How white people uphold systemic racism in publishing #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

White people uphold systemic racism in publishing by not doing the right thing sometimes when it means doing the right thing will benefit people of color and especially BIPOC (Black and Indigenous people of color) in publishing more than it will benefit white people. Upholding systemic racism happens with both actions and inactions. The latter is what we’re focusing on here, which is to say, doing nothing. The only thing necessary for systemic racism in publishing to triumph, is for authors and other publishing professionals to do nothing.

First, systemic racism in publishing exists, and we’re not even close to having a level playing field yet. You can take my word for it as someone who has done a lot of reading on the subject, or you can go do some research for yourself. Start by checking out the #PublishingPaidMe hashtag on Twitter, which shows the gap between what publishers pay Black authors and non-black authors in terms of advances.

Here are some situations in which white people in publishing might find themselves*:
(People of color and BIPOC can also find themselves in these or similar situations, and they can similarly uphold systemic racism (against themselves, not against white people, because reverse racism is by definition not possible), but I’m not knowledgeable enough to talk about the nuances involved, so I’m only talking today about how white people uphold systemic racism in publishing.)

-If you’re white and you see an agent or editor tweet that she wants to see more BIPOC submissions, but you juuuust queried that agent or editor, and you hesitate to retweet, because if you retweet, more BIPOC authors will see her tweet, and she’ll get even more queries that could take priority over yours, that’s you deciding whether or not you will uphold systemic racism in publishing.

-If you’re white and you come across information about an opportunity that would be just as useful to your BIPOC critique partners (or other close BIPOC writing friends), but you suspect the people involved with the opportunity are prioritizing BIPOC authors, and you decide to not share the opportunity, you’re upholding systemic racism in publishing.

-If you’re white and you belong to a literary organization and you cast a vote against progressive change that would level the playing field for BIPOC authors, that’s you upholding systemic racism in publishing. You can rationalize that you voted nay for a host of reasons unrelated to opportunities for BIPOC authors, but at the end of the day, all that matters is that your vote took opportunities from BIPOC authors, and you therefore upheld systemic racism in publishing.

-If you’re white and you don’t regularly boost BIPOC authors on social media, that’s you upholding systemic racism in publishing. You can rationalize that you don’t often see tweets or books by BIPOC authors in your timeline, but that means you have yet to make an effort to follow BIPOC accounts and interact with their content. You know how algorithms work. For the most part, social media sites base what content they show you on what content you’ve interacted with in the past.

-If you’re white and you whisper to someone at an author meetup that you definitely think that diverse authors should have more opportunities, but you’re worried there won’t be any room left for you, that’s you encouraging someone else to uphold systemic racism.

-If you’re white and you have decision-making capabilities in bookselling or distribution, and you prioritize extensive backlists of white authors and just white authors generally, you’re upholding systemic racism in publishing. If you’re a small bookstore, and you think you won’t be able to make ends meet if you stock too many BIPOC authors, A—have you tried increasing your ratio of BIPOC authors to non-, and B⁠—have you tried hard enough.

-If you’re white and you have decision-making capabilities or are advising or designing algorithms for any website with a book catalog (think Goodreads, Amazon, BookBub, Overdrive), and you are choosing to not fix the inherent racism in said algorithms, that’s you taking money from BIPOC authors. And it doesn’t count if a handful of BIPOC authors who are already bestsellers happen to be doing well with your existing algorithm but no other BIPOC authors are.

-If you’re white and you have a say in acquisitions in publishing and you aren’t actively trying to increase your catalog of BIPOC authors year after year, you’re upholding systemic racism in publishing by not getting out of the way for someone who will do what needs to be done. Even if you tell yourself that you don’t speak up more because you’re introverted or non-confrontational or don’t have *that* much power or budget, you’re still taking up valuable job real estate in a systemically racist industry, and you are indeed upholding systemic racism in publishing.

-If you’re white and you don’t call out other people in publishing for behavior or actions that uphold systemic racism, because you don’t want to rock the boat or burn bridges that could help your own career in publishing, you’re upholding systemic racism in publishing.

The title of this post, How white people uphold systemic racism in publishing, is superimposed over a photo of a piece of paper that reads, "To do list: Nothing, nada, zilch."You might assume from this post that I’m always picking fights or that I’m suggesting you should. No. By all means, go ahead if want or can, but all I’m suggesting is that you pay more attention to how you might be upholding systemic racism in publishing. The taking action part, to varying degrees, will start happening naturally as a result.

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.

I would love to hear your experiences or thoughts, answer questions if I can or point you to additional resources if I can’t, and listen to your feedback if you think I’ve missed the mark anywhere or left something important out. This said, I’ll be monitoring the comments to keep this a safe space. If this is all something you need to think about, that’s a valid part of the journey, and thank you for thinking about it.

