Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Who Gets to Represent?

Zetta just pointed me to this post on Read Roger. I was in the midst of writing a response when I realized it was becoming more of an essay. So, here are some of my thoughts, rather quickly as I have a sick kid on the sofa (asleep right now, but...):

My guess is that if this publisher (Bloomsbury) released books written by authors of colour, they would feature PoC on the covers because they would likely be ABOUT race. But then again, we'll never know, really, because all of the books I've seen by Bloomsbury--books with characters of colour--have been written by white authors (this was the first book I found on their current list, after going through about eight pages on the site, that was clearly written by a PoC--and it does feature a PoC on the cover).

This: "would Liar and Magic Under Glass have been published if their authors were not white...?" is a great question. I've also wondered about the reverse: If a book like A WISH AFTER MIDNIGHT were written by a white author, would it have found an agent or publisher?

In answering questions for an interview recently, it dawned on me that many books clearly for and about children/teens of colour seem to fall under "educational," while much of the fun, romance, and adventure reads feature all-white casts, written for a clearly-targeted white audience, by white authors.

Two thoughts on that: 1) Must we consistently get lumped into the "to study" category? And 2) While I'm glad that Bloomsbury is publishing books with characters of colour, I resent the implication that I should be *grateful* for this, as if publishers are doing PoC a favour by representing the world as it truly is. And as if white authors are doing children/teens of colour a favour by doing the same thing. Why aren't people expected to reflect the world with all its true colours?

When white authors write characters of colour, their careers are not hindered. In fact, they may get the traditional pat-on-the-back response whenever the privileged represent those they have privilege over. When authors of colour write books featuring white protagonists and all-white casts, their careers are not negatively impacted. I am not applauded or thanked when I write white characters in my books because I am expected to.

When authors of colour dare to feature protagonists of colour, or people their books primarily with characters of colour, our challenges to getting published are vast. If we do somehow manage to get published, our books are "educational," or about race and "other"-ness -- and we are almost never lead titles. Many of us struggle to get a second book published (Mitali Perkins waited over ten years to have her second book published), and to get the marketing and publicity support we need to reach our audience. (This last bit is probably true for the majority of authors, regardless of race or background, but it is definitely compounded for PoC).

I'll post more on this later, if I can. Right now, I have a sick little munchkin to attend to.


Mrs. Pilkington said...

thank you.

Unknown said...

Hey Neesh..I am reading Magic Under Glass and the cover burns me up to no end. The book, though a YA fantasy certainly does make race a central focus and to gloss over this with that Great and Terrible Beauty ripoff cover is an outrage. I do like the book, though. I think an exotic cover with a beautiful girl of color would have been far more fetching than the drab thing they ended up with. I would have never picked this one off the shelves. I read it based on word of mouth.

sarah mccarry said...

YES EXACTLY. It is so frustrating to have this conversation derailed by white readers who "just don't want to read books about race"--which means, apparently, that if a mc is a person of color, the second he or she experiences racism or mentions her/his culture the book becomes "about race" instead of "about people." Because, you know, GOD FORBID white people should have to think about the fact that "people" doesn't always mean US.

Karen L. Simpson said...

Amen and Thank you

Sarah Laurenson said...

I want to read books about PoC, by PoC. I love learning about other cultures, ways of looking at life. I want to find my inner prejudices and eradicate them - one by one. I need to be a better person, more grounded in how the world really is then in how some people wish it to be.

Keep up the fight! We need this revolution.

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