On the ups and downs of pushing for diversity in publishing

Bitch as an interesting essay about the challenges, failures, and questionable authenticity behind some of the movements pushing for diversity in publishing. I’d be interested to hear opinions from various voices working in the Canadian industry.

Publishing has long been in a battle over diversity and inclusion, and after being caught in a moment of coalescing awareness of racism, companies are advertising vague “diversity and inclusion lead” jobs. There’s no indication that these roles will be given the support staff, resources, or institutional backing to carry out their duties, but that hasn’t stopped companies from proclaiming them the solution to corporate racism. Publishers are hastily pulling “problematic” books from store shelves, with no meaningful statements about how these books came to be in the first place. Publishers are still pressuring writers of color to stick to stereotypes or to turn their books into “special learning experiences.” Pay disparities are still vast, highlighted in author L.L. McKinney’s trending #PublishingPaidMe hashtag. The hunger for diverse content is exemplified by the book lists featuring marginalized authors that nearly every publication seems to be pursuing.

But the way we talk about representation and the call to produce books written by people who share their characters’ identities and lived experiences can be simplistic, and even dangerous. There’s increasing pressure for authors to divulge personal information, even if it endangers them or feels too intimate. This was on sharp display in September, when young adult author Becky Albertelli felt pushed to come out after being criticized for writing queer books as a seemingly straight woman. On the surface, wanting to read books written by people who share marginalized identities with their characters is a reasonable expectation, especially considering that marginalized people have been intentionally cut out of publishing for so long. White authors can write all the Black characters they like, for example, but Black authors have to fight for every inch of inclusion. Many Black authors have heard the common refrain that “we already have our Black story this season.”

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