There's a thoughtful post on race in children's publishing here. I really am glad these discussions are now taking place on blogs and forums where folks with decision-making power might pay careful attention. I also love that more and more editors are looking for work by authors of colour. It's certainly a step in the right direction.
However, I've heard more than one editor say that, while they've thrown their doors wide to submissions by PoC, the work they're receiving seems to be sub-par, not polished, or in need of more work than they have time for in this highly competitive business.
I have a couple of thoughts on that. PoC have not had the same opportunities and privileges that white folks have had for hundreds of years in many parts of the world. To expect equal results from white writers and writers of colour when there has never been a level playing field in terms of economics, social and political power, representation and privilege, is to set oneself up for disappointment and to perpetuate the dynamics already in place.
When I was a more idealistic version of who I am today, I went to work at a women's shelter. I felt strongly about domestic violence and I was a young feminist and I wanted to help. I had never grown up around domestic violence so I was unprepared for what I'd encounter. And it wasn't pretty. I had to learn a whole lot, FAST. It was eye-opening, it was brutal, and it was excruciatingly painful to see just how deep misogyny and patriarchy run in our world. But it was necessary. It showed me the Truth. And the Truth is one of the most solid tools you can have in navigating through life.
If you are a publishing decision-maker who wants to do the right thing by publishing or selling more titles by authors of colour, brava!! But you have to know that there is work to be done. The way the system is currently set up, writers of colour must bend and distort our work so that it is recognizable and appealing to white editors. Editors are not required to bend their reality or lens so that they can understand and relate to the styles, traditions, and aesthetics of PoC. So our work is always judged through a white lens. And the work is read and judged based on whether it will appeal to a white readership. The default assumption is that only brown folks will want to read work written by brown folks. And that white readership is the goal. This is problematic on so many levels.
If you want to create true, lasting change, you can't go in thinking you can keep doing what you've always done, only now it will be with brown faces. Dr. Phil (sorry) says the definition of insanity is to keep doing what you've always done and hope for different results each time (what can I say - my mom is a devoted watcher). It's not the same. There are very real differences between white writers and writers of colour, heterosexual writers and LGBTQ writers, writers who've grown up with lots of money and those who've grown up with without - differences that have painful histories behind them, and sometimes the results are not pretty.
This is the same discussion feminists were having years ago when men ran and owned all publishing houses, and women's writing was not taken seriously. It was too "emotional", it was too "flowery", women didn't write about "serious" things, and women weren't getting published. Men were viewing women's writing through a very male lens and never had to bend or shift their perspective. It was out of this that feminist presses and women's presses began sprouting and taking root. They showed that women could write and there was a market for that work and that it sold. Eventually, these small presses began dying out because the larger publishers began publishing more work by women. AND because there were now spaces for women to write, to nurture and cultivate their careers, there were grants and financial support for women who wanted to take writing seriously. In other words, there were larger, societal changes *in addition to* well-meaning editors. AND, here's the key, there were more women editors.
The children's/teen publishing biz has a whole LOT of women editors now. And two of them are women of colour. Ha, just kidding. It might be five. But the same needs to happen now. This is a subjective business. Editors and booksellers can like whatever they like. Let's just get more - including those who understand and value different aesthetics and traditions, and those who aren't necessarily looking for a polished, refined, brown version of Twilight or Harry Potter or Gossip Girl. Let's think outside of the publishing box we've all been shoved into. Let's get representation of ALL children and their histories/stories. Even if it means taking a little more time to nurture a new writer or new voice, or reading everything you can in a particular genre by authors from different backgrounds and literary traditions.
These are important and necessary changes. Painful, eye-opening ones, too. They might show some of us just how deep the roots of racism run in this country. But they may also show us something more important: the Truth. And that is invaluable in all of our journeys.