Stop Saying Diversity a Guide for Publishers and Readers. Part I
Yes, stop saying diversity. Stop saying, representation, stop saying inclusivity. I say stop saying because just saying it does not magically invoke the thing. This isn’t Hogwarts and chanting DIVERSITY! DIVERSITY! DIVERSITY! Actually go ahead and try it, create a spell, chant, put your intention into the universe, whatever rocks your pants.
Now, hands up if that worked? I’ll wait. Feel free to come back in five or ten minutes, or try to recruit some extra people to make your chant extra powerful. For this experiment, we’ll suspend the stop saying these words, things for a little while. One more experiment and we’ll move on.
Next experiment, think of something you might want right now, but have no access to. Now, I want you to think about that thing really hard, put a lot of brain power into it. Next, we’re going to have to imagine a lot.
In this scenario the thing that you want is not theoretically hard to get or find. You just don’t have it right now, you are not totally sure where to get it and you start talking about it. You ask people, you post things on the Internet; you aren’t shy about your request. After a little while you start getting responses.
The responses range from snark to detailed instructions in both written and pictorial forms. You decide that those suggestions, all of them are for whatever reasons inaccessible to you. You keep asking, you start writing think pieces about this thing. You feel like you’re really making some headway into getting the thing.
Someone comes along and says, hey, I see you want this thing. I have access, time and know how. They say, look at all these wonderful ways I can help you with the thing. Let’s do this! Teamwork makes the dream work!
You decide that actually doing what needs to be done to get the thing you say you want, is just too much work. You figure, talking about the thing, ignoring the folks who can get you the thing, and eventually wringing your hands and waving your white flag, you feel helpless. So you start talking about, writing think pieces about how the thing you want is just, well, it’s impossible and we should stop talking about it because nobody can get the thing.
Enough magic and thought experiments, let’s really talk about what the actual problem with diversity, inclusion and representation is. The problem is not semantics, nor is it overuse of those words. The problem is inaction.
In the context of the literary world (here I include most written media, I use the word literary because it’s the world, I spend most of my personal time in) the thing you wanted up top was to be diverse in your publishing and/or reading.
When it comes to giving editors and readers free and amazing advice, Writers of Color have really shown up in the last few years. From Roxane Gay curating a list of self-disclosed POC writers of many stripes in 2012, there are full databases with POC writers who also give information like where we live, what we specialize in etc. Writers and readers have issued challenges for people to stop reading White cismale authors for a year. I’m going to be generous and say that it has been easier in the past four years to find writers of color to publish, read, promote, invite to events and whatever other literary activities you might be involved in than it has been in a long time. This is living in the future.
Frankly, a lot of the leg work has been done The information is right there. It is literally- right there. Here I’d liketo pause and point out a few things. You’ll see I have not provided any links. This is not an oversight on my part, if you want the information it is in fact right there. Get your favorite search engine going in another tab, do some copy and pasting and VOILA, information.
During the last year or so, I’ve had it explained to me at great length and in various areas of both meat space and in the lit world just why it is that my opinions and those of lots of other marginalized people are just so wrong about our experiences, how we parse those experiences, how we talk about them and that they happen at all. This is part of the problem. Stop doing that. You aren’t original, it is not clever, and frankly, we’ve all heard it before.
Some of the reasons I’ve been given as to why inclusion can’t happen and why “forced” diversity is terrible (these are not verbatim except where noted):
1. Assuming that the largest number of both editors and readers are White people, they cannot personally identify with characters of color or things written by POC and therefore are incapable of enjoying or publishing those stories.
2. If we agree with #1, we can assume that White editors/readers are unable or unwilling to say whether or not something is worth publishing/reading because it is not something they can identify with. And the only way to tell if something is worthy, is if it personally resonates with an editor or reader. And to circle around again, if it is not personally relatable, it is unreadable, therefore those readers/editors will never have the opportunity to see it.
3. Choosing to prioritize the work of marginalized people silences White men and is the end of literature as we know it. “Forcing people to read things like this, will ruin literature for everyone.” (That bit is verbatim.)
In the case of #1, this could be true. What as an editor or reader can you do? I mean, obviously all stories or pieces of literary work must be things the reader can personally identify with; good stories must be about the “average” person who cannot be different than the White default. I’ve heard this across genres, types of literature etc.
If we assume that stories must be those we can identify with in some way as consumers, how do we account for stories that are not explicitly about White people or about people at all? If we assume that to be the case, there is no way to give space or use a position as gatekeeper to showcase diverse work. It is impossible. Any work published by or read by White people that they do not personally identify with that has seen success commercially, critically or in any other way, must have been, what? Fluke? Extraordinary? Aliens? Tokenization? Transcendence of marginalization?
#2, remember we are assuming that it is true that Whiteness is entirely rightness in terms of literary anything. If something is relatable on a personal level, that makes it good right? This is perhaps the greatest mystery in the history of literature, how can we marginalized people expect that our stories that are so difficult for people who aren’t us,can possibly be read in outlets that are not specifically about us? How can we ask to be respected or given space? If our work is not prefaced on assimilation and maintaining Whiteness as the focus, of course it must be impossible to place it or sell it or promote it outside of the markets focused on us. Right?
#3 You may think you’re pure blind reading or it just so happens that you only read stuff by cis white hetero men, but not publishing or reading work by marginalized people is a choice. I realize that this seems like a radical statement. I assure you it is not. I have been a rabid reader for more than thirty years of my life, I know that what I read is a choice. Whether I want to admit it or not.
We’ve already established just how hard it is to find a book, story, news article, blog post, or essay by a marginalized person. Clearly, as we’ve all been told time and again, it just so happens to be that a lot of White cis hetero people don’t read people who aren’t them by total accident. I mean as I’ve been told a few times, reading is an escape so why would someone want to read a story by one of us loud, scary marginalized people? But they totally didn’t mean it in a racist way. Of course, they never mean it that way do they?
Let’s face it, in today’s nonstop world, it’s just too dang hard to do a search on the internet, ask a friend, post on social media asking for recommendations, or check out a book review. I mean, gosh, that would be sort of intentional and doing that would be a choice and going back to the premise of #3, it’s never a choice it just happens.
I am fairly certain at this point someone will come along and point out how, if my tone were nicer they’d be willing to actually pay attention to the meat of what I’m saying. Someone will come along to question my comma usage, my verbiage, my apparent snark and probably at some point call me a racist. How do I know this? Because I am a Black person who says things and there are people who are totally never racist and that is how they deal with Black people saying things. I will also say that, it shines a bright light on how unwilling to do the real work a lot of self-proclaimed allies are that they are unwilling to engage with the information presented regardless of how it is done.
So if you were going to do that, you might as well skip it. I’ve heard it from better.
Let’s stop here. This is a lot to digest for some folks and I understand it. In the next installment I’m going to address people in positions of power. Editors mainly. I highly suggest that readers tune in for that as well.
Come back in a few weeks for the portion directed to readers. And I will be talking to some other industry people about these things and then to wrap up, I will talk about what the real value of representation is from the perspective of someone who is both a rabid greedy reader and a creator.
And just so we’re all clear, any racist fuckery will be deleted. If you want to do that, write your own piece.