I went to the LBF two weeks ago. For those of you who don’t know, this is the London Book Fair, a three day publishing event, for people who work in the industry or (like me) are interested in working in the industry. I only managed to make it to one talk this year because of the numerous essays I had been preoccupied with writing over Easter *cries*. I wasn’t planning on going at all actually till I found out that there was a talk on entitled “Writing the Future: Black and Asian Writers and Publishers in the UK Market Place” based around a report that was published by an organisation called Spread the Word.
It was a really interesting panel discussion although, and I’m not pleased to say this, it wasn’t that enlightening. For anyone with any awareness of what it is to be part of the BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnics) sector, it isn’t news really that ethnic minorities tend not to go for unpaid work experience because they literally can’t afford to, and of course that leads to a corridor of closed doors. And really, how surprised can we be when we look at the number of black authors in the mainstream and see that we’re lacking? I won’t go too much into the data, you can read download and read the report yourself from their website here.
What I’d like to talk about today is the title of this post really. One of the panellists (composed of the writers of this report) said that publishers only want a minority text if it is “white experience of other cultures” and this idea really stuck with me. Because its true isn’t it? How many black authors can you name before you start retreating into territory that can only be covered by black authors because it is about black culture. Why is it that Asian authors are expected to write about historical Asia? Because apparently (and there is no data to back this up) white readers prefer white characters. I mean yes, there was outrage when Rue of The Hunger Games, a black character, was portrayed as black, but that’s a one-off right? Minority characters tend to be used only for “authenticity” where the role requires them to be specifically Not-white and we need to change this.
And to do this I suppose it’s important for people to change their reading habits and be more open to BAME authors – big publishing houses follow reading trends after all. We also need more diversity within the industry and the way to do that is to approach students. What the panel didn’t really address was the idea that BAME students are already at a disadvantage because, from our cultural backgrounds, we tend not to be encouraged into studying the arts because they are considered riskier. And this could be a very repetitive conversation. But no matter how repetitive, I want to be a part of these kinds of conversations in the hope that one day we won’t have to have these kinds of conversations. I think the solution lies in education, in encouragement of inviting people like me into the industry, in creating connections. And most importantly I don’t think we should gloss over it, with the idea that the UK is mostly white anyway, because diversity exists and diversity helps cultures evolve and we should represent it, in our writing, in all our media.
I’ve come to the end of this post and I don’t really feel like I know how to end it because I have so many disjointed thoughts about this topic. I will leave it for now in the hope that at least something from here has given you food for thought.