*I am publishing this right now because it's important to get it out ASAP. I am still working on alphabetizing this list, splitting it up into agents/editors, putting in their pictures, bios, and links* *if you want on this list, comment below with your links!* (Disclaimer: I have not screened the people on this list. Please still make informed decisions when submitting. The resources listed on the (being updated) Preditors and Editors site is a great place to start.)
Hi all! This is my first post after a seven month hiatus (wow). I'm so happy to be back!
There's a big push in the publishing industry for "diverse" books (and I put "diverse" in quotations because I'm not a fan of that word - it leads to tokenization of writers and characters of color). Agents have been actively asking for "diverse voices", "diverse characters", etc. Which is great! It is signifying a real shift in the publishing industry.
Or is it?
Whenever I am unsure about the efficacy of an action against racism, I look to the "white gaze". This, I define as the culture that dictates that literature and art that must meet the approval of Whiteness.
The Whiteness I talk about is not just Trump-like confederate flag culture. Whiteness is liberal racism. Whiteness is white feminism. Whiteness is quoting Martin Luther King Jr. out of context. It is idolizing Jon Stewart for saying what Black people have been saying for decades. It is this Whiteness that pervades the publishing industry, and so it is this Whiteness that I am talking about.
Whiteness is a mostly-white industry asking for diverse books and diverse writers while pushing little to diversify their own industry insiders.
Now, I'd like to move the anti-racism rhetoric to something that I hope the publishing community will follow. The problem for writers of color is not only that the publishing industry is made up of predominantly white employees - although this is influential. "How removed from Whiteness is the operations of the industry?" is the question we should be asking.
Even if, in some magical step, the publishing industry hires hundreds of people of color, people of color are not a monolith. They are not interchangeable. The ideologies of the people of color who make up the industry matter. Are the people of color anti-racist or are they yes-men to their bosses? Will they speak up? A better question might be: if they do speak up, do they have reason to fear reactions and discipline from their bosses and colleagues? Are the "radical" people of color not hired by the industry?
Whiteness is when a race-related novel hits an agent's desk and the entire industry's initial instinct is "How will white people respond to this book?" instead of "How will the communities depicted in this novel be impacted by this book?"
Something as simple as "How will the market respond to this book?" has layers of ramifications that can be deconstructed with pointed questions concerning race: "What populations make up said market? What responses are you afraid of?" When race-related novels come to play, the supposed colorblindness of the market that the publishing industry always focuses on is revealed for its whiteness.
When I look at the publishing industry, I see some publications that I trust to be pretty removed from the white gaze (such as AC Thomas's THE HATE U GIVE). However, these are far and removed. A view of the publishing industry structurally reveals that the white gaze is ingrained into every layer of its culture and operations. The race books that are published must be "respectful" enough to not upset white people too much. With white fragility, this goal is almost impossible to achieve.
(Sidenote: the task to publish an "not respectful" novel about race is not impossible. There are a few ways to accomplish it. 1) If the author glorifies the pain of people of color - especially Black people - which people crave to consume and which distracts from their constructive guilt. 2) If the author of color has credentials that no white author would be expected to have (see: Ta-Nehisi Coates). 3) If the book is written with such a high degree of technical expertise that no white debut author is expected to write with. All these reasons should not exist.)
When I look at the publishing industry's anti-racist work through the lens of the white gaze, I am less optimistic that true subversive and anti-racist change is occurring. The white gaze has not been addressed, confronted, or deconstructed; it has only ever dictated which novels can be published and which novels cannot. Whiteness has been the gate-keeper of the publishing industry since its origins, and it has not ended yet; it has simply morphed into liberal racism. The present era of colorblindness has indeed led to the publication of novels about race and writers of color; most of this literature still continues to be dictated by the white gaze.
I think about all the authors of color who did not get published. The books of color which got rejected. The books of beautiful color which got revised into books of beige. What did the editor's red pen scratch out?
Do agents and editors support books that will upset white people because they aren't written for white people? Do agents and editors support books that talk honestly about the rage people of color feel towards Whiteness and white people? (Because God forbid that people of color being brutalized and beaten by Whiteness ever dare to say, "Fucking white people.") Do agents and editors support books that engage with anti-capitalism, books that refuse to say "Not All Cops", books that have Assata-supporters and radical queer activists of color that reject the white gaze?
I guess my point is, do agents support diverse ideas or do they support diverse faces speaking the same White ideas? It is a masterful tactic of white supremacy to have its ideas be spoken by a person of color (see: Ben Carson, Nikki Haley, Bobby Jindal). The same white gaze that uplifts these people also shuts down those of color who dare speak ferociously against it.
I know the main criticism of my assertion: the profitability of the market dictates what books are published or not, not race. To that, I have three responses.
1) Why not both? The publishing industry, with bookstores and libraries disproportionately in white areas, has structured a market geared towards white consumers. Yet the truth is: people of color buy books too.
2) Why assume white readers won't read books outside the white gaze? If the publishing industry seeks to engage in allyship, it cannot babysit its readers.
3) The profitability bottom-line must be confronted. In a Western world where white people are the plurality and hold most of the wealth, the publishing industry can not say it is anti-racist without troubling its profitability idolization.
