If you’re wondering why I’m campaigning for a charity that won’t benefit people equally, here’s your answer! Of course it’s still OK if you don’t agree, but I thought it was worth explaining.
Human beings are all predisposed to like people who are like them. Obviously we can and do overcome this predisposition all the time, but it’s extremely difficult for anyone to change their first reaction.
The example that I’ve used before was a re-org that happened at my tech job. It was an open secret that the organization’s structure would be changing, but they didn’t announce anything because they wanted to have the full org structure in place first. That might have been reasonable, except they ended up announcing a group of leaders that was 90% male. Mind you, the division only had 25% women in the first place, so I wouldn’t have expected more than 25% female leadership, but we got… 10%.
It’s not their fault that they came up with a chart that was 90% male at first. But they should have realized that they needed to go back and ask themselves hard questions about how they got there. This same company had previously lost a lawsuit because statistics showed that males disproportionately won the supposedly merit-based promotions, so they had no excuse for not being aware of the problem. Instead, they presented the chart to a 25% female room with a straight face and had no answer when I publicly asked (because of course I did) how they ended up so short of women.
The publishing industry in the US has always been majority white people. That’s only a problem when it’s a much higher percentage than the population, and even then, only because the books that get published disproportionately feature white characters written by white authors.
As just one startling example, in 2020, children’s books featured more animal or object main characters than non-white people. “The number of black, Asian or minority ethnic main characters in children’s books has increased to 5%, compared to 4% in 2018 and just 1% in 2017.” Five percent! And that was an improvement!
Agents and editors control the books that get published at major presses—which get most of the attention, shelf space, awards, etc. Like everyone, they naturally relate and gravitate to characters who are similar to them. Because art* is so subjective, it doesn’t feel intentional. After all, they turn down many white authors with white characters as well, for reasons of craft or “I just didn’t relate,” which are genuinely valid reasons for not buying or representing a book.
But then the books from minority authors get less publicity because of lower expectations and therefore aren’t easy to stumble across in libraries or bookstores. It’s a spiral of getting less attention, therefore selling less, therefore being viewed as less viable, therefore getting picked up less.
That’s why we need We Need Diverse Books.
Women had to literally take my company to court to get men to see (or admit) that their promotion program was flawed. The company also subsequently set up more programs to mentor early-career women to help the higher levels increase their proportion of women, because it was clear that without intentional intervention, they wouldn’t be able to overcome the inherent predisposition of the existing male leadership. That wasn’t giving women “special help,” they were giving women the same help that men were getting automatically because of the history of the company and profession.
WNDB offers mentorship, paid internships, advocacy, and information. They shed light on the inequities that don’t make sense. They provide the “extra” help as prospective authors, agents, and editors of color overcome the barriers to entry that white people don’t face because of the history of our country and the publishing industry.
I would bet that if the people making the decisions about my division’s re-org had been 25% female to begin with, they wouldn’t have ended up with the chart they did. Similarly, if we can get more people of color into all levels of publishing, the problem will more easily take care of itself. But they can’t unless we consciously try to get them there.
And that’s what WNDB does.
Donate to my fundraiser here!
*Jonathan Mayberry taught me that “writing is art, but publishing is the business of selling copies of art.”