Before I start this I will refer y’all to this list of authors of color curated by Roxane over at The Rumpus.
Feel free to keep that tab open and come back.
I want to talk about why this sort of list is important, more important for it to be on an influential literary website that is not specifically targeted to people of color and why it’s not about what some folks seem to think it’s about.
To get into what I’m saying here one of the things that just needs to be accepted is that the literary world, when it comes to who gets covered and talked about, who is published etc, that world is really really white.
More so for American magazines.
This is a moment where before any White people come to tell me how wrong I am and how diverse their zines are or whatever, it’s a good moment to put your feelings away and listen to what I’m saying.
In the Literary world Whiteness is the default as it is in a lot of other places in the world. People assume that a person is White unless they have an “ethnic” name or it is explicitly stated. That’s just how it is. That has been an experience I’ve had since I was a child.
I am 35 years old and have been reading novels for 30 years. I have read a lot of books and as a reader most of those books were about and written by White people.
Is that good or bad? No it just is.
For me as a reader, to find authors of color often I have to go to extraordinary measures. In my lifetime as a reader, often I have had to search high and low to find things to read fiction or non fiction, that reflected me at all.
Now, White folks. This is not an experience you are going to have. Yes, you can empathize with it but you won’t ever really understand. To put a different light on it, consider this.
How many of us as children loved fantasy images?
Fairies, mermaids, unicorns all that shit.
I have been a huge lover of those things since childhood. Not until I was 25 years old did I EVER see a piece of fairy art that was an identifiable Black figure. Think about the thousands of fairy images you can see just casually, now think about how long I spent actively searching for that. I went through hours finding images and status of White fairies painted tan or kind of brown. When a dear friend had a child who really loved fairies, I searched everywhere and spoke to artists and got nowhere finding something as simple and common (as one might think) as a fairy with hair a similar texture to the kids and a face with visually identifiable Black features.
This is the experience of being a person of color and navigating this world all too often.
If it seems like no big deal think about it this way.
Think about something you have loved for a long time. Maybe it’s books, maybe you really loved dolls once upon a time, or movies or whatever.
Think about never once seeing anything that represented you. Maybe you spend your life trying to tell people, crying and begging and people look at you and shrug. They say well, I don’t see you as being a White person so it doesn’t matter.
Does that make it not matter to you?
Of course not.
This is why what Roxane and Rumpus readers have done is so important.
Here’s the thing.
You can believe anything you want but, the fact is being a person of color involved in the literary world is at times the worst thing in the world. Sometimes being an author of color is really lonely. More so when you’re an unknown like me and as I pointed out when Roxane put the call out initially, an editor can give all the lip service to diversity and being anti racism that they want to but, when there is nothing to back that up it hurts.
I wish I had thought to keep track of all the times I watched editors at various magazines talk all about how inclusive and welcoming they were and when I went to check who they were publishing all White faces with similarly scholarly bios.
So then these conversations start, and it happens when VIDA puts out their count as well, one of the first things we hear are editors saying that there must be a dearth of writers of color.
So now there is this big beautiful list and it keeps growing and I find myself frustrated with some of the conversation.
It’s not about reading an author because they are of color that is ridiculous. It’s about answering an important questions. Are people of color writing? Yes we are and as Roxane put it we are many.
It’s not about White peoples discomfort with such a list. It’s not about you. It’s about us.
It’s about putting the fact to it to shine the light on the fallacy.
For me personally it’s also about the little 7 year old Black girl I was once upon a time and all the time I spent in the library frustrated because the only non White books I could find were often Slave narratives, The Color Purple and the occasional White Lady savior books that only gave me a single narrative (broadly speaking), I wanted more.
Now that I’m older and am a working writer it’s important for those same reasons.
Any argument against lists like this come down to the same few things for me. The strident belief that the lit world isn’t at all racist. That in order to be diverse the entire onus is on writers of color. That ignoring it or not shining a light on the problems will make them magically go away.
Until more people start being honest in admitting at least to themselves that no, they haven’t ever published a story about Black people in their zine and haven’t ever considered it or that while they may not -get- all of the culture in a story that it’s still okay to print. Maybe more editors need to see lists like this and admit to themselves that in their mind literary=White culture.
People may need to get their panties in a wad and protest and say how not racist they are until they can’t turn a blind eye to the racist place they are coming from.
For me, I keep going back to that list and looking at all those names.
Some of them are widely published and lauded, some are just like me and struggling in the trenches.
It makes me feel less alone. It shows me that no, I’m not toiling in my own little void.