Tag Archive | Diversity

Racism? You Don’t Say?

A discussion came up on Facebook regarding the apparent lack of diversity in publishing when Martha Boss, book blogger, educator, and model shared her opinion regarding the lack of diversity at book events. She explained that she had no desire to attend any literary events that didn’t have authors from all walks of life. And in the United States of America in 2017, one would think that such an opinion would be positively acknowledged and celebrated. Unfortunately, an uproar of finger-pointing and finger-wagging ensued by some disgruntled readers of her post. On a positive note, the conversation inspired me to write this post.

Before I delve into where I stand on this matter, I will first give some background knowledge and context.

Most of you may know that my husband is white. I bring up his skin color because of the nature of this post. You see, some time ago Marvel was relaunching Spiderman and making the hero that followed in Peter Parker’s steps a young man named Miles Morales, who is  half-Black and half-Hispanic.

spider-man-miles-morales-peter-parker

I was okay with this change. And as an advocate for diversity, I’m all about the inclusion of more and more people of color in all social constructs. On the other hand, my husband was concerned about this change. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Spiderman, he’s a young man named Peter Parker who happens to be white, like most of the comic book characters that have become not only popular, but also who have become mainstream due to aggressive marketing and appearances in movies (Batman, Deadpool, Superman, ad nauseum). All alternate personas of these heroes are white males. And all but two of them are filthy rich (yes, looking at you, Deadpool and Mr. Kent.)

Hardcore fans are all about staying true to the “canon”. And there are laws that must never be broken.

Two main “no-no’s” are:

THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE THE COLOR OF THE CHARACTER.

THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE THE GENDER OF THE CHARACTER.

My husband was concerned that the writers weren’t staying true to the canon by changing Spiderman’s ethnicity. My husband’s argument was logical especially when he supported it with this gold nugget: “The market should be actively looking for writers with new fresh faces and cultures to add to the Marvel or DC universe. Peter Parker should keep on being Spiderman.”

I agreed with my husband that the Industry or Market should be looking for new material from different perspectives instead of rehashing the same tripe year after year.  Moreover, consumers need to do their job by demanding what they want and if the Market isn’t giving it to them? Well, now. There’s this powerful principle called supply and demand and it’s a beautiful thing. If I don’t like a show, I won’t watch it. If I don’t like a restaurant, I won’t eat there. For example, even if McDonald’s were the last restaurant on the planet I REFUSE TO EAT THERE!

A few months after my husband and I had our third child, he turned to me and said, “I get what you’re saying. You know, about seeing more characters that are people of color. I don’t want our sons growing up not seeing that they’re important. That they exist.”

we need diverse books3

BINGO!

And the cry for diverse books wasn’t enough because then you fall into the bait-and-switch trap that it’s okay for white authors to write books that star nonwhites as the characters. Then, the #ownvoices movement was ushered in to stress how important it is for people of color to tell their own stories in their own voices and not having to fear that they needed to pander to or patronize a white audience or any audience (regardless of color) that didn’t understand where they were coming from.

Too bad these movements aren’t making waves on television. Yet. You see, over the past several months, my husband and I observed a disturbing trend regarding television shows for children. I’ll most likely go into more detail about that in a future post. 🙂

The conversation that my husband and I shared regarding the necessity for diversity in books and comics inspired me to reflect on my childhood as a reader and where I am now as an author and reader. My reflection motivated me to write this blog post.

Now, back to the main topic.

In one of my previous blog posts I discussed the deathtrap of stereotypes.  A common stereotype regarding Black people is that we don’t like to read. It was also one of the arguments that excuses the cold, hard fact that 88% of books reviewed by the New York Times are written by white authors. So, one could ignorantly draw the conclusion that Black people don’t like to write either. Or that they don’t know how to write. But, if they do like to write, they’re not very good at it because they don’t like to read and thus there’s no market for them. And that’s just the way it is.

