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Friday, February 26, 2010

Demanding Diversity In Publishing

Racial prejudice exists and raises it's ugly head in the publishing world just like it does everywhere else...and especially in America, I think. This affliction in our society and the publishing world (as if publishing didn't already have enough problems!) harms creativity, production, talent, business decisions and even the covers of books! Imagine a book about people of color with a cover depicting white people...How hypocritical is that!

Zetta Elliot: a Black, Canadian, PhD, writer, teacher and poet wrote "Demanding Diversity In Publishing" for the Huffington Post:

Last week I was invited by Justine Larbalestier to write a guest post for her blog. I met Justine online last summer in the midst of the outrage over Bloomsbury USA's practice of "whitewashing" books (putting white models on the cover of books about children of color). Despite the controversy and potential risk to her career, Justine bravely spoke out about her disappointment with the cover and made another statement when--just last month--Bloomsbury did it again. Teen blogger Ari made an earnest appeal to Bloomsbury:

I'm sure you can't imagine what it's like to wander through the teen section of a bookstore and only see one or two books with people of color on them. Do you know how much that hurts? Are we so worthless that the few books that do feature people of color don't have covers with people of color?...Can you imagine growing up as a little girl and wanting to be white because not only do you not see people who look like you on TV, you don't see them in your favorite books either?

In both cases, public pressure forced the publisher to stop production and issue new covers (though both feature models of color who are very fair-skinned). LaTonya Baldwin, who blogs at Color Online, mobilized her followers and founded Readers Against WhiteWashing (RAWW). For the moment, at least, many of us in the kidlit blogosphere felt victorious--we had conquered one publishing Goliath!

When Justine asked me to write on a topic of my choosing, I opted to share my preliminary thoughts on race and reviews. Yet I found myself reflecting on Gwen Ifill's book about the strategies that enabled a new wave of black politicians to "breakthrough" in the political arena:

Candidate Obama had to assure white voters that he was neither angry nor bitter about the nation's history of racial oppression, and no mention was ever made of the unearned advantages that come with being white. Fortunately, I'm not running for political office. And I assure you that at times I am angry and bitter, and I must insist that we talk about white privilege.

I don't think people of color will "breakthrough" in the publishing arena in significant numbers until publishers are held accountable for the discriminatory practices that marginalize diverse voices. My friend Stefanie used to say, "Hope and a token will get you on the train." Effecting change requires more than good intentions--it takes a lot of hard work, persistence, and a clear vision. I often tell people that I'm "not a joiner," but I know that collaboration is key to transforming the children's publishing industry. So I was heartened when my good friend, Laura Atkins, forwarded me a draft of the UK Publishing Equalities Charter.

Read more: http://alturl.com/eizx
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