With the news that Oprah’s latest book club selection will be announced on September 18th, the question of where she stands on the indisputable practice of racism in the publishing industry remains outstanding. Her announcements are major events, and play a significant role in the landscape of the book industry and marketplace.
In December of 2006, The Wall Street Journal published an article entitled, “Why book industry sees the world split still by race.” Considering the fact that Oprah Winfrey is the publishing industry’s greatest marketing tool, it isn’t unreasonable, in my view, to wonder why she hasn't addressed the sustained system of racial marginalizing in which, even as I type this, most publishing houses are engaged. Oprah's selections help to line the pockets of these corporations, while they consistently - and unapologetically - treat acquisitions according to the author's race vs. the manuscript's content. And in many cases, expect and force non-white authors to write their manuscripts according to their race so the publisher can limit the author's marketability to his/her own race of readers, and not to the much larger, universal marketplace.
Why haven’t we heard from Oprah on this issue?
Here's my view. She’s likely not really aware of it. Unless an issue reaches her directly, it must go through the Oprah Show’s “producer mill.” If they decide an issue isn’t important or have reasons for not wanting certain things made public, it never gets through to Oprah herself. On the issue of racism in an industry Oprah has such a powerful influence on, many of her producers work and have formed relationships with the major publishing houses – they are not interested in disrupting their cushy acquaintances, and the advantages they may provide. So they turn a blind eye to the blatant racism their “buddies” are engaged in, even tipping them off about efforts to call Oprah's attention to the matter. Like most of white America, the producers are invested in ignoring it. It’s not their problem, and most of them cringe when Oprah does shows about racism, anyway.
I submit that due to her attained significance in the industry, Oprah, herself, is the only one who can have a significant impact on this issue, and put it to bed once and for all. If she speaks out against some of the proven, racially discriminatory practices, the publishing houses will listen. They will have to stop seeing the world split still by race, hence stopping the perpetuating of the split itself. They will have to stop justifying racially-based marketing and internal business practices. They will have to think twice about angering the biggest marketing tool they have ever had, and maybe ever will have.
How can she not talk about this?
The recent issue with author Justine Larbalestier’s book, Liar, shows that such incidents aren’t going anywhere, as the real dirt has yet to be cleaned up. Publishers continue to maintain (despite their vehement denials) a very racist mindset, culture, and business model, and it’s reflected in their most consistent practices. The fact that this white author sees a need for greater inclusion and commercializing of non-white characters/story/plot, etc., into the “mainstream” shows that clearly non-white authors are marginalized, even to the disturbance of fellow white authors, who are feeling urged to do something about it.
Who has noticed this about most books by white authors? That the use of racial identifiers is reserved for the non-white characters in the stories. I have noticed this for years. It’s an easy place to see the deeply ingrained racist conditioning that still plagues this entire society, and will continue to do so until it is acknowledged by those who perpetuate and sustain it, and is finally honestly addressed. Most white authors don’t even realize they are subconsciously marginalizing “others” who are not of their own race. Think about it. What is a non-white reader to think as they read these books? Books that are clearly being written with a white audience in the subconscious mind. Why doesn't the author have to tell the reader that all the white characters are white? But they feel compelled to tell the reader when a character(s) is Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, etc. Why is that? What does this reflect?
So why wouldn’t Oprah – the most prominent figure in publishing – want to talk about this?