Can copyediting affect societal change?

An interesting piece on how diversity in the copyediting workforce could drive social change. (Of course, I would like to have seen a copy editor go over this piece for two uses of “in recent years” in two paragraphs. But I digress.) As a privileged white writer, this would never have crossed my mind, and it’s a good wake up for me. Change for the better in terms of diversity should really creep into all nooks and crannies of the process.

In recent years copyediting has felt the impact of two cultural shifts. First, in the shift from print to digital media, the publication process has been compressed, and one of the casualties has often been copyediting. As a result, in digital spaces the work of copy editors has sometimes either been heaped onto other editors or done away with entirely. (This explains my own experience of working with copy editors so infrequently while publishing with mostly online publications.) 

The other lens through which to understand the role of copy editors and copyediting is our evolving awareness of the far-reaching impact of racial injustice and inequality, including its effect on the world of publishing. In recent years and months, there has been increased attention to the lack of diversity at all levels of the publishing sector, especially in editorial and decision-making roles. The latest Publishers Weekly survey of representation in the industry, conducted in 2018, reveals that 84 percent of the publishing workforce is white. This lack of diversity fuels an underrepresentation of perspectives in what is published while also contributing to implicit assumptions that readers are white. Writers who make it through the acquisitions gauntlet and have their work accepted then have to navigate the developmental editing, copyediting, and marketing aspects of the publishing process, which may not value the preservation of authentic voices and perspectives of BIPOC writers. I went into my first encounters with copy editors wary, having heard stories of negative experiences from fellow writers of color. Some were dismayed by how their writing had been whitewashed by having culturally relevant language removed or been pushed to include copious explanatory language, detracting from their narrative. 

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