Sunday, October 11, 2015

this is how the industry lives now: five signs that you might be suffering from white privilege

Hey! It's been a bit of a while since I last wrote a blog post, but this was very much needed. I often write about issues that are in the young adult literature community, meaning that a lot of people don't know about them (besides my peeps on Twitter, anyway.)

But the discussion of writers from the majority and their privilege has come up again. 

So, basically, many people on Twitter are upset with Ms. Rosoff's response (including myself), and I'm going to analyze her white privilege in both this response and how she is handling the backlash.

(First, I want to thank Laura Atkins for being super cool. Because I probably wouldn't started making sarcastic backhanded insults, and she stayed cool.)

1. "Good literature expands your mind:" Okay, but good literature expands your mind by teaching you about other people. We've been solely talking about white people and their issues for hundreds of years. No one is saying that you should stop doing this, but why do we ONLY need to talk about white people? I read so that I can learn about the world, about other people. Not to get a comprehensive backstory on one type of person.

2. "There are thousands of books:"Where? Do you know any of them? Do you know that there are thousands of books about white people, and yet, we're still expected to read them? In the past, white books were all that were offered. Racial minorities are just beginning to have their stories told. Yes, there have been many success stories, but for each of those, there are about ten authors being shot down.

PS: Stories about racial minorities written by white people don't count. 

3. She's writing a book about a black boy who falls in love with a Native American woman fifteen years older than him! Imagine that! So, you know, obviously she can't be racist. Because she's going to write a black boy (who will probably be horribly done) (not trying to hate but it's true) being abused by an older Native American woman! People who do that definitely aren't racist. 

4. Her first book was white as Vermont in the winter. Seriously: I'm fifteen, so there are lots of authors who wrote books way before I was old enough to read them. But I can say, with total honesty, that I didn't know about Meg. She's actually a pretty successful writer, but her books were published when I was still in elementary school. 

Her first book, How I Live Now, won a Pritz Award and was made into a movie. I've never read it, so I don't know if I would like it...but I do know that it's sooooooo white.  Sigh. I guess that explains some things?

5. She has blocked everyone who opposes her on Twitter (pretty much everyone.) This isn't something that you can google to figure out, but I promise that it's true. Just ask...anyone on Twitter who openly disagrees with her. It's funny to me, because the white people who need to hear these conversations usually are the ones who don't want to listen. 

Plus, I don't understand who she expects to buy her books, but alright.

Bonus round: 
I'm going to include five instances of white privilege that is ingrained in the publishing industry (but also many other media industries, such as the film industry or even the news industry): 

1. Racial minorities who write stories about themselves and are vocal about the fact that they aren't heard are branded as having some sort of agenda, when all they want to do is tell stories. Ava DuVernay has spoken about how she wishes that she would be asked about her film and technique instead of just asked to talk about the racism over and over again in the industry. 

It gets exhausting. Once you talk about a problem, you're expected to only talk about that. Or even worse: some people, like our buddy Meg, might think that you're pushing some sort of "agenda." Whatever that means. White people who tell their stories are just story tellers. 

2. "I'm uncomfortable when everything is not about me." This is a major white privilege thing, and it's basically how I describe white authors who get upset about more books being written by racial minorities. It's often (not) a subconscious thing, where white authors are happy to write "diverse" characters but become hostile when "diverse" people write these characters on their own. 

3. White mediocrity: This is more of a concept, but I'm happy to explain. While there are white authors who are amazing and fantastic and produce great works, there are also white authors who...are just okay. Or even bad. But they're celebrated and given awards and praise for being mediocre. 

(This isn't just a thing with books, by the way. I see it all of the time with films, TV, and music. But I digress.) 

Meanwhile, people of color are held to actual standards (that sounds rude, but whatever.) They have to work to be good, and sometimes that isn't enough. Basically, white authors can get on the NYT Bestseller List for being "okay." A Hispanic author has to be "fantastic" to get the same thing. White authors have to be "fantastic" to win a National Book Award. Black authors have to be "outstanding" to be considered.

Do you get what I mean? 

4. White authors will get recognition for writing racial minority characters that are horribly done. This is just a step up from the white mediocrity. When the industry/readers of young adult started calling out for more diversity, I guess many people assumed this meant that the white people were supposed to start writing characters of color.

That's....not exactly what we mean. 

Because, while this has led to some really cool books, this has also led to some (excuse my language) lazy ass authors writing people of color through their white eyes. That' That's not how it works. By writing people of color the way white people see them (through a racist lense, to be honest, because of institutional racism but that's a story for another day), an actual character isn't being portrayed. A stereotype is. Usually an insulting one.

BUT. White authors get praised for this! I've seen it happen so so soooo many times. We're expected to be happy that we're included, even if it isn't done well. And then, if a white author writes an insulting black character and we call them out for it, the white author throws a fit.

(I'm thinking of a specific example, but I digress.)

5. White people are angry about racial minorities writing their own stories (and being good at it), because now they actually have to work hard. My personal theory is that white people are on the defense, because storytelling as they know it is coming to an end. They can't avoid these "diverse" characters, or even write half-assed versions of them, because a minority will blow them out of the water. They're realizing that white mediocrity won't hold up forever, so their solution? To keep racial minorities from telling their stories in the first place. 

Don't let them. This is how the industry lives now: diversely. 



  1. Thanks, Camryn, for your post, and for calling out the messed-upness of the publishing world. I wondered after I responded if I should have been stronger in my response. But I'm glad so many other people have been. Keep up the good fight!

  2. I've been meaning to respond to this for a long time (*checks date* 'bout a month) but mostly I just wanted to say: this is awesome, and we need to keep hearing voices like yours. A lot of times I forget how much a benefit from white privilege, and so it's stories like these that really open my eyes to what I'm ignorant of. And not to do so would not be okay.

    Again, thanks for sharing!