Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Why, when searching for "African American Mystery Writers," does a click on "images" present you with a page full of white faces? [UPDATED]

"I’ve heard many times from publishers that the 'buyers at B&N' believe multicultural books don’t sell. When they are not stocked in these bookstores, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."

I have been reading a lot about diversity (or the lack thereof) in publishing lately. Book Riot posted a list of good articles on the subject, entitled We Need Bigger Megaphones for Diversity in Kid Lit. This, however, is the one quote that stuck with me throughout my reading on the subject:
There comes a point where we have to move beyond saying there is a problem and begin actively working towards the solutions.

We are all creatures of habit, to one extent or another, and I'm no different. When it comes to reading, I have long standing preferences, but to believe that those preferences have no connection with anything outside myself, is naive at best, and willful ignorance at worst.
The sooner you admit that you are part of the problem, the sooner you can start being part of the solution (or at the very least quit being an obstacle).  
I make a point of including writers of color when looking for new poetry, and I rely on the opinions of established poets I already read for many of those choices. But I realized recently that I do not have the same balance in the other literature, mainly murder mysteries, that I read. In fact, I couldn't think of one writer of color in the genre.

Why is that?

We make our choices from what is placed in front of us, and the more strenuously a book is promoted, the greater the chance it will become one of those choices.

And if it is not promoted, or it is never published in the first place . . .

Thousands of books are published each year, and if only a small percentage of them are by writers of color, how will I find them? Because I can only read what I can find.

Perhaps one day we will have the luxury of not actively thinking about the diversity of our choices, but today is not that day.
Another agent, when asked why less than 1% of her submissions were from people of color, captured what seems to be the publishing industry’s general attitude in just 10 words: “This seems like a question for an author to answer.”

This is the language of privilege – the audacity of standing at the top of a mountain you made on the backs of others and then yelling at people for being at the bottom. If it’s not the intangible Market that’s to blame, it’s the writers of color, who maybe don’t have what it takes and don’t submit enough anyway. Read the subtextual coding here – the agent first places the onus of change on the folks with the least institutional power to effect it, then suggests we probably won’t be able to find the time (i.e., lazy) to master the craft. ...

The question industry professionals need to ask themselves is: “How can I use my position to help create a literary world that is diverse, equitable, and doesn’t just represent the same segment of society it always has since its inception? What concrete actions can I take to make actual change and move beyond the tired conversation we’ve been having for decades?"
After all the reading and hand ringing, I went to work looking to expand the diversity in my murder mysteries, and it was harder than I expected.

Don't search for "writers of color." That won't get you a thing. "African American murder mystery authors" turned up a good result. (Don't look at the images brought up by that search, though. That sea of white faces is joltingly out of sync with the key words.)  It seems you have to be explicit with your search terms. I also found "murder mysteries by Indian authors" (not the Native American kind), "Hispanic mystery writers" (which includes Spanish, Puerto Rican, and Latino), "Asian mystery writers" (not broken down any further).

Now I just have to sift through the new information for new books, then track down and gain access to my expanded choices. When you are not in a position to purchase, the difficulties expand exponentially.

I expect to have difficulties finding much diversity my local library. If the publishing industry doesn't think there will be enough demand to justify spending much of their budget to promote them, libraries will undoubtedly have to be convinced to spend any of their ever shrinking funds.

At times like this, I wish I had a card with a big city library so I'd have better access to the books I want to read, but perhaps my efforts will help expand access for others.

At this point, my library has a book of short stories entitled Shades of Black: Crime and Mystery stories by African American Writers, and it is now on my (virtual) bookshelf. The review (sort of) will be in my end of the month round up.

We can love a thing and still critique it. In fact, that’s the only way to really love a thing. Let’s be critical lovers and loving critics and open ourselves to the truth about where we are and where we’ve been. Instead of holding tight to the same old, failed patriarchies, let’s walk a new road, speak new languages. Today, let’s imagine a literature, a literary world, that carries this struggle for equity in its very essence, so that tomorrow it can cease to be necessary, and disappear.
Here are a a couple of other articles on the subject:

This is something I believe in strongly. Expecting people of color to read stories and identify with characters who bear no resemblance to them and their lives, while saying white people could never do such a thing, is the height of arrogance, privilege - and yes, racism.

I have made the commitment to actively search out and read literature (Murder mysteries do count as literature, honest.) by people of color. I don't expect to like everything I read, after all I don't like everything I read by white authors, but I can still learn a lot.

But seriously, why all the white faces?

[UPDATED to change the title of the post. After all, no sense burying the lead too deep. Right?]

No comments:

Post a Comment