, the costs of doing so can remain out of reach for many.13 Hannah Ehrlich, of Lee & Low Books, says that “by nature, publishing tends to attract like-minded people: jobs are found through networking, books are acquired when they personally resonate with editors. To overcome this insular mindset, it's essential to commit to concrete, actionable steps that will help change the culture from the inside out.” It is time to make those words a reality.
Will you help us demand that the publishing industry recognizes and values the literary voices and talents of Black people and people of color?
Thanks and peace,
Brandi, Rashad, Arisha, Bernard, Evan, and the rest of the ColorOfChange team
1. "Why Slave-Era Barriers to Literacy Still Matter." The New York Times, 01-01-2006. http://act.colorofchange.org/go/5960?t=7&akid=5797.1942551.TgxU9l
2. "Sunday Book Review: The Defender, by Ethan Michaeli." The New York Times, 01-04-2016. http://act.colorofchange.org/go/5961?t=9&akid=5797.1942551.TgxU9l
3. "11 Year Old Marley Dias Started A Book Drive 'Where Black Girls Are The Main Characters." Vibe Magazine, 01-27-2016. http://act.colorofchange.org/go/5962?t=11&akid=5797.1942551.TgxU9l
4. "Decolonise, not Diversify." Media Diversified, 12-30-2015. http://act.colorofchange.org/go/5963?t=13&akid=5797.1942551.TgxU9l
5. "Where Is The Diversity in Publishing? The 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey Results." Lee & Low Books, 01-26-2016. http://act.colorofchange.org/go/5964?t=15&akid=5797.1942551.TgxU9l
6. "The Most Likely Person to Read a Book? A College-Educated Black Woman." The Wire, 01-16-2014. http://act.colorofchange.org/go/5965?t=17&akid=5797.1942551.TgxU9l
7. "For U.S. Children, Minorities Will Be The Majority by 2020, Census Says." NPR, 03-04-2015. http://act.colorofchange.org/go/5966?t=19&akid=5797.1942551.TgxU9l
8. "The Kids' Book 'A Fine Dessert' Has Award Buzz - And Charges of Whitewashing Slavery." NPR, 10-30-2015. http://act.colorofchange.org/go/5967?t=21&akid=5797.1942551.TgxU9l
9. "Children's Book Depicts Smiling Slaves, Stirs Controversy." Colorlines, 11-10-2015. https://act.colorofchange.org/go/5968?t=23&akid=5797.1942551.TgxU9l
10. "Amid Controversy, Scholastic Pulls Picture Book About Washington's Slaves." NPR, 01-18-2016. http://act.colorofchange.org/go/5969?t=25&akid=5797.1942551.TgxU9l
11. "Beware the Bigoted Subtext of Children's Literature." Education Week, 02-16-2016. http://act.colorofchange.org/go/5970?t=27&akid=5797.1942551.TgxU9l
12. "How Chris Jackson is Building a Black Literary Movement." The New York Times, 02-02-2016. http://act.colorofchange.org/go/5971?t=29&akid=5797.1942551.TgxU9l
13. "The Real Costs of Self-Publishing a Book." Mediashift, 05-13-2016. http://act.colorofchange.org/go/5972?t=31&akid=5797.1942551.TgxU9l