Suppose I went National or worldwide asserting that my works of writing have not been accepted by traditional publishers because I write about redheads and I am a redhead. We are only 2 – 4 % of the population, and I feel like I am being discriminated against. Wouldn’t you think that was ridiculous?
The following is reblogged from The School Library Journal. It is written by Zetta Elliot. If she asks me to take it down I will gladly comply.
(I am a Black feminist writer committed to social justice. I write stories about Black children and teens, but within the children’s literature community I have struggled to find a home or what poet June Jordan calls “living room.” In “Moving Towards Home,” Jordan describes a place “where the talk will take place in my language…where my children will grow without horror…where I can sit without grief.” If “home” represents sanctuary—a safe space where one can speak in one’s authentic voice, feel valued, and able to thrive—then the children’s literature community is not my home. I am—and likely will remain—an outsider.
By industry standards, I suppose I am a failed author. Since I started writing for young readers in 2000, only three of my thirty stories have been published traditionally. I turned to self-publishing as my only recourse, and now face the contempt of those who see self-publishing as a mere exercise in vanity.
Last year a white Facebook “friend” suggested that my decision to self-publish was analogous to Blacks in the civil rights era choosing to dine in their segregated neighborhood instead of integrating Jim Crow lunch counters in the South. In her mind, self-publishing is a cowardly form of surrender; to be truly noble (and, therefore, deserving of publication) I ought to patiently insist upon my right to sit alongside white authors regardless of the hostility, rejection, and disdain I regularly encounter.
Since 2009 I have used my scholarly training to examine white supremacy in the children’s literature community where African Americans remain marginalized, despite the 2014 increase in books about Africans/African Americans. This sudden spike (reflected in the latest statistics from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison) was not paired with a comparable increase in the number of books by Blacks, however, suggesting that power remains where it has always been: in the hands of whites.
Publishers Weekly’s 2014 salary survey revealed that only 1 percent of industry professionals self-identify as African American (89 percent self-identify as white). That the homogeneity of the publishing workforce matches the homogeneity of published authors and their books is no coincidence. The marginalization of writers of color is the result of very deliberate decisions made by gatekeepers within the children’s literature community—editors, agents, librarians, and reviewers. These decisions place insurmountable barriers in the path of far too many talented writers of color.
I know better than to turn to the publishing industry when I seek justice for “my children:” Trayvon, Renisha, Jordan, Islan, Ramarley, Aiyana, and Tamir. I know not to hope that industry gatekeepers will rush to publish books for the children of Eric Garner as they struggle to make sense of the murder of their father at the hands of the New York Police Department. But I also know that children’s literature can help to counter the racially biased thinking that insists Michael Brown was “no angel” but rather “a demon” to be feared and destroyed. I believe there’s a direct link between the misrepresentation of Black youth as inherently criminal and the justification given by those who so brazenly take their lives.
The publishing industry can’t solve this problem single-handedly, but the erasure of Black youth from children’s literature nonetheless functions as a kind of “symbolic annihilation.” Despite the fact that the majority of primary school children in the U.S. are now kids of color, the publishing industry continues to produce books that overwhelmingly feature white children only. The message is clear: the lives of kids of color don’t matter.)
Like an agent knows what color skin an author has when they get a query mailed to them.
Ezra Jack Keats’ bio on google opens with “Ezra Jack Keats is an American Author.”
Zora Neale Thurston’s opens with “Zora Neale Thurston was an American folklorist.” As a part of a writing program at my grand daughters, school, I heard her speak. She discussed how important it is to write. I am POSITIVE not one person in that audience thought, “I am listening to the voice of a black woman.” I am also POSITIVE no one boycotted the talk because she was black. The room she spoke in was packed. She gave my grand daughter a signed book! Betcha Ms. Elliot doesn’t have one.
If people want to wave the flag of skin color, they are free to do it as much as they want. Personally, I am obsessed with being a redhead and well aware of all the privileges it has granted me. My PINTEREST board on redheads is huge and beautiful. But I do not bang people over the head with the flagpole. I do not slap them in the face with the flag.
Racial divisiveness is being promoted. Skin color is being emphasized all out of proportion. Why take on the burden of an unjust classification all by your self? Is your skin really black? Is your skin really white? Is your skin really yellow?
My mantra is and always has been, “Hoe your own row.” “Play the hand you were dealt.” If you do those things the very best you can, if each and every person of whatever ethnicity did that the very best they could, there would be no reason at all for anyone to hire a bandwagon full of supporters to back them up, to second their opinion, to help them.
I am getting so sick of it.
I have to rush now. My cable company cancelled my service because I am a redhead, and I have an appointment with a lawyer. The pressure is getting so bad, someone anonymously sent me a one way ticket to Scotland. I am so insulted.
IMAGE ATTRIBUTION: Vintage illustration by Mabel Lucie Attwell, via Google