The Diversity Debate

There’s been a lot of discussion about the lack of diversity in art. In my world this pertains to books specifically. The discussion has risen and will not be curbing any time soon thanks to We Need Diverse BooksTM and also other entities focusing specifically on bringing more attention to diversity in books--meaning that there should and could be more non-majority main characters (not sidekicks) as well as more diverse writers. Last week Publishers Weekly revealed their 2014 salary survey for the publishing industry that included the option for those who participated to note their race. The results were staggering. Not only in the fact that many people approached did not respond but that of the several hundred who did the reflection of people of color was under 10% total, which seemed to set the online world on fire.

My friend Bev Rivero and I created the podcast Minorities in Publishing (MiP) because with our 20+ years in publishing we had always felt the lack of diversity in publishing. Working in it you cannot help but see it and it’s interesting to me that once the numbers were represented, be it a small portion of those approached in the industry, that more awareness came to light about why there may not be more diverse books being acquired, promoted, and sold. If there aren’t enough people of color (POC), LGBTQI, or disabled helping on the back end of bringing these books into a publishing house, developing a plan, and going on to find readers for this type of material (those without a true understanding of what it may be to be of the non-majority) how can we expect anyone to best stand by these books (and writers) to make work for a larger audience?

Being a team member of We Need Diverse BooksTM, co-creator of MiP, and also a female writer of color I have an investment not only for others in this industry and seeking to be a part of the industry but for myself as an emerging artist. Getting more minorities involved can be beneficial to those of us struggling to tell and sell our stories and if more diversity and representation matches the world we live in why can it not also be reflected this way in art? It’s a long and ongoing discussion with many sides and perspectives. The truth of the matter is there is a lack of diversity and for those who may not see it or may want to brush the lack of diversity off as being because there's not enough “good candidates” or “good material” is a very narrow way to look at it. The onus can’t be only on the person creating or applying. Affirmative action is not meant to get unqualified candidates a job and the request for equality is not intended to inhibit one group over another.

The diversity debate isn’t so much a debate but more a request for others who hadn’t noticed the disparity to take a moment and see what others do. How many books with POCs, LGBTQI, and/or disabled characters in a primary role are on bookshelves? How many are on best-seller lists? How many are reviewed in the outlets that still do review books? How many stories by and about minorities are publishing in literary magazines? How many are promoted outside of the one aspect of it being diverse and not so much attempted to find a broader fan base but focus on the issue of race, sexuality, and/or disability without looking at the person as able to carry a story for them being them?

The “debate” isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Because of so many advocates and allies and resources available there cannot be any further room for the discussion to be considered moot. It’s not simple to dismiss and it may not even be easy to rectify in the long run either. The addition of more diverse materials still need to be quality materials and applicants for publishing job should be qualified. Yet, there’s no doubt that on both sides this is available and perhaps needs the nurturing that it is not getting. “People want to see themselves in books” has been quoted many times over and will continue to be said. We want to see ourselves in what we read and watch, and we want to see ourselves as not “other” but as part of the norm.