This Isn’t Complicated At All

mediocre

 

Another day, another White Man Prospers…

So last night as I tried to process my rage over a few things:

  • The footage of Laquan McDonald’s murder by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke being released with the rampant anticipation of Drake’s latest video
  • That same footage being been made into a gif and recklessly tweeted out by The Daily Beast
  • 5 people at a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis getting shot by white supremacists and the police “mulling” over whether to charge the suspects with a hate crime
  • Police just can’t stop killing people in fucking general

…I see this story via Publishers Weekly linked on Twitter (h/t @veronikellymars): YA Debut Gets Six-Figure Deal, Sold to 16 Territories and Jerry Bruckheimer. Sounds holy shit awesome, right?! Like, go Team YA!

Until you realize it’s the not-so-rags-to-even-richer tale of a White Dude who decided to leave the ad world and dive into young adult writing (because how hard could that be really) and while he’s at it, completely transform how girl characters are written because so far nobody has been able to get it right.

And what had international auction houses and movie studios creaming themselves? Had to be something mindblowing that would shock the industry to get this kind of attention, right? Nope. A story with literally thin characterization–fat girl sheds pounds and gains badassery–and the plot points of a zillion different “troubled White Girl” espionage thrillers before it.

Eh. That’s the gist. But I encourage you to read it and draw your own conclusions.

So Writer Twitter did its thing with an assist from Book and Reader Twitter and formed a GTFOH Voltron that rightfully excoriated this bullshit down to the bone. Hence #MorallyComplicatedYA was born (shout out to @PunkinOnWheels for its creation). There’s some really fantastic stuff there strongly refuting the aforementioned soon-to-be YA’s Next Big Thing’s asinine assertion that his book fulfills the genre’s dearth of morally complex and ambiguous material and strong, girl characters.

maleficent
BITCH WAYER

And while this latest round of bile-inducing praise being heaped upon yet another White Male YA Savior is worthy of the epic dragging it’s receiving, somewhere around the third or fourth tongue-in-cheek joke lobbed to the TL, shit stopped being funny. At least for me.Because what I wasn’t seeing in the conversations was any discussion of the big, old white elephant in the room.

So I started talking. First about the sexism, one of my intersections. And while I got a ton of faves and RTs for comments about the patriarchy,

when it came down to another intersection, my blackness, and asking White women to examine how devastating their privilege is, particularly in the women-dominated publishing industry, it was basically *crickets*.

And I didn’t even really dig into what representation looks like for the various other intersections that I embody or for the multitudes of multi-faceted, supremely talented writers of color who are routinely turned away from publishing’s gates. There’s countless studies out there that provide hard data but I can tell you from lived experience as a lifelong reader and writer that it’s shitty. And it’s getting worse, even as awareness increases.

So while it’s extremely important to lift our voices and let publishing know we’re sick to death of being told the women who consistently write amazing books and create complex, multi-layered, characters don’t mean shit compared to the latest Mediocre White Dude, here’s what everyone keeps glossing over: nearly everyone involved in making publishing decisions is a white woman.

Let me say that again for those in the back:

NEARLY EVERYONE INVOLVED IN MAKING PUBLISHING DECISIONS IS A WHITE WOMAN

The same folks on my TL who shame women Tea Partiers and Republicans for voting against their own interests and the interests of other women don’t even blink at these White women in publishing and affiliated industries who elevate White men above all else. These White women rail against patriarchy while offering their backs for it to stand on. At the same time, they engage their own White privilege by overwhelmingly supporting white narratives. They consistently rep, edit, publish, promote, rec, and review White all the time. They literally cannot see anything else therefore nothing else is seen.

It’s really quite simple. Privilege is the problem here, even more so than patriarchy. Once the women who actually run publishing industry get sick of this shit, take a hard look at their privilege, dismantle this system for real, and address its issues of diversity at the human resources level rather than just on the surface, then we might actually get somewhere.

Until then, well…you see where that’s led us.