Uh, no. Just no.

weneeddiversebooksbecause

Yes, indeed. 🙂

When I purchase books for my classroom I choose them very carefully. I want books that will not only keep my students engaged, but appeal to their gender, not only relate to their own experiences, but challenge, and build onto this foundation. My Black students, as well as White, Asian, and Latino students love reading a good book regardless of what color the main characters are . . . or whether or not the main characters are even human. However, there comes a time when nonwhite students wonder WHY their experiences, their truths, their very essence isn’t proudly shown on the cover of a book or even within its pages. I know because I was once their age and wondered these thoughts: Am I not worth writing about? Are people like me not worth reading about? (Well, unless you’re a slave getting the crap beat out of them). By the way, what is the USA’s morbid obsession with Black pathology? Yuck.)

We Need Diverse Authors

About eight years ago, libraries (some may still practice this, but I’m pleased to say my local library DOES NOT) shelved books based on genre in an obsessive compulsive way that would impress even this guy:

monk-logo

Back then, there were no cross-genres.

mixedupauthor

Dear heart, weep not. Tis 2017 and we live and breathe for literary mashups such as yours. 🙂

No, no, no. Every little book went into its own boxed off little shelfie-welfie corner. Oh yes, yes, yes.

So books like this:

black romance

 

 

 

or this . . . romance_black

 

 

 

 

 

 

wouldn’t appear in the general romance aisle, but be ghettoized or segregated from that oh-so lucrative and coveted section and placed in the African-American books, Street Lit, Urban Lit, or wherever library’s chose to place books with dark brown to light brown faces on the cover. Think about your local grocery store and how soy sauce, butter chicken, and curry are cordoned off in their own aisle labeled “multicultural or ethnic” away from the other condiments. Even poor sauerkraut and gelfilte fish has its place there. If I hadn’t watched the Food Channel or binge watched “Great Eats Around the World” I would remain culinarily (made that word up) ignorant! Now, regarding the segregated books: Was this practice intentionally racist? *Shrugs shoulders*. Not sure. But, one could see how this limits authors of color from being discovered from readers regardless of their color even though it fit in the “general genre”.

A couple of weeks ago while visiting my local library I noticed a lot of newer authors I had never seen before. I was so impressed that the library had become “integrated” that I had to take a picture of it!

libraryintegration

A Japanese author, a Black author, a White author, and even a Native American author all on one shelf! 😀 And all different genres! Ha! Impressive. 

Clearly, people and books don’t belong in boxes. Well, unless you’re dead and boxed in a coffin. Sorry, I digress.

In 2015, Lee & Low, a publishing house that prides itself on finding new authors of color shared the results of the Diversity Baseline Survey, which revealed that overall the Industry is predominantly white and female. Bet you weren’t expecting THAT revelation. But, it’s true. And when I say overall we’re talking about all levels:

  • Executive Level
  • Editorial Dept.
  • Sales Dept.
  • Marketing & Publicity Dept.
  • Book Reviewers

Is this predominantly female white status quo deliberate and thus, racist? Well, if you consider the data . . . the other question is will it be kept this way and by design?

While I hunted for facts regarding the struggle many writers of color — Asian, Caribbean, African, South American — experience trying to get published, I encountered similar stories:

  • Mira Jacob, young author of the critically acclaimed novel, The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, shared a powerful speech about her struggles as an (East) Indian woman dealing with ignorance and prejudice in the publishing industry. A MUST READ!
  • Jenny Zhang shares how a white poet, Michael Derrick Hudson, used a Chinese pen name, Yi Fen Chou.
  • Paul Langan, a white novelist writes popular series about Black students growing up in an Urban setting.
  • Brandon Tensley discusses America’s Problem With Writers of Color.
  • PP Wong, author and editor shares how many times her novel was rejected. One of the reasons is really, really, really stupid. And clandestinely racist.
  • Phenderson Clark, speculative fiction writer of Afro-Caribbean descent draws back the curtain regarding racism against fellow Black authors (and the lack of characters) in the science fiction and fantasy community.

