We find ourselves at a time of great political uncertainty, when ideologies once thought distant are again clashing for power. At first glance, so much progress blossomed in the last decade. America saw its first black president. Representation for minorities in all mediums expanded. Democracy seemed to flourish worldwide.
And then suddenly, any notion of progress was up for debate, particularly with the recent resurgence of white nationalist rhetoric. White supremacists no longer wear hoods in their rallies. We discovered that they are our co-workers, acquaintances, even our family. We found out that they reside in our governmental offices, our schools, and on our televisions. To some, it is disturbing; to others, it is all too familiar.
But there is hope, and books are part of the solution.
Hatred evolves from ignorance. Just look at Derek Black, the godchild of KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. Once a proud white supremacist, Black was the spokesperson for hate. He offered a platform for numerous variations on violent discourse regarding white superiority. But then, he attended college. He was surrounded by people of all other races, religions, and sexualities. The sheer knowledge that he was introduced to just from living in a diverse area caused him to rethink and eventually denounce his racist upbringing.
Now, there are some people who can’t take advantage of opportunities like that. Maybe they couldn’t attend college, or never wanted to. Maybe they enjoy their hometowns and the people in them. Regardless, if you live in an insulated bubble, the only insight into other perspectives that is available stems from media.
One of the proven benefits of reading is that is promotes empathy. But if you can only find books by white authors, featuring white characters, your empathy only develops in regards to those people. Part of this problem is readers’ unwillingness to branch out, but part stems from the lack of people of color in the industry itself—both writing the books that we love, and working behind the scenes in publishing.
How do we fix the problem and promote a multicultural, accepting future at the same time? We must center authors of color in our discussions—-in our book recommendations, in our awards. If we do that, readers will be compelled to branch out, as the content of media themselves grows more diverse and accustomed to future works by authors of color.
What’s equally as important is the representation that authors of color bring to their own communities. I only believed I could pursue writing as an actual career once I read N.K. Jemisin’s fantasy series, The Broken Earth. The series brims with black characters of all genders and sexualities, and everyone adores it. It won two Hugo Awards for best novel. The fact that Jemisin could write something so unapologetically diverse brought me hope and drove me to pursue writing as a career. By centering authors of color, we promote a circular renewal of their stories and their careers as writers.
It’s easy to think of ourselves as removed from the sordid, racist past. It’s also easy to fall into the feeling that “well, I can’t do anything to change it.” Though particular focus is just a single facet of the fight for equality, it’s an important part nonetheless.
For the reader, centering writers of color is a way to tell publishers that there is an audience for diverse authors and stories. For the publisher, it’s a way to contribute to the dismantling of the racial disparity found in the industry. In order to create a better, more equal future, everyone must do their part. Start with something easy—and it is easy to do, especially easy given the phenomenal work published by authors of color recently.
Let’s continue to break the cycle.