Ban Silent, Unexamined Censorship, too

The Rejectionist shared a disturbing statistic today.

Of the 3,000 YA books that were published this year (as estimated by the American Library Association), only  60 or so were written by black authors.  Zetta Elliot has provided a list of publishers who have released more than one title written by a black author in the past year.

That list is too damn short.

As there isn’t any racial data about the number of people who identify as writers (and many of us use our day jobs on the official forms), I’m going to make the assumption that the breakdown mirrors the general population.  According to the US Census Bureau, about 14% of US residents identify as black . . . and about 35% identify as being other than “white, not of Hispanic descent.”

I don’t see how the publishing industry can plead ignorance on this one.  Because even if it was true that the ethnic identity of an author is never, ever, la-la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you known before the book is chosen for publication, then the percentages would still be closer to the general stats. 

It also can’t claim that authors of any ethnic identity are adequately published by specialty imprints —and if one needs specialty imprints to publish the work of a significant percentage of writers, then something is wrong.

Let me tell you about my friend—yeah, I know  a white woman, not of Hispanic descent, talking about her black friend is a trope and a cliché and what the hell do I know, but damn it, I know she’s my friend and I know she’s a writer. 

My First Reader—she is way too awesome to be called a beta—is an incredible writer.  I’m lucky enough to be her beta, and let me tell you: her urban fantasy is kick-ass, her science fiction rocks, and her steampunk is sheer genius.

She and her agent are starting to shopping around her urban fantasy.

And it pisses me off that her work may not be given the consideration it deserves simply because a publishing house has already accepted their single black-authored title for the year.  Or because they already have a book with a strong African-American female main character.

Yeah, there’s this obvious glut of strong, black, female main characters on the urban fantasy market . . .  must be hiding behind all the vampires  <headdesk>.

I don’t pretend to know what calculations go into forming a publication list—it appears to be both subjective and objective, a combination of commercial speculation and sheer excitement over a good story. 

But if the ethnic make-up of the main character is the only similarity between two novels, then choosing only one is a questionable arbitrary limit and someone needs to take a good look at the unwritten policies.

To be honest, I don’t know what the reason is for the disparity—I want to believe that the individuals I personally know in the industry would be appalled, and perhaps they are.  We haven’t talked about it.

I think we should.

I think we all should.