To piggy-back on the final bullet regarding the science fiction and fantasy genre that I write and adore I come to a fork in the road. Lately, several of the Big Five publishers that are located in New York are requesting romance novels from Black authors. I don’t know how to write strictly Romance. I mean, doesn’t it entail, you know, like a “formula” where handsome guy meets gorgeous lady and they don’t like each other at first until he or she does something and then the tide is turned and then they like each other, but not like that and then they fight and break up and then you know — heck, I DON’T KNOW! So, my point that I’m trying to make is do I just “sell out” and go to the “Crimson Wine and Chocolate Covered Cherries Side” of Le Force and write Romance because it’s popular and I’m more than likely to succeed since there’s an open call for it?

Like I said before, I don’t know how to write strictly Romance. I need creepy scenes, an occasional vampire or demon to slay. I need undiscovered elements on the periodic table. I need a nod to the current status quo and how to change it. I need to believe that there are dragons to slay whether they be literal or figurative. I need to hope for windows, doors, closets, basements, or even dreams that lead to alternate dimensions.

I may not write Romance yet, but I could learn, if I feel so inclined, and not because it’s what a publisher wants of me to selfishly benefit themselves.  In other words, why should writers of color pigeonhole themselves? We should be able to write what we want.

This scenario brings this excerpt from Rachel Deahl’s Publisher Weekly’s article, “Why Publishing is So White”:

So how does the industry move forward and do better? Right now, publishing seems to be struggling with the difference between words and actions. Take, for example, a situation a publisher at a reputable Midwestern press recounted. Claiming he is “always trying to diversify our staff,” he brought up a recent editorial assistant search that initially yielded 250 applicants. The press narrowed its options down to eight finalists, five of whom were white and three of whom were people of color. Although all the finalists were “excellent” in his estimation, the position went to a white woman. The reason? “There’s no room for tokenism at [our press].”

Dude, there’s no need for tokenism! What a cop out!

There’s always going to be a first and you don’t have to stop there. A first — if that’s the intended direction you want to go — will lead to a second and a third.

It only takes one to turn the tide.

The need for diverse books from diverse authors with different stories to tell isn’t a trend and never will be.

I'mnotatrend

I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet with me @moniquedesir

 

 

You Can’t Write That.

You Can’t Write That. Oh really? Just watch. 🙂
The title of this blog post comes from a very tender spot in my life as an author and a Black woman growing up in the USA. Several years ago, I dated a close-minded individual (Who Shall Remain Nameless) told me that I couldn’t write my recently published novel, Forbidden: Book One of the Gabriel Lennox Series. At the time, it wasn’t published and while I waited for that new chapter in my life, I had continued writing additional books for the series.
I wouldn’t describe myself as rebellious, however, when someone tells me I can’t do something, I’m determined to prove them wrong. Especially when that something will benefit me. And then, filled with resilience, I channel my inner samurai:

Come at me, bruv

Come at me, bruv!

Since I had considered He Who Shall Remain Nameless a friend, I was shocked and disgusted, not only because he was trying to tell me what to do, but mostly for his ridiculous reasons.
“Your protagonist is white,” he stated. “And British. Why don’t you write about vampires on the African continent since you’re African-American? Make it about slavery. Make it about something you know.”

Now, he had me perplexed and wickedly amused. First of all, I’m not from the African continent and know more about England than the diverse continent of deserts, savannahs, rainforests, and 55 states! COUNT IT — 55 states! Heck, I know more about England than I do about my own country of 50 states — uhhh, we’re still at 50, right? RIGHT?) So, quite gently, quite softly and without blinking or even smiling, I explained to him that I chose to write about a white, British vampire because the book was a metaphor for a large problem in our world: the monstrous problem of white hegemony in a world of brown-skinned people who have been bled dry by the cruel and grotesque racism of the pale White Man. Did I tell you that I have a wicked sense of humor and a perfect poker face? If I didn’t, Deadpool insist that it be said again:

Psst. I have a wicked sense of humor that

deadpool

I approve!

is often sarcastic and outright ironic . . . and a truly perfect poker face!