39 thoughts on “How white people uphold systemic racism in publishing #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

  1. This seems to be a difficult conundrum for lesser-known white authors to navigate! I live in India, and though we don’t have issues with publishing on racist lines, we do have nepotism, that primarily benefits the traditionally wealthy classes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for the concrete cases you list here. This infographic got me thinking about this the other day:×358.jpg. I think the area I’m wondering most about from my own perspective is representation of BIPOC characters in my writing. That’s something I want to learn more about. Thank you for sharing, Raimey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oooo, thanks for sharing the infographic. I’m adding it to a paper I’m writing. It’s definitely important that the character makeup in our stories is representative of society at large, and I think you know this, but for anyone else reading, it’s important to note that in publishing, there are two different kinds of diversity discussions: 1) diverse stories 2) diverse authors. Both are important, but as an industry, we’ve got to prioritize the latter.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful post. It’s really terrible how much racism and unfair treatment there is in the publishing industry. I’m glad people are speaking out so that hopefully things will change. And I wish for this even if it means that I never get published traditionally.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That just made me cry. For reals. Everyone shields themselves by saying they are not “racists” and then do nothing to actually change the inherent system of racism that plagues all of our institutions and are ingrained in every part of our lives. Thank you for this post. I really am shook by it. It’s the reveal. Thank you for helping dismantle what is clearly broken. And here’s what people don’t understand — no one is taking anything away from anyone else by being more inclusive. We all benefit when there is a diverse world to choose from. There truly is enough for everyone….and honestly, why would you want to “make it” while stepping on the backs of others and/or cheating your way through? Sorry. It has always boggled my mind. Thank you Raimey. Thank you.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I was so worried, because I posted this yesterday morning, but no one had commented yet, and I was starting to wonder if I’d missed the mark. I’m SOOOO relieved to hear you say I did okay. That’s a really good way of putting it, cheating; when it comes to matters of equity, racism is almost a synonym for cheating. There’s a lot more work to do, but I’m encouraged by the change I’m seeing throughout the industry. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I may be biased, but you never miss the mark. I wonder though if many people have started doing what I’ve been doing, which is scheduling their social media time and/or onscreen time? It’s been so emotional — even before Mr. Floyd’s killing — with Covid19, loss of work and income and then, yes the explosion of protests and stuff, I’ve had to actually schedule myself to do almost as little as possible in one day, just so I can get ONE thing accomplished. So, I mention all of that because I didn’t read your post because I wasn’t “scheduled” to be on WordPress. So, yeah, this was so on-point. And powerful. And as I mentioned to someone on Twitter just a minute ago, I can’t tell you how important it is for me to realize how many people have been by “our” side all along. So again, thank you for your contribution to a better a world! I’m so friggin’ inspired and re-energized because of it.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent post Raimey! So many times it’s easy to dismiss actions because it’s not outwardly hostile, but as you showed, it’s the little things that are just as equally harmful.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Raimey, thank you for sharing this! The tl;dr is that I appreciate you for writing this blog post.

    When I saw the numbers from #PublishingPaidMe, I realized that although all our goals were to get published, the rewards were not the same. We all celebrated, but the parties were not equal. After the publishing gatekeeper lets you in, you may not get all the perks of being at the party. What’s frustrating is that a second novel by a white writer who got $200k advance will be so much easier than for a BIPOC writer who got $15k. The white writer can go travel, focus on writing or whatever, while the BIPOC continues to find work and struggle. Life doesn’t change. And it keeps going, on and on, the advantages add up. Writing is hard. There is no denying that. We do it because we love it. And it’s because of that love for the craft, that desire to just be at the party, that many BIPOC held their tongues. But now is the time to speak up, because it’s not right! None of this discredit white authors’ successes. They’ll still get to celebrate. It’s just the definition of success had not been the same. So the celebration will be tainted until things change.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a really good point about what advances mean in terms of being able to afford to continue writing books. As an industry, we’re not making it feasible for debut authors of color and especially BIPOC authors to continue publishing.


  7. Such a sad thing to read. I loathe racism in any form and have known for a while it’s rife within the publishing industry. Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen agents and publishers seeking out BAME writers and I’ve sat back and thought, “why aren’t you doing this all the time? Why does it take something like a horrific incident like George Floyd’s murder to give you all a kick up the arse?” Things just aren’t fair. We can only hope it changes, not soon, but now.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Excellent work here, Raimey. I know one thing that has always angered me when discussing this topic with other authors is when publishers HAVE the sensitivity readers study a manuscript but then DON’T LISTEN to what the sensitivity readers have to say. How can we change for the better when we ignore our own resources to make that change happen?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! I know that I don’t want to limit myself as a writer, just as no one else should limit themselves. But if we don’t treat our characters and subject matter with respect and care–and that includes getting expert perspective through sensitivity readers–then we as writers are NOT doing our jobs.


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