Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Diversity As Trend? Please.

First, hi, long time no blog. I filter comments after a post is two weeks old or more—since I tend to get a lot of spam comments—but boy have I also missed a lot of sweet messages from people! If you're one of them, thanks for still reading this little blog though it's been much neglected.

Second, I've been thinking a lot about some of the things going on about diversity in books lately. There have been a recent string of articles by people of color asking white authors to please research and get in the shoes of a POC before writing, to be aware of issues, to really work hard to represent in a real way. These articles have been met with hostility in a lot of cases. And there have already been a lot of responses by the community as a whole. I don't know why I feel I need to contribute, but it won't let me go.

So here's my story with this. Take it for what it is.

I look white. I'm not all the way white. I have included a diverse cast in the majority of my work not because I'm on a mission or because I want to be on trend—it's part of my organic experience as a person and I wanted to see my world in my writing as I think we all do. As a person who passes as white, but comes from a history of people who've been marginalized, I have always been ultra-aware of the difference in how I'm treated because of how I look. And this is what I have seen:

My Books With POC As Main Characters Have Not Sold To Publishers. That is just straight up the reality. I have 8 published novels—the three with white main characters are published traditionally in the US (Transparent, House Of Ivy & Sorrow, My Little Brony). The I'M A NINJA series? FISH OUT OF WATER? Both we subbed for over a year and did not sell. Though I consider them quality work and on par or better than what publishers have bought from me.

While Subbing My POC Main Characters, I Noticed A Severe Uptick In "I Don't Identify With This MC" Comments. This is like code for "editor doesn't feel comfortable with the character being not white or not cis or not insert-whatever-here." That sounds mean, but with my white MCs rejections were "this plot didn't grab me" or "I liked the MC but I wasn't grabbed by the story." Always the story. Not the character. With my POC MCs...the rejections seem to be more often character-based for me and not story.

Also While Subbing POC Mains, I've Received Sometimes Flat Out Racist Rejections. And sometimes very "micro-agressiony" rejections. And sometimes half-hearted attempts to blame it on marketing. But the fact is, it happens. I'm not just imagining it, nor are POC authors nor are white-authors writing POC characters. I have real rejections from the industry that say these things, and I'm pretty sure the editors had no idea how hurtful those comments were, but they still happened.

I've Seen Dozens Of White-Washed Cover Comps. Just among my own writing circle. Some were changed before publication, many were not. And you know what? The most quiet, insidious ones are those where they just put no one on the cover rather than reveal that the MC is a POC. That happens a lot. Rather than "risk" a cover telling the market that this book is about not-white people, they'd rather have them find out after purchase or, in sci-fi/fantasy cases, just mentally white-wash them even when they read descriptions that contradict.

As A White-Passer, I Still Feel Huge Fear Over Getting It Wrong. I freak out about this all the time. All. The. Effing. Time. Even after all my research and knowing I'm not *just* white and trying very hard to live in the varying shoes of POC lives, I sometimes want to unpublish all my work and hide from those things I probably also did wrong in all my good intentions. That fear? It never goes away. I've been writing diversity before this was something we talked about online, twenty books worth, and no I don't feel like I'm an expert and I am positive I never will be. I'm also positive no one is.

As A White-Passer, I Still Get The Urge To Want Pats On The Back. This is where I become super aware of how white-privilege affects me. Because even knowing all I know, I still sometimes have those knee-jerk white reactions. Did a part of me squirm inside over these articles about white people doing it wrong? Yes! Yes, I squirm every time. I get a little frustrated and feel helpless because I want to change it and I can't really and I'm trying and UGH why does our world have to SUCK? I want to be patted on the back for trying, but I also know I don't deserve those pats. And that's okay.

I could go on, but this is long as it is. These are just some of my realities as a person whose been in publishing for, oh, six years now? And these are just MY experiences with the unfairness of the business when it comes to diversity. This isn't even all the accounts I've heard from others.

So when people talk of Diversity as some kind of trend, I get a little ragey. I'll admit it. Do you know what a trend is? It's something that helps a book sell. It's something popular. In all my experience in publishing, I've sadly never, ever seen someone have a leg up because they were a POC author or were writing a POC MC. In fact, it's quite the opposite—all I've seen is higher chances of disadvantage. I've personally felt like it was a strike against me, but I did it anyway because that was the story I needed to tell.

This stuff is hard to hear. I know. It's hard for me to say it. It's hard to have experienced it. But when we read these articles, I hope we can listen. Because no one is making these problems up. No one is over-exaggerating. If you see diversity as a trend, please think for a bit on how wildly cruel that is. Not only is it implying that POC are some kind of magical thing like a vampire or wizard or girl on fire or other passing interest, but it implies that somehow POC authors and books with POC are  successful at a time when it's still a serious struggle to get published and even sell those books.

Trend...sigh. It's more accurate to call it a liability in the eyes of most publishers whether they say it or not. That is the unpleasant truth we are trying to change.