A video surfaced recently denouncing inclusive literature. It was a very entitled and deeply offensive diatribe against diversity in publishing. I will not link to it in the interest of not adding fuel to a garbage fire. Instead, here’s a link to the awesome WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS website. The good news is, that video sparked conversations—lots of them—that I believe will do more good than the video did damage. Keep talking.
I’m a white male author. I work my butt off. I write good stories. I have EARNED the success I’ve seen, but that does not mean that I DESERVE it, and that’s a key distinction. I don’t DESERVE sh*t. I’m not ENTITLED to a single book contract or royalty check. I work hard, but there are people who work harder and don’t get published. I am talented, but there are people who are more talented who don’t get published. I’m nice and easy to work with, but there are nicer people out there who don’t get published. The fact is, no matter how good I am, I’m also LUCKY, and a big part of my luck is my inherited identity.
Fellow white authors, we are running a race. I’m tired and sweaty and exhausted, just like you, and so when I look over and see the crowd cheering on a black runner and offering her water, it’s easy for me to say “Hey—no fair! Cheer for ME, not her!” It’s easy because I don’t see the fact that that she is running on a rougher track, or that she has cheap, broken shoes, or that she’s carrying with her heavy baggage containing essential supplies to help an underprivileged community waiting for her at the finish line. I don’t have those problems, so I don’t see them. All I see is that the race is hard for me, and if nobody is making it easier for ME, then they shouldn’t make it easier for ANYONE.
Photo Credit: ostill / 123RF Stock Photo
That line of thinking is bullsh*t, and my privilege means it’s easier for me to say that that’s bullsh*t because it’s not piled on top of me. I’m not a woman, so I won’t be accused of just being a feminazi. I’m not black, so I won’t be accused of being an angry black man. I’m not LGBTQ, so I won’t be accused of having a gay agenda. I won’t be as easily dismissed—and that’s one of the many results of my privilege. It also means that as a privileged man, it falls more heavily on me to use that privilege ethically.
I benefit from my privilege. I’m not ashamed of who I am. I’m not at fault for having privilege… but I’m also not so afraid of my privilege that I feel the need to deny it or play the victim just because I’m NOT a minority. I have power by virtue of my birth. Power is not fault, but power IS responsibility. I have power, so I try to use it responsibly. I try to deserve it.
If I write a character that resonates as offensive to readers in spite of my best efforts—does that mean they’re just oversensitive social justice warriors? NO IT DOES NOT. Mark Twain was a noble abolitionist fighting for African Americans to be respected in the South. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t also sometimes straight up racist. CALL THAT SH*T OUT. It’s okay. Mark Twain would understand. So will I.
If my flawed efforts at making the world better through my books sparks a heated conversation that I didn’t anticipate, GOOD! Have that conversation! Let the critical conversation do the good that my book failed to do! Critical thinkers make the world better one disagreement at a time.
The world needs diverse books by diverse authors. Unique perspectives and cultures are lost every time a publisher buys another white male protagonist while turning down a brilliant manuscript by a minority purely because they’re not looking for an “ethnic” book this season. I’ll get published or I won’t. The minority author querying at the same time won’t change that.
Those books are not my competitors. Those authors are not the enemy. They are simply the ones that will reach readers in ways that I don’t. We’re in it together, growing readers and making the world a better place. Together.
So, fellow white writers—you’re exhausted, I get it. Me too. Don’t jeer at the other runners—that’s petty and ugly—try to cheer them on, instead. See one of them struggling in broken sneakers? Offer them your spare set. See one who has fallen? Help them up. You might find that when we support each other the whole race becomes a much more pleasant experience.