In a blog on HuffPost this week, Ann Girdharry wrote about a lack of diversity in published books--something I spoke about in my August 13 blog, "Don't be afraid." I hesitate to write again so soon on the issue, but it occurs to me that there are several aspects to the topic:
- What we find in publishing reflects the lack of diversity in our culture
- Many people are afraid to speak about matters of race
- Many people are downright resistant to acknowledging that race matters and inequity is prevalent
- Many people just don't "see" that a problem exists
"It's an unconscious bias and we tend not to think about it. But we should. . . . Why can't we have more black heroines? More main characters who are people of colour? Can you even think of a book you've read with a diverse main character? Asian? Chinese? A character with a different mind-set to the usual tropes? With a different world view?"
I find it easy to agree with Girdharry, and I suspect many of my readers here do, too. However, on the HuffPost site, the comments about this article were overwhelmingly negative; here's a sampling:
- Write a real article about stuff that matters :-/
- Get more black people writing books then! no ones stopping them!
- My god get a life love and stop trying to devide nationalities so you can write another book
- Stop the PC insanity. You are a pathetic news source.
- Now I've heard everything. This is totally unbelievable.
- I can only think this blogger hasn't really tried . . . she clearly hasn't looked
- Oh get a bloody grip! I get sick and tired of these politically correct whinge pieces.
- Perhaps you're reading too much into your .......er .......reads?
- You want more books with non-white protagonists? Write some.
- Darn evil whiteys writing about whiteys.
I was astounded by the number of these reactions—but I shouldn't be. Any time you confront people with elements from the unconscious, expect a backlash. Girdharry speaks to "an unconscious bias" toward all things white being the default position, being the norm, as well as to a resistance toward accepting more diversity in our lives. I'm reminded of the song lyrics:
"If you're white, you're alright; if you're brown, stick around; if you're black get back."
We have racial segregation in many aspects of our societies—keeping blinders on only deepens and prolongs the inequalities. I encourage you to open your eyes—and your heart: where in your life do you see or experience inequality?
- Are you stopped frequently by the police when you're not doing anything wrong?
- Are you insulted because of your skin color?
- Are you treated as being invisible when waiting in line?
- Do people stare at you or surreptitiously watch your conduct when you're in a store?
- Do you hear car doors lock as you walk through a parking lot?
If you answered no to most of these questions, I'm willing to bet you're white. That's the problem with white bias—it most frequently occurs as a negation of something, an absence of a slight or a wrong—and that makes it very difficult for white people to "see" it. But have no doubt: it's real.
Just look around.