 

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8 thoughts on “This Isn’t Complicated At All”

  1. When it comes to Scott being published after reading the article I think it is a combination of luck and maybe even his own advertising skills. As a former advertiser he would know promotion which might be a reason why his book did well in self publishing. While I do believe he was foolish to put down YA and his promotion of his book is unfortunate, I really don’t believe he intended harm. So I am glad he got his book deal and hope whoever helps him with PR will warn him before he makes offensive statements in the future. As a plump girl myself it would be interesting to see how an overweight girl transforms while out to save her father. Of course Scott should in the future promote the story without pushing the weight loss aspect to the point that it becomes offensive.

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  2. Thanks for posting this. You are absolutely right that it’s largely white women in publishing making both racist and sexist decisions in publishing. This became painfully clear to me when I tried to sell (or I should say my agent tried to sell) a YA novel I’d written with a black male protagonist (I’m a white woman, with three published YA novels under my belt). The reactions I received–again from white women editors–were absolutely shocking. It was a double-barrelled bullshit fest of racism and sexism rolled in sparkly self-righteousness. Something along the lines of ‘well, sure we’d LOVE to publish a book about a young black man (lie) but how can we be sure you’ve–and I’m quoting one of them here–“gotten it right” since you’re not a young black man yourself?’ I got the impression that if I were either black, but still female, or male, but still white, my literary transgression across that boundary would have been okay. But a white lady writing about a black boy was WAY too scary for them. They were terrified of being accused of racism for publishing the book. One of them actually admitted to that. So, yeah, I guess better to just not publish it. Go diversity. And the thing is, I’m all for being schooled if I’ve “gotten it wrong” with my characters of color. But no one even said that. There were no complaints of inauthenticity or racism in the writing. They just couldn’t fathom publishing a book by a white lady about a black boy. Incidentally, none of them ever bothered to ask me anything about my background, who I might know, or be related to, who from my actual life might have inspired the story, etc. They saw white lady, black male protagonist, and just said no way. But I’m sure they all hashtagged later about how desperately they want more diversity in YA too. Anyway, sorry for the rant. And thanks for your rant. Hopefully, some of this ranting will ultimately produce results. Keep talking. Keep pushing. Nothing happens if we all stand still.

    P.S. My book did finally find a publisher, Soho Teen, because the editor there just liked the book and didn’t give a rat’s ass who wrote it.

    P.P.S. I would have been totally fine with being rejected by any one of those editors in favor of a non-white author, but what are the odds of that?

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  3. Your post and tweets put it far better than I ever can. The only way publishing will change is if the white people involved open their eyes and see that they need to actively seek out, represent and publish the work of writers of colour. Publishing is drowning in whiteness. And yes, seeing as publishing is dominated by white women, they need to be the driving force of change. They are in the position of power, and they have a responsibility to open doors for all writers. Right now it seems like to them, ‘opening’ that door means letting in more white women. Not really solving the issue, or giving publishing the diversity it desperately needs.

    An excellent, thought-provoking post. Thank you.

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  4. Thanks for this. Your tweets add a voice that’s needed. (I need to go and retweet you)

    I listen to pop culture podcasts since I started working from home, and one fave is Nerdist writer’s panel. A recent one featured a panel of TV writers. A writer dude mentioned a pilot TV show he worked on, got paid for, and the show never aired. He then went back to L.A. worked a random job until a friend got him in on one of the biggest shows in television at the time. The way he spoke about it was so casual, like there is this network of bros giving each other jobs. Thank God someone else on the panel called him out, like, really you just got handed the job? I worked on crap shows for 12 years and no one ever did that for me… etc.

    It doesn’t mean that guy isn’t talented, but it perfectly illustrated privilege to me. It made me think about opportunities I’d been offered throughout life because I knew the right people. I could go on, but I think the one first step to recognizing advantages in one’s own life EVEN IF YOU WORK HARD AND ARE A ‘GOOD’ PERSON, is the first and most basic step to even figuring this out. I’ve had conversations with well meaning white friends who point to their own working class childhoods that no one gave them handouts. Yet these same people did not get turned away from jobs because of skin color or perceived notions etc. In fact, one of these people that it hurts the most to see the denial was sent to private school and now works as a professional for the father of a kid he met at that school. That’s an awesome connection. It’s also not available to everyone. He worked hard. He also has privilege. I think the biggest misconception is these concepts are believed to be either or when they occur at the same time.