He Who Shall Remain Nameless didn’t remain exactly silent though. He sputtered with outrage, eyes comically bulging outside of the sockets while I stirred more honey in my cup of tea. Shame the poor dear couldn’t laugh at my naughtily, wicked wit!

Fast forward to the present day – I’m published and he’s still single.

Back in October of last year, I participated on a series of panels at Necronomicon, Tampa Bay’s Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Convention to share my perspective on the misrepresentation of minorities in Science Fiction and Fantasy as well as the lack of minorities in the previous stated genres. In this discussion, when I use the word minority, I speak of people of deeper color and/or those who have been marginalized in the world – Latinos, Blacks, and Asians.

Now why is that?

Some could argue that there’s no market for books that represent minorities with equality and quality to their white counterparts. However, one could parry with the counter-argument: if the product isn’t offered in the first place, how can demand be gauged?
So, again why are there few books with minorities as the main characters and/or published authors?
There are a lot of reasons. Let’s list and analyze some of these . . . each one brick by suppressive brick.

The Market Gatekeepers

First, I must say that this (the lack of books with protagonist – who are people of deeper color) is mostly a Western (primarily United States of America) phenomena where thousands and thousands of books that the “Market Gatekeepers” allow to be published, marketed, and consumed by the public are teeming with an all-white cast . . . or worse . . . one or two people of deeper color thrown as if to appease a check list of things to do in the politically correct world. On the African Continent, there are a lot of Black authors who are masters of Science Fiction and Fantasy ( http://www.tungstenhippo.com/content/afrosf-science-fiction-african-authors). Authors I’ve just begun to know of! And here is a link to authors of African descent within the US of A: http://www.forharriet.com/2014/08/7-black-women-science-fiction-writers.html#axzz40U9bxTN9. Why are they not popular here? Unfortunately, they don’t get a lot of exposure. Readers must be vigilant in their search for authentic stories, unique worlds, and diverse perspectives. We mustn’t rely on the Market Gatekeepers to feed us more nutritious and well-rounded literature. Ever had a meal where you felt full, but weren’t satisfied? Well, that’s what the Market Gatekeepers often do. They stuff you with delicious, everyday cheesy potato chips, but you’re hungry an hour later for something . . . else.

The Deathtrap of Stereotypes

On the panel, some audience members asked if it was okay for whites to write or tell a story about a person who was of a different ethnic background. I think that doing so is a wonderful idea. White authors, especially famous ones, should break against the mold, which would in turn open doors and windows for other up and coming authors.

Likewise, Sharon Draper, an African-American author, who wrote an award winning book called Out of My Mind. Melody, the main character’s ethnicity isn’t described or stated. Melody could be anybody and this ethnic mysteriousness works for that book because Draper was writing a story about a mind-blowingly intelligent little girl with a disability that able-bodied as well as handicapped could relate to regardless of color. Draper used personal experience and so much more to write this book with such depth it breaks my heart each and every time I reread it.

Using stereotypes is simply the use of lazy thinking. And writers shouldn’t fall prey to this. Our minds should be ever growing with new and expressive ways of explaining the world and trying to make sense of its often irrationality and cruelty, but I digress. Creating characters with relatable stories should be fun, fun, fun! One way to kill that excitement and freshness is to use stereotypes. For example, some common stereotypes of characters who happen to be minorities are having the highly intelligent Math whiz Asian, the slang-speaking street smart Black man, the strong, independent Black woman, or the seductive Latina or Latino male Lothario. Such a cast is boring, disrespectful, and frankly STUPID! Instead of rehashing these boring, stale bits of crust, we enjoy ourselves with something new and different by actually thinking outside the proverbial box. Do a little research! Visit the local library (my favorite way of garnering information), use the Internet, mingle and socialize with people who are a part of the culture you want to learn more about and relinquish your writerly senses to creative abandon. 🙂

And no!!! By me offering this advice, I’m stating or even implying that the individuals you speak with are The Representative or The Expert on their Ethnic Group or Culture. However, better to gain a little knowledge from actual people instead of looking up information that could be outdated. For instance, when researching for the nation of Io in my dark fantasy/science fiction hybrid, Prelude to Morning, I reflected on and recalled my conversations, encounters, and interactions with the people of Japan when I visited as a teacher and ambassador for a Sister Cities trip. I wanted the Ionese people to resemble the Japanese in this other world and using facts helped to not only breathe life into my characters, but kept me grounded and delighted with the results.

