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.
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.