    Anyway. Your post is great. Thank you for speaking up even if you feel like you’re shouting into the void. Some people might not be able to handle it, but my hope is the more people are surrounded by these counterpoints, the more they must listen, and ultimately act.

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  5. Very thoughtful blog! It’s good for white people, myself included, to hear truths that can potentially make us feel uncomfortable about our privilege. Change in the industry is glacial because white people don’t want to change a status quo that benefits them (and pretty much only them).

    White male authors have a lot of advantages, but behind the scenes it really is white ladies running the show and deciding who’s in, who’s kept outside the gates, and who gets the 6-figure deals. Agents and editors are overwhelmingly white and female. I can’t imagine how frustrating it is to be a person of color trying to get through the publishing door. White people write POC stories and are praised for being “brave” or “edgy”, even if the experience they write about is not authentic. A POC writes about a POC, utilizing their hard-earned experience and actual wisdom on the subject, and they’re lucky if they can get their queries read. I’ve heard about a lot of instances where authors of color were turned away by editors who claimed they didn’t have room on their list for characters of color, yet they were totally fine giving contracts to white authors who wrote white-washed POC narratives rife with stereotypes.

    This Bergstrom dude pisses me off just like he’s pissing off everyone else in the book community at the moment, but there should be a bigger conversation going on about authors of color being given a fair shake. Mega success stories like The Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, Twilight, Divergent, Harry Potter, The Vampire Diaries, LOTR, 50 Shades, etc. only seem to happen for white authors. I can’t think of many mainstream franchises helmed by authors of color. It’s not because POC aren’t writing these great books capable of being The Next Big Thing; it’s because they’re not given the same opportunities as white authors to have their voices heard. I don’t understand it. It’s not like white people are the only readers out there, or like white people are only capable of reading about white characters or characters written by white authors. I’d be very disheartened and frustrated if I didn’t see myself represented in popular fiction, relegated only to minor characters if I was lucky. Because of my privilege I don’t know what that is like. There are no shortages of Bellas, Hermiones, etc that I grew up seeing myself mirrored in. I had Alice in Wonderland, Ella of Frell, and a million other characters who looked like me or had similar cultural experiences. Indian readers hoping to see representation in Harry Potter got, what, Parvati and Padma Patil? A combined two paragraphs of lines? Young black readers hoping to see characters who looked like them had Angelina Johnson and Lee Jordan, one-dimensional background floaters. One Rue in the first Hunger Games book doesn’t balance out an overwhelmingly white cast. I could ignore this, because botched diversity can be as bad as no diversity, if the publishing industry was rich with #1 NYT bestsellers celebrating diverse characters written by diverse authors. But it’s not, so every missed opportunity for diversity in major franchises is felt.

    I hope we see a massive shift in the publishing industry. I hope they’re listening. I’d love to read a black Katniss or a Pakistani Hermione. The world would enjoy reading about a Japanese Wendy Darling in a revamped steampunk Neverland. Most importantly, we would enjoy going on adventures with these characters of color if they were written by authors of color who are in a singular position to write them authentically. They’re the ones who should be getting the publishing deals, and in many cases they’re the only ones who can write these stories well. I could not write an authentic Indian Buffy the Vampire-Slayer, but there’s an author out there who can and her potential readers deserve the opportunity to read it. But first that author has to go to war just to get her book on a shelf. Then she has to fight for equal publicity, marketing, blogger support and readership so that what could have been a bestseller doesn’t die quietly under the radar.

    Sorry this comment is so long! I am not concise. 😛 But I hear you and I wholeheartedly agree with you, and I hope for a day when diversity panels are not entirely comprised of white straight cisgender authors writing about “other” but who, at the end of the day, do not have to live with the social stigmas that accompany actually BEING “other”.

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    1. Books by POC about POC in fantasy genre are published by the Lee and Low imprint Tu Books. But one imprint by itself cannot change the publishing world. It’s a start.

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