Hey, guess what? (race in literature)

27 Jul

(Originally posted to the Literature section at MyMedia)

Yes, I know, why do I keep bringing up uncomfortable topics?

Because they are important.

A while back, on this thread, I talked about the white default in literature, I mentioned that the biggest hurdle to diverse literature is not that people from all backgrounds, experiences, ethnicities, religion, ability, etc., aren’t writing. It is that established publishers routinely reject their work.

In romance, to talk about a genre I am most familiar with, I have seen authors talking about rejections that literally read, “we already have our one black author.” Or, “well, that doesn’t sell, no one can identify with that.” Or, “there really isn’t much of a market for that. Or, “well, we can’t market that,” and so on and so forth.

Or, which is even worse for diverse authors of genre fiction, if and when their books get published, bookstores and libraries will corner them into a section restricted by the author’s ethnicity (or sexual orientation).

Which means, if you are looking for genre romance with black (or Latino, or Filipino, or Indian, etc) protagonists, you will search the romance section–and the books will be hiding in African American studies or some such.

Those same publishers and agents and editors have, and will, acquire and publish ‘diverse’ fiction written by white authors, and will market it according to the author‘s ethnicity.

Disturbingly, this is also how it works for, say, LGBTQIA authors. m/m romance written by white herero cis women? You can find it in the romance section. Same stories, written by queer men? Usually found in erotica–if they are published by traditional publishers at all.

Oh, some may say, but this is just a problem with :superior sneer: genre romance. Who really cares about that trash?

Well, the many people–from all points of the gender spectrum, and from all ethnicities, religions, etc–who read it, care.

However, this problem is not confined to genre romance, as shown by the Hugos’ puppy debacle.

Further proof: Fireside Fiction’s report on race in science fiction and fantasy:

“In 2015, of 2,039 stories published in 63 magazines, 38 were written by black writers. 38. That’s not even 2 percent.” (Please note these numbers reflect speculative short fiction only)

“Overt racism is only a small part of the problem, though. It’s the more subtle biases that really do us in. There’s the editor who “doesn’t get” a great story set in a black community. As N.K. says in her interview and as Tobias Buckell writes, there’s the casual dismissal of any conversation about racism by saying, “Well, here are four black authors I can name off the top of my head.” It’s always the same four authors, though. The names change, but the implications don’t. The advice to write “what the market wants” is code for white characters and white stories. The opportunities to network, like six-week writing workshops or weeklong conventions, are really only open to those with the means to miss work. The entire system is built to benefit whiteness, and to ignore that is to bury your head in the flaming garbage heap of history.”

Are we, honestly, with a straight face, going to presume that ONLY two percent of black people have an interest and an aptitude for writing science fiction in short story form?

Or are we going to finally admit that there is systemic, internalized racism at work here?

4 Responses to “Hey, guess what? (race in literature)”

  1. Monika 09/08/2016 at 2:30 PM #

    Might also be of interest: Sisters in Crime (SinC) just published their new report on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Mystery Community: https://c.ymcdn.com/sites/sistersincrime.site-ym.com/resource/resmgr/summit_report/SinC-Diversity-Report-2016-F.pdf

    • azteclady 09/08/2016 at 2:42 PM #

      Thank you! I live in hope that RWA will eventually sponsor and publish something like this for genre romance authors.


  1. Hey, hey! I got whitemansplained! | Her Hands, My Hands - 10/08/2016

    […] of this post originally appeared in the Literature section at MyMedia, as part of the race in literature thread. I’ve added further commentary below the […]

  2. More on race, reading, writing, and publishing. | Her Hands, My Hands - 22/08/2016

    […] posted to the Literature section of MyMedia, as part of the race in literature […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: