Posted in: racism in publishing, Racism in romance
I was mightily impressed by a blog post that author, Justine Larbalestier wrote a few days ago. The post was entitled, The Advantages of Being White.
First a disclaimer from Justine:
Disclaimer: I am writing about YA publishing in the USA. Although I’m Australian I know much more about the publishing industry in the US than I do about Australia. Or anywhere else for that matter.
She continues with the most refreshingingly honest post that I’ve read from a white author with regards to the Racism in Publishing issue, ever:
I know that the title of this post is going to lead to some comments insisting that it’s not true that white writers have any advantages and that many white people are just as oppressed as people of colour. I don’t want to have that conversation. So I’m going to oppress the white people who make those comments by deleting them. I don’t do it with any malice. I do it because I want to have a conversation about white privilege in publishing.
That right there is what I think a lot of black authors would like white authors who are able to portray black characters and gain success doing it to acknowledge.
J.R. Ward, I’m looking at you.
The fact is, caucasian authors by virtue of their colour are about 100 steps ahead of black authors. There’s no point shaking one’s head in denial, I think there’s enough anecdotal evidence out there to back this up.
What are the advantages that white writers writing about people of colour have that PoC writers don’t have?
First of all (assuming that you can actually write) your odds of getting published are better than theirs.2 No, I don’t have statistics to back me up, but I have a lot of anecdotal evidence. Of friends and acquaintances who were rejected by editors and agents who already had their one African or Asian author. If you’re the only brown writer on a list than you have to be a lot better than all the other brown writers competing for that one slot.
This phenomenon isn’t new. When you’re black you can never be just good, you have to be amazing. But even in publishing, (ESPECIALLY IN ROMANCE) being amazing isn’t always enough, because the Average Jane Reader apparently doesn’t want to ‘step out of her comfort zone’. She has much more in common with vampires and wolfies in an alternate universe, than with black men and women in the here and now.
Here’s another big advantage: If you, as a white writer, produce an excellent book about people who aren’t like you odds are high that your ability to do so will be seen as a sign of your virtuosity and writerly chops, which it is. However, non-white writers rarely get the same response, even though it’s just as hard for them.
The same thing happens in Hollywood all the time. If you’re a beautiful actress who portrays a rough-looking, unattractive woman, you’ll get nominated for an Oscar. If you’re a handsome actor who plays a mentally challenged man, you get an Oscar. If you’re an Anglo actor playing a foreigner, you get an Oscar. If you’re a white author writing about black characters, you get lauded for it.
This isn’t a new thing. The problem is, when it’s a black author writing about white characters, (especially in romance) the skin colour of the author seems to act as a barrier of sorts. This is why black romance authors who want any modicum of success (AKA a bigger part of the White Average Jane Reader pie) are probably better off staying colour-neutral. If the readers don’t know you’re black, the sad fact is, they’re probably more likely to pick up your book.
And onto the most salient advice in Justine’s post:
There are many wonderful books by writers of colour. Read them, talk about them, buy them for your friends. Point them out to your editors and agents. Be part of changing the culture and making space for lots of different voices. The problem is not so much what white people write; it’s that so few other voices are heard. If the publishing industry were representative of the population at large we wouldn’t need to have this conversation.
It’s a nice sentiment, but the fact is, white romance readers tend to stay away from romance books with dark faces on the front of the cover. Unless they’re sheiks of course. But then sheiks in romance books are just white men with better tans aren’t they?
Anyway, well done to Larbalestier for acknowledging that being white in the publishing industry is a huge advantage.