Today’s workforce is a difficult terrain to navigate. There’s rampant underemployment, and the jobs that do exist often don’t pay enough, with workers regularly having to succumb to unpaid internships just to gain the experience many “entry level” positions require. While a journey for many, job searching is made that much more complicated when you’re a person of color in a predominantly white industry like publishing.
In a 1965 article written by Nancy Larrick, former president of the International Reading Association (now the International Literacy Association) writes, “Across the country, 6,340,000 non-white children are learning to read and understand the American way of life in books which either omit them entirely or scarcely mention them…” Not much has changed since then, although we have long recognized the need for diversity and different literary voices.
People of color (POC) that actually have made it inside the literary world describe a noticeable lack of discussion around bibliodiversity and inclusion. Editor Jesi Vega blogged about her experience while attending an Authors on Editing event: “This room was almost entirely white… and there was not a single mention of race, class, diversity, or inclusion the whole time.” She goes on to say that she doesn’t believe the editors and writers present weren’t compassionate or skilled, but rather that critical topics were simply not addressed.
Elizabeth Barone, a white author, shares similar sentiments. She writes on her website, “There aren’t nearly enough people of color in publishing, nor are there nearly enough white people in publishing who actually speak up or, at the least, listen to their colleagues.”
POC have expressed their concerns in the form of criticism on Twitter for years, but their frustration often gets redirected to individual books and authors rather than the overarching problem in general.
As far back as the 1960’s, those in power have promised to be more inclusive, but that promise has meant next to nothing and the talent pool remains unchanged.
On March 2nd, 2019, Christa Desir, a freelance content and copy editor, tweeted out a call for a young POC mentor who wanted to learn how to edit who would eventually become her assistant. Her tweet garnered over 350 retweets and she received an influx of emails from hopeful candidates starving for work. After recognizing the need, Desir extended her offer to include multiple positions transforming it into an ongoing mentorship program called Editors in Training. Within the program, mentees have access to educational materials, webinars held by industry professionals, paid editing opportunities, and a fellow network of POC peers.
Other organizations like People of Color in Publishing (a grassroots group dedicated to diversifying the industry), Latinx in Publishing (a nonprofit that hopes to promote Latinx literature), and We Need Diverse Books (which takes aim at children’s books) are also banning together to make a change. However, as wonderful as these champions for change are, they unfortunately don’t have the power nor the influence major publishing houses have. They have limited resources and are mostly supported by their own communities — so what they really need is for larger players to open the doors for more talented creators of color (as many claim they want to do).
Acknowledging the privilege required to get a job in publishing and apologizing for the lack of inclusivity without providing any opportunities or real solutions isn’t going to work anymore. POC are carving out a place for themselves, demanding a seat at the table, and taking care of their own.
Johanie Martinez-Cools is a blogger, writer, book editor, and aspiring author. Follow her on Twitter @jmartdotcom.