it’s time to tell the truth

14 Nov 2016 news 26 Comments

A group of concerned kid lit authors and illustrators signed their names to a letter posted over at The Brown Bookshelf this morning. The letter first came to my attention in late September; author and BBS blogger Kelly Starling Lyons explained that it was written “to collectively express our outrage at the systemic racism and brutality that’s devastating our kids and affirm our commitment to standing with them and for them.”

That’s a noble objective and so I agreed to become a signatory but asked whether the letter could be revised to acknowledge the role of publishing gatekeepers (who today are overwhelmingly straight, White cis-gender women without disabilities). It didn’t make sense, I felt, merely to affirm our desire to provide inspiring, inclusive books without pointing out the racial disparities resulting from dominance within the industry by one particular group.


Diversity in Publishing 2015 E - Version 3Since the letter was already circulating, however, I was told that changes couldn’t be made. After the election last week, the letter (which had not yet found an online home—I wonder why?) was revised and sent to me once more; I agreed to sign on but again asked if we could add a section imploring publishing professionals to match our intent with equal opportunity.

This would be an opportune moment to welcome agents, editors, and other publishing professionals to JOIN US and open the door wider so that the industry finally, truly reflects our society. Can we please add a line asking for partnership because we can’t get these stories out on our own…and the current climate is due, in part, to the lack of diversity [in publishing] over the past century.

Once again, it was too late to change the letter and so I’m writing this “amendment” to register my concerns.

The letter states, “The stakes are too high for us to be silent.” I couldn’t agree more. 

Many of us have always known that the lack of inclusive kid lit can have life or death consequences for young people, but our pleas have largely fallen on deaf ears. There has been no accountability, no apology.

Now is the time to tell the truth, and the truth is that White women have some explaining to do.

The president-elect is a bigot and a bully whose example has emboldened people—including teens and young adults—to insult, menace, and assault members of racial, sexual, and religious minorities. To some, it was a shock to learn that White women helped put Trump in the White House, but many of us were not surprised at all. Women of color in particular know that solidarity with White women is not—and never has been—automatic, especially when it comes to voting. This article sums it up perfectly: “American women voted overwhelmingly for Clinton, except the white ones.”


atlas_r1fJrpg-g@2xI signed the BBS letter because I share the view that #booksfighthate. But it needs to be said that we would have more tools at our disposal if publishing’s gatekeepers truly believed in and worked to achieve equity (and not just diversity). Wear a safety pin if you want, but know that some of us expect much, much more.

A letter cannot stem the tide of hate that Trump’s election has unleashed. Symbolic gestures have their place, but what we need now is for White women to collectively refuse to uphold the systems that perpetuate injustice–and that includes the publishing industry.