Dear white people in publishing,
I want to, no I have to, speak in black and white. I hope no one gets offended, and if you are offended by the end of this, check your privilege and entitlement and read this again.
You are asking if we are okay, what can you do, how can you support us. The first step is understanding us—really understanding us. It’s going to be a tough conversation, but we’re going to have to have it.
As Black people, we are taught that we must work twice as hard to be given an ounce of what our white counterparts receive. Twice as hard to get an ounce.
For the very few Black people lucky enough to rise to the top in publishing, it’s because we’ve worked five times as hard to prove ourselves worthy of moving up. However, once we’ve moved up, we report to white executives. We once again have to prove ourselves. At the end of the day, our bosses are there to make sure we know what we’re doing and that we’re doing our jobs right. Well, who checks on the bosses to make sure they’re doing their jobs right and are treating us fairly?
The racism we experience in this industry is never blatant. It can’t be. It’s very subtle. We are always forced to check our Blackness at the door. If a Black person who happens to be in a good position in a company does something wrong or egregious and is fired, the next Black person to reach that level—or any level—must always prove they’re not like their predecessor. White executives never have to worry about how they’re perceived based on their predecessors.
Why is it that the knowledge of a Black person involved in acquiring, editing, and marketing a Black book is never enough? Why is it that our white counterparts are in charge and telling us what will or will not work with regard to a Black book? How are you telling us what works in and for our culture? Why are you able to dictate what is relevant reading in our culture?
While you seem to want books in our voices, it seems like you don’t want anyone who looks like those voices on the page or in the company—specifically in any position of power that has a voice. You also do not seem to be interested in publishing the vast stories and voices of Black people but only want to publish one or two types of voices.
Look at your company and see if you can identify who is being groomed to rise to the top, to sit in the top seats. Definitely not Black people. We’re rarely near the top.
Can you handle all of this honesty? It’s really hard to be so honest about what we see and know, not just what we feel, because most of us don’t have the professional success that allows us to speak our mind without worrying about being punished, ostracized, stereotyped, misunderstood, or disliked for the honesty. When our white counterparts speak out, they may be disliked, but they’re almost always still respected for their views and work, and we “shouldn’t judge them.”
If you really want to understand the issues and change systemic racism, unconscious bias, micro and macro aggressions, etc., you need to change the system. Create an even playing field, be fully transparent, allow us to run and continue to create our cultural path. Why must we beg for your permission to lead the way for how our Black voices, all the different voices, are portrayed and put out into the world? Why do we have to beg you to provide us a chance and an opportunity to grow and move up?
We’re hoping you will give us a chance to lead, not just to be led. We don’t feel supported, and we don’t feel heard. You tell us we’re in a safe space and we’re supported, but we don’t really feel that. We hear a lot of talking, but no one at the top understands that we don’t see ourselves—no one looks like us, no one understands us, speaks our language, or understands our struggle. What we need is to have people who look and think like us at the top, creating a space for us to enter into—people who want to develop the next group (not a person, but a group) of people who look like us and usher us to the next level and keep helping us to rise.
That’s my full, real answer to the question, “What can we do?” If that is a serious question, that is my serious answer. Probably not the answer you were looking for, but it’s an honest answer. A tangible way to start.
An Afro-Latina in publishing
Afro-Latina has worked in a major publishing house—in various positions working with multiple departments—for more than 15 years.