May 16, Charlesbridge, a children’s publisher in Boston, co-hosted a panel, with CBC Diversity, on diversity in children’s literature with authors, illustrators and editors. This happened awhile ago, obviously, but somehow I never had time to write about it. But I think it’s important to, because it was sponsored by CBC Diversity, which is trying to be this huge, multi-publisher effort to promote diversity, and yet I can’t really understand what it is they think they’re doing. For one thing, I keep seeing invitations to participate in their efforts and their blog on various listservs, other blogs, etc, and yet they don’t reply to (if they even accept) comments, they don’t respond to emails, and they basically keep it very much in their club of favorite people, which is the opposite of “Advocating for an inclusive and representative children’s publishing industry,” as they say on their blog tagline.
The usual questions were asked, like can authors write outside their culture, how can you avoid stereotyping or tokenizing, what’s it like to be a creator of color in the industry, how do you edit a book for authenticity if it’s not your culture, etc. Mostly the creators told funny racism stories, by which I mean the silly things people say that you can laugh about later, and then said how in general, they are treated just fine. Great for them. The editors basically said it’s hard to sell books about kids of color and how they wish they received more submissions. Not sure how those two work together, but sure. There was also this overarching thing behind many of the things said about how children are delicate creatures, and we need to hold their hands when it comes to reading things outside of their comfort zones, which is apparently white kids reading about Mexican kids, or something.
Ultimately, through the panel and the milling about afterwards, I learned that diversity will forever be more common in historical fiction, magical colored people, and noble savages, and that nobody wants to be the first to do anything remarkable.
Big whoop. That is all we talk about on the blogosphere, all the time. I left the panel feeling down, and the only thing that was good was that my expectations were met: it was a disappointing waste of time. People say they care, but they don’t try things.
Hey. Intent doesn’t mean anything, as we all know when it comes to accidental racism, and feeling sad about the state of things doesn’t make you a better person than the people who happen not to care, because you’re both doing nothing. You don’t deserve to feel proud of yourself. You’re not doing anything. Period.
I’m tired of people claiming to care about diversity but constantly touting it as “diversity.” I’m not diversity. I’m just not white like you. To mutilate a already cliched first line of a book I own but will never read, I’m as boring as you are, just in my own little way.
If you actually care about diversity, do something about it. Here are some things you can do. If you’re not willing to do them, fine, but then stop saying you care. Trying is better. And if it doesn’t work, and if you don’t sell as much stuff (I know it’s about money, but if you buy crappy books from celebrities that will make money, and if you stop buying a lot of the same old stuff, you can afford to take chances), push a bit further – maybe if shelves are saturated with diversity, more people will buy books with them, if only by accident. Chances are they’ll stop being disappointed that things aren’t about white people if you take the time to actually buy good books about people of all colors. Here are some things you can do if you’re an editor. If you’re not willing to do them, stop saying that you’re into diversity and just admit that you don’t actually care. Because you’re wasting your energy and my time, and you’re getting people’s hopes up when you have no right to.
- If you have two books that are equally mediocre, or even just nearly equal, reject the one about the white kids and choose to work a bit harder on the one that reflects a more inclusive world. That white kid one is already mediocre, and you’re not hurting that author’s chances of being picked up by another house. Listen to Gandhi, yo: be the change you wish to see in the world.
- If your longtime authors that you like working with are not good at diversity, EDUCATE THEM. Show them articles and blog posts about privilege, about stereotypes and tokens, about what it feels like to be erased. IT’S YOUR JOB. As an editor, you are supposed to help make a manuscript better. So do it.
- Make people realize that “diversity,” as you so love to call it, is not scary and does not mean that a book is irrelevant to non-diverse peoples, since you think that there is such a thing as diverse and non-diverse people. Use the same cliched book covers of headless girls in pretty dresses that you would for white people, but do it for a book about a black girl. Or use more symbolic covers all around. Make it look as if diversity is matter-of-fact, not a creature that is strange and untamable.
- Pick up a dictionary. You’re an editor! Why do you not know what words mean? Look up the definitions of “diversity” and “multicultural” and start using them correctly. Here’s somewhere to start.
- Be honest. Please. If you care, do something. Otherwise stop holding meaningless panels and having a purposely non-inclusive blog. Because right now, you’re assholes. Plain and simple.
That is all.