. . . should check out this interesting post and discussion today at Ta-Nehisi Coates's blog, as I think a lot of what he and his commenters say about the writers and characters on television could apply to our discussions of children's publishing as well. I was especially struck first by this:
But whenever I read that XX field isn't diverse enough, I don't so much doubt the truth of it, as I think the charge deeply underestimates exactly the price being exacted for white supremacy in this country, and the length of time for which it went unchecked. We're 50 years into a truly democratic, non white-supremacists America. Congratulations. But we we spent some 150 years in which the country's major institutions--its government, its business, its churches, its block associations, its military, its police force, its labor unions--in the main, aided and abetted white racism. There are certainly exceptions, but I tend to think that the long-term damage done is incalculable and has a lot to do with how we live today.and then later by these comments, also from Ta-Nehisi:
For minorities, I think people really need to think about what kind of people go into writing, and what sort of backgrounds they generally hail from. I know in magazines, the sort of profile for writers (family, generally, pretty well-educated, sent the writer to an Ivy) doesn't match up that well with black people. People always ask "Why aren't there many minority XXX?" But there are a lot of questions that should precede that one.I've been thinking a lot about the "Why are there so few minorities in children's literature?" question since the Liar controversy -- well, before then, too, but Liar was the tipping point for me, as it was for many people -- and I think these comments get at one part of an answer (though of course not the whole answer, if such a thing were even possible). I genuinely do not receive many submissions from people of color (who can be identified as such, that is), and with those that I do, as TNC says, "It takes a particular person who can write, and a particular person who can write in that format" -- someone who wants to write the literary sort of book we publish at Arthur A. Levine Books, and can pull it off to our standards. (And I acknowledge here the problematic nature of "literary" and "standards," though I'm not going to go into that at this hour of the night.) The point is, that is not a large pool of writers altogether of any race, and as black people (to take the minority TNC is thinking of) are thirteen percent of the population, the segment submitting mss. to us, and therefore getting them published, is correspondingly rather small.
. . .
Again, speaking only for magazines, it takes a particular person who can write, and then a particular person who can write in that format. This isn't simply a talent question, it takes a particular endurance, and it takes time to develop that endurance. How do you get that time? Money--or a willingness to live without it. Take color out the equation--there are very few people who can do the job. Finding good writers--of any color--is extremely difficult.
Now, just speaking for a black people, look at a group that's only 13 percent of the pop, and isn't as well educated. Then take the fact that the group's families tend to be less wealthy, thus making it hard to get the time to get good. Take into account that, often, when someone from this group "makes it" they have brothers/sisters/mothers/grandmothers/grandfathers who they have to also worry about. I think a lot of us say, "Man, I kids to feed" and go for the sure thing. The point is that you're already talking about a small pool, and for black people it's almost certainly even smaller.
Does this mean media should say, "Oh well, we tried." Nope. But it means media should get smarter. If you really are concerned about diversity then you need to start with high school kids. You can't start looking for fully formed adults. You need to set aside fellowships for people from particular economic backgrounds to help them learn the craft. You have to think broader and bigger.
I don't disagree with the core goal, I just suspect that it may require more than we think.
None of which excuses any publisher from a responsibility to remember the shameful history TNC alludes to in the first paragraph I quoted, and to try to represent all voices now (which we at AALB do), and even to go beyond that -- to get smarter, as he says above. And I am really, genuinely, not meaning to make excuses with this post, and I'm sorry if you're hearing it that way. I'm saying, as I understand TNC to be, that if we look at the question culturally, there are larger reasons this lack of minorities is happening in our industry, and across most media; and while we need to address the problem where we live, certainly, these reasons are worth thinking about as well.
ETA: I withdraw this post. Just read the comments on it.