In the last post I wrote that was a tag about the books I’ve read so far this year, I mentioned that I really wanted to have a discussion about defunding the police (please click on the link! educate yourself!) but I decided that although I would LOVE to write about it, it 1) is mentally draining, 2) requires a lot of research on my part, and 3) is something that hundreds/thousands of others have written on WAY better than me.
So instead of writing to you about defunding the police (like I said, check out the link!), I’m going to talk about a topic that is super prevalent to our little niche of the internet- and something that should be talked about a lot more.
The book industry and, in a way, the book BLOGGING industry upholds a tiring system of internalized whiteness.
I just want to start this post by making myself clear: I absolutely love the bookish community and the people that I interact with! I also do have lots of love for some books by white authors- which I’ll touch on a little bit later- and am in no way saying that you shouldn’t be a white author or white book blogger.
(get ready for a long post, kids.)
Whiteness and white supremacy is not an individual issue. It’s not even that we as a community think that white voices are inherently “better” than the voices of POC, which is why I hesitate to use the words white supremacy- however, this term has an evolving definition which extends to the practices in communities that intentionally OR unintentionally devalues the work, existence, and contributions of non-white people.
There are several articles on how white supremacy shows up in organizations and communities (the linked post is a really interesting read) but I can quickly summarize a few key points that are valuable to note.
Perfectionism, individualism, performative anti-racism, and a refusal of stepping outside of your comfort zone are all ways that we see cultural impacts on organizing and industries.
The article I linked expands more on those ideas, but the main points that I mentioned above that are especially present in the bookish community/industry are performative anti-racism and a refusal to step outside of your comfort zone.
Performative anti-racism, AKA performative activism, is when we see many authors and publishers post #BLACKOUTTUESDAY on their Instagrams and Twitters without addressing the very real and very pressing issue of underpaying authors of color and upholding racist structures in their work.
That is something many BIPOC authors spoke about in the recently viral #PublishingPaidMe hashtag on Twitter was that BIPOC authors- some of whom sold tens of thousands in book sales– were paid significantly less than their white counterparts (many of whom did not have nearly the expertise/content that these BIPOC authors did).
What is heartwarming is that we had hundreds of authors- BIPOC, white, famous, upcoming, all of them- share what they were paid and their experiences with the industry, all in an act of solidarity that stands with BIPOC authors.
However, other authors mentioned that their stories and #OwnVoices pitches to publishers were often met with indifference not in spite of the representation, but BECAUSE of it. They were deemed as “too radical” (because somehow showing normal teenagers doing normal teenage things + the occasional magic and time travel are “radical” now) and “wouldn’t sell well”.
See, the last sentence is why we have BIPOC authors paid less. Publishing that is run for and by an internalized stifling system is going to think that #OwnVoices stories won’t sell well, or that they can’t be marketable.
Inherently, this is telling many authors that their intricate and vulnerable stories are not worth as much as a generic story, only because of the difference of race.
This is also a very real way of showing the second system of white supremacy- an unwillingness to step outside of your comfort zone.
We see publishers reluctant to pay Black and Brown authors but willing to post a black square on Instagram. We see white authors with huge platforms (cough, all your problematic favs like SJM and Rainbow Rowell) retweeting “we see you, we hear you, we stand with you” but continuing to write all-white casts and kill off the first and only POC in their books. (not to mention the harmful representation with an Asian Manon, but May @ Forever And Everly covered that much better than I could).
Now, I did (some) research and found some statistics about publishing BIPOC stories.
Incredibly famous author Roxane Gay who published Bad Feminist (with over 80,000 reviews on Goodreads) and author Matt Haig who published the book Reasons To Stay Alive (which has 40,000 reviews, nearly half of Bad Feminist) both shared how much they were paid.
It’s pretty well known but $12,500 for An Untamed State, $15,000 for Bad Feminist, $100k for Hunger, $150k for Year I Learned Everything and a significant jump for my next 2 nonfiction books. #publishingpaidme
— roxane gay (@rgay) June 6, 2020
Roxane was paid $15k in advance for Bad Feminist whereas Matt Haig was paid $25,000 for his sixth book (he said that he was paid even more later) even though it was barely half as popular as Bad Feminist.
As you can see, we clearly see the disparities from what a Black woman is being paid vs what a white man is being paid.
That’s not all, though.
According to CCBC, the majority of books about people of color are written by white people. This stat shocked me too. Is it bad for white people to write people of color? Heck, no! There’s more to delve into there but the short answer is no. However, it is deeply upsetting that BIPOC authors aren’t even given the chance to share their OWN stories.
