Monday, October 05, 2009

The Advantages of Being a White Writer by Justine Larbalestier

I'm extremely encouraged to see this recent post by author Justine Larbalestier. In my last post on character treatments, I asked who is decent enough to get honest about the literary climate and its effects. Justine Larbalestier certainly is. And we need more writers willing to step up to the plate like her and be honest about the climate and what it means for authors who aren't white...until the climate improves and provides equal opportunity for all.

This writer has a very clear understanding of the problem, as you can glean from the way in which she introduced the discussion:

I know that the title of this post is going to lead to some comments insisting that it’s not true that white writers have any advantages and that many white people are just as oppressed as people of colour. I don’t want to have that conversation. So I’m going to oppress the white people who make those comments by deleting them. I don’t do it with any malice. I do it because I want to have a conversation about white privilege in publishing. We can have the discussion about class privilege and regional privilege and other kinds of privilege some other time. Those other privileges are very real. But I don’t want this discussion to turn into some kind of oppression Olympics.

Can you even imagine the verbal lynching a non-white author would receive saying something like this?

Justine goes on to say:

I want to make it clear that I’m not saying that we white writers should feel guilty about any of this. Guilt is a pointless emotion. White writers who’ve written about people of colour and won acclaim and awards don’t have to hand their prizes back. That would change nothing.

What I am saying is that we need to be aware of our privilege and listen to criticism and act upon it. We need to do what we can to change things. The more novels with a diversity of characters that are published and succeed in the marketplace the more space there will be. The more people who can find themselves in books, the more readers we’ll all have, and the more opportunities there’ll be for writers from every background. Of course, it’s not just the writers who need to be more diverse, but everyone in publishing, from the interns to agents to the folks in sales, marketing, publicity, and editorial, to the distributors and booksellers.

There are many wonderful books by writers of colour. Read them, talk about them, buy them for your friends. Point them out to your editors and agents. Be part of changing the culture and making space for lots of different voices. The problem is not so much what white people write; it’s that so few other voices are heard. If the publishing industry were representative of the population at large we wouldn’t need to have this conversation.

Thank you, Justine. Where have you been all my life? :-) You've actually lifted my spirits and renewed my hope.

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  1. Good on, Justine Larbalestier. Now that's a woman showing some integrity...will US white writers follow suit?

  2. Can you imagine that this kind of thing still persists in today's age? I am personally incensed!


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