In one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut, the Cat in the Hat says, “The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Writers write. Obviously! And readers read. Oh yes! And as an avid reader, I’ll read any book regardless of the main character’s color, ethnicity, or gender, provided that the story is one that interest me. Now, the difference between a mediocre writer and a fantastic one is how much he or she reads. I promise my students that the more they read, the more they will be able to see what writers do well and be able to emulate the skill. Writing, like all things worth doing takes practice! And creating a cast of more diverse characters that represents a present and growing market, we must broaden and stretch ourselves as well as our minds.

The Blight that Just Won’t Die

My second oldest brother, Ronnie, owned a t-shirt that reads, “Racism is a disease. Are you ill?” He wore it with pride in the 90s and over a decade later, racism in the world, especially the United States of America is alive and well. It’s like a cockroach on steroids that continues to crawl and scurry along in the shadows that some are afraid to speak about or against because they’re afraid it’ll unfurl its giant wings and claws at their faces.

Thwarted Bravery

I won’t go into detail here about racism, but you’re welcome to check this post on my blog https://adaratrosclair.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/desperately-seeking-answers/

Below are links of racist incidences revolving around the published literary world:

http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/06/14/theodore-beale-racist-asshat-and-embarrassed-by-it/
Don’t fall into this black hole of negativity and ignorance. Please. If you have a story to tell, tell it. And if the characters don’t resemble you or they are individuals simply new to you, take the time to learn who they are, explore their many nuances and idiosyncrasies. Not sure where to begin? On the internet, there are plenty of resources for transracial writing (I prefer the word transethnic because there’s only one race – the human race).

Here are a few places to begin:
Transracial Writing for the Sincere: http://www.sfwa.org/2009/12/transracial-writing-for-the-sincere/
People of Color Underrepresented in Children’s Literature http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201403241000
Further Thoughts and Considerations
While reading some of the comments left on the above link, Matthew S Ann Maxwell’s words made a lot of sense to me (especially what has been empathized in bold by me):
“I would question the statement about being boring or false. There is something that cannot be named or defined when people tell stories from their own experience and it is a beautiful thing. Something so deep in each of us that the way we put words together, how we talk, everything is affected by our experience and how we grew up. This is why first-voice books, books written by authors from the culture they are representing are so important. It’s a deeper connection, one that transcends the words and images, and one that children from those cultures need to see and more importantly feel as they read the books. And beyond that to read a book and see “hey this book was written and/or illustrated by someone who looks just like me”…that is a powerful thing for a child. I would question whether white authors should step back and let people of color tell their own stories. This is one way that white people can begin to recognize and address their inherent privilege in the current publishing system. This is not to say that people shouldn’t have diverse characters in their stories, that would be false since we live in a diverse world and we come into contact with a lot of different people so of course characters in books should do the same. But, writing a story where the author is white and is writing the experience of a child of color, that is one that I would question. There are things about that child’s experience that the author can never know no matter how much they study, no matter how much research is done, because they are white and have privilege in this world that has affected everything about their experience, privilege that that child does not have. This is the basis of beginning to understand white privilege. If there is a lack of diversity in children’s books and only so many children’s books about people of color are getting published right now, are white authors taking up space writing stories about people of color that would be better taken by people of color writing those stories themselves? I don’t know the answer, but as a white person, I do wonder. And that’s not to say that we don’t need even MORE stories b/c the current percentages are dreadful, but I wonder if letting more people tell their own stories instead of telling them for them would be a start.