Last year’s reading goal (50 books) was a bit of a wash. I set it lower than the year before and fell short but it was mainly due to the large amount of writing I did, so I don’t feel too badly about that. However, when I reviewed the books I read I was dismayed. I definitely enjoyed them but they were overwhelmingly homogeneous: cishet white women writing about cishet white folks. And I was actively reading more widely.
Dammit, Publishing. we gotta talk but I don’t have time today…
So inspired by Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, Kelly Jensen’s Stacked post,“Intentional Reading”, and author Justina Ireland’s Twitter call-to-action #laydeezfirst, my 2016 reads will primarily be stories authored by women of color featuring characters of color and a whole lotta intersectionality. (subscribers click through to the post to view video)
Inevitably, some may want to know why I’m doing this. My instinct is to answer, “Because I’m grown and I read what I want” but here’s why:
I want to support women of color, elevate our voices, share our stories, and learn from them.
I want to promote women-centered spaces where the creativity of women of color is celebrated, nurtured, and embraced (and as an aside, men–or their “allies”–who force their way into those spaces and/or insist they be gender neutral are on some misogynistic, patriarchal fuckshit).
Stories featuring the same old same old are dull as dishwater. People have layers and levels beyond Sassy Black Best Friend and Sad Gay Sidekick and I want to see that on the page.
There will inevitably be exceptions for various reasons (see: I’m grown) but basically dassit. Happy reading, y’all!
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.
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,
What White Men say as they walk through doors women opened & get paid more than women on deals brokered by women. https://t.co/O2Hon9upvf
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*.
Y'all white folks going in on entitled White Dudes™ is funny af but they're not all repping & pubbing themselves… pic.twitter.com/mr4YOI7Qun
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.
The White Dudes™ get a lot of attention in YA because 1) they're rarer and 2) Patriarchy. But tbh White women can cause much more harm.
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.