Part of the narrative of xenophobia and racism through stereotyping is because of media portrayal of POC and if we continue to have our stories told through a white lens/ lense that does not accurately portray us, then this stereotyping will only continue.
Out of 3,7000 books, only 122 were #OwnVoices and written by a Black author. I’ll remind you- around 13% of the USA population is Black. That’s barely 3% of the books that were analyzed.
How horrible is that?
Yeah, it’s incredibly sad. P.S.- everything I’m saying about the statistics of publishing BIPOC authors also applies to LGBTQ+ authors, however, this post is specifically focused on racial disparities, and the majority of other points I bring up in this post are unique to BIPOC authors.
We also need to remember that the book blogging community isn’t exempt from criticism, too.
It’s no surprise that our book blogging community is majority white- but in my opinion, we also do a pretty damn wonderful job of supporting #OwnVoices authors.
At least, some parts of the community do.
There is the book blogging niche which is younger- GenZ and younger millennial book bloggers- and we try and uplift BIPOC stories as much as possible while also loving the classic YA series like Six of Crows and others. There’s also the older book blogging niche, which is mostly comprised of bloggers in their 30s who read lots of adult romance novels and some YA- all/most written by white authors.
Although this isn’t my preferred genre, I 100% support reading books that make you happy. However, being conscious about the type of content that you consume (lots of the books in these genres that I’ve seen on Goodreads tend to err on the problematic side) is something that all niches in the book blogging world should take responsibility for.
And even in the younger YA side of the book blogging world, there’s always drama going on in Twitter.
Aside from that, I try to stay out of Twitter drama (which can be especially extremely exhausting for those whose identities are being DEBATED).
However, the other day I hopped onto Goodreads to give some book recs to a mutual friend who was asking for them- and I was sincerely shocked by what I saw.
I don’t want to put in screenshots
because I’m too lazy to blur out the names but I will tell you what others recommended to this mutual friend.
Nearly everyone recommended (in GLOWING reviews and raving paragraphs!) ACOTAR and TOG by Sarah J. Maas (once again, a problematic author and two v problematic series- nothing wrong with liking it! I was obsessed with TOG. But to say that it’s the best book in existence is disgusting) and so many people recommended John Green, Victoria Aveyard, Marissa Meyer, Holly Black, Rainbow Rowell (ew), Cassie Clare (did I mention… problematic?) and other popular white authors.
What I had a problem with was the glorification of these stories, the readers who claim that these books are the best in existence and that if an author drops one (1) gay/Black character in their story they’re automatically “an ally who is tRyiNg tHeiR bEsT”. Seriously, I hate when white authors are praised for doing the ABSOLUTE bare minimum.
This is especially relevant after we’ve seen white fans commenting under big-name celebrities’ blackout Tuesday posts saying “thank you”. It honestly makes no sense to me. Who are they thanking? Why are they thanking them??
Another issue there is in the YA community is claiming that Leigh Bardugo is the epitome of “diverse”.
Don’t get me wrong! I’m absolute trash for the SoC duology and I love the characters with all my heart but it’s so simple to acknowledge that if you think that SoC is the “most diverse” story, you either 1) have not read any books by BIPOC and LGBTQ+ authors or 2) are one of those annoying stans who hate anyone who criticizes their favorite author. Sadly, both of these are completely probable.
There are SO many other AMAZING books by QPOC authors (check out May’s amazing list here!) that so we are SLEEPING on. These are amazing, amazing #OwnVoices reads which have accurate & beautiful representation of the diverse readers that enjoy them. Instead of just reading M/M written by white middle-aged women (sorry y’all, calling out Simon right now… definitely a gem! but like SoC, it shouldn’t be praised for “being the most diverse”), start looking into reading books by Black authors, by Asian authors, by sapphic authors, by authors with different marginalized identities, etc.
There’s really no way for me to conclude this post after that
brain vomit rant I just offered you, but I do want to mention this:
I have absolutely no hate for anyone who liked any of the books I mentioned in this post! I myself am a huge fan of some of them. The point of this post is not to “cancel” authors, but to make ourselves more aware of the books we read and the books we DON’T read, too.
This post was hard for me to write, more so because I was tiptoeing around speaking my mind and because it is a huge! post! so I hope you forgive me for the number of words I’m forcing you to read. 😂
Did you agree with some of these points? What did you disagree with? (I’d love to have a civil discussion in the comments!) What lesser-known books by POC do you recommend?