You might have noticed that a 9,000-member literary organization has been in the news since it wrongfully censured author Courtney Milan on December 23, 2019. That organization is the Romance Writers of America, and you can find the most thorough chronology of events in Claire Ryan’s The Implosion of RWA. I’m a member and a white woman, and I am still watching as other members who are also white women, over and over again, refuse to believe women of color.
Since the moment news of the wrongful censure dropped, women of color have been showing membership what ethical behavior looks like, with Black women in particular initiating actions and carrying them out. They effected the reversal of the censure, resigned en masse from leadership positions, wrote petitions with 1,000+ signatories that resulted in the resignations of those in breach of fiduciary duties, and together with the LGBTQ+ romance community, are still giving a Twitter masterclass on concepts under the systemic oppression umbrella.
We’re a little more than 3 weeks into this, and many of the aforementioned white women continue to hide their bigotry in member-only forum posts that argue everything but the facts of the case. Still more of these white women continue to hide their bigotry behind a veneer of wanting to remain “neutral.” I want to talk a little about one of the lessons these “neutral” white women have reinforced for me, these white women who up until recently, were patting themselves on the back for their diversity advocacy. And that is that there are 2 kinds of diversity advocates in publishing. For the purposes of this post, the definitions below apply more to people who are few to zero departures from the unremarkable state of being white allosexual cisgender hetero neurotypical and able-bodied.
1. Full-Equity Diversity Advocates: those publishing stakeholders, whether they be authors, critics, literary agents, editors, etc., who advocate for equity no matter how much space and power they have to give up in the process.
2. Fair-Weather Diversity Advocates: these are publishing stakeholders who say, “Yes, come in, but stop when we reach our quota” or, “Do come in, but that’s far enough,” or, “Welcome, so long as you’re the kinds of diversity we like.”
Sometimes, the people most actively advocating for diversity in times of calm, in times of storm will reveal their true oppressive nature. Ergo, Fair-Weather Diversity Advocates.
A person who puts limits on how much space and power marginalized voices should have or includes some “kinds of” diversity but excludes others (e.g. anyone refusing to include the letters that come after LGB) can shore-up institutional oppression while simultaneously trying to claim a diversity advocate label. Can be selectively racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, xenophobic, etc. while simultaneously trying to claim a diversity advocate label.
Relationships, friendships, allyships continue to break down all over the place in RWA, because those believed to be allies, have turned out to be fair-weather ones and therefore not allies at all.
Your Call to Action
Keep pushing for more marginalized voices and especially Black and Indigenous voices everywhere in publishing from authoring to cover designing to book selling, from entry-level to management to ownership, and the next time you encounter a white author running for a board position in a literary organization (or applying for any other paid or unpaid role in publishing), push them on their definition of diversity. Find out whether they’re genuinely ready to make space and give up power or if, like so many white ladies in RWA, they’re only pro-diversity in fair weather and to a point.
This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click here to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this month’s edition. Also go check out author Monique Desir’s post in which she explains another kind of harmful diversity advocate, what she calls Diversity Illusionists.
Please be thoughtful in the comments, because I will be moderating for misinformed opinions such as, “But I thought Courtney started it,” and, “It feels like white people can’t write diversity without getting canceled, so I’m not even going to try,” or anything else that could further marginalize marginalized voices.