So I guess I come back to my initial question: "Do agents and editors support diverse books?" And by this, I mean diverse ideas. If any agent or editor is reading this, please feel free to comment, Tweet, respond, etc. with #YesIDo. I am SC_Author on Twitter. I want to create a list of agents and editors (right below!) so that writers who seek to find supportive agents might find someone to query.
1. Your name here! Writers need to know which agents and editors will support them - if any. It's scary to speak. In my own personal case, I've decided that there's no point to me being a writer if I have to swallow what I want to say. So I'm speaking, I'm pushing, and will continue to do so. What do you think? Please feel free to comment below, and share! This has been a post part of the Write Inclusively campaign. I'm planning to change its name soon, but if you would like to be up-to-date with the campaign, sign up for the newsletter. We do not email much - in the last two years, only two emails have gone out. We were responsible for #BigFiveSignOn.
24 December 2015
For "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," a stage adaptation to Harry Potter, Noma Dumezweni (picture above) is set to play Hermione.
There was some backlash to this decision (of course!). Cue the standard rhetoric: "Hermione is white in the movies!" "It'd be okay if she was originally black, honestly it would, but this is just rewriting something for the sake of diversity." "Why are people of color stealing white roles now?"
JK Rowling, amazing as she is, had many responses. A look through her Twitter feed will show wonders of her support for a diversification of Harry Potter, through her own tweets or tweets she retweeted (please let technology work for me and have these tweets show up).
There is a big reason to love Rowling's response. JK Rowling never specified Hermione's race; this is true for many many characters, in many many novels. In a Western white world, white is the default race for any person whose race is not specified.
This is problematic.
The "default" identities are almost always identities of privilege. In an ideal world, there should be no default (because any default automatically excludes others). Whichever identities are deemed to be "default" or "normal" determines who in society will be deemed most human. The default reveals whom society holds front-and-center in its mind, and whom society is structured to value, and protect, the most.
Let me give you an example. Imagine a person. Any person. Now, describe them.
Applause if you imagined a low-income undocumented trans woman of color with a disability. Now, this may seem odd to you - why would you ever have imagined such a specific person? But say you imagined a cisgender documented straight white man with no disability. Isn't that person described just as specifically as the trans woman? Why is it "easy" to imagine him instead of her? Who does society deem as "normal"?
The idea of "normal" or "default" is constructed, and those who are deemed default are valued the most by society. They are given the most rights and these rights are assumed to be natural.
But they're not natural. These privileged rights are societally-given. For example, it's not "natural" that a cis man is given the most control over his body compared to other people. "Nature" does not restrict access to contraception, hormones, and surgeries. Humans do. When non-cis men demand control over their own bodies, they seem to be asking for "extra" rights, outside the "normal". See why it's so important to deconstruct who is deemed default?
As Aaron Kashtan puts so well in this article, "The default assumption of whiteness is no longer acceptable." It all comes back to messing up the idea of "default" and "normal". Casting a black Hermione does this beautifully. Since Rowling never described Hermione's race, Rowling can play with the idea that society deemed Hermione to be white. Deconstructing white normality will also deconstruct the dehumanization of people of color. Rowling can mess up the idea of a "default" race. She can get people to think twice when they label a "generic" person as white.
But JK Rowling's response also has some problems. Although it's nice that she never mentioned Hermione's race in the novel, why didn't she? Knowing full well, due to society, Hermione would be seen as white, why didn't Rowling specify her race? Couldn't Rowling have messed up the idea of a "default" race by specifically mentioning Hermione's race at the end of the first novel - tricking readers into thinking she's white, and then turning the tables in the novels? Why didn't Rowling do this in the novels?
There's an answer. Novels aren't visual. Therefore, it's much easier to avoid engaging with race if race never has to be mentioned. It's a cop-out for writers who are uncomfortable with race. In a world where race heavily influences every person, it's odd to see characters "without a race". But, honestly, we all know what we infer: these characters are white.
There seems to be a pattern of characters whose racial identities are not mentioned, and then are cast as white to no criticism. There is a pattern of characters whose racial identities are briefly specified as of color, but are cast as white (see: Katniss Everdeen). And when characters are cast as people of color: people get outraged.
Knowing full well that society will deem all characters in her British novel to be white unless specified otherwise, why didn't Rowling specify Hermione to be black? Many black girls would have loved this. Here I am, an Indian man, loving every instance that Parvati and Padma Patil show up in the books and the movies because they look sort of like me. Because even though the other main characters' races are not specified, I know I am not the generic race. I know I can never relate to them.
And there's more. Changing skin is not enough. If a character's plot is unaffected when their skin changes color, well, racism wouldn't exist. Now that Hermione is black, how will her Blackness play a part in the plot? Since much of the Wizarding World is influenced by the Muggle World, since many from the Muggle World come into the Wizarding World (Muggle-borns), and since the Muggle World is structured by race, the Wizarding World almost certainly has racism in it. (I can't imagine Snape or Umbridge not making snide remarks about Hermione's skin.) Will Rowling embrace Blackness in skin only, or embrace all the issues of Blackness as well?
Rowling did something similar with Dumbledore, announcing he was gay after the books were published, and only hinting at his sexuality in the actual novels. Yes, finding out he is gay was amazing. But we deserve more. Why couldn't he be gay in the novels?
A common concern will be that this is a children's story, and issues of race (and sexuality) are too heavy for children. This concern usually comes from white and cis straight people. Almost all children of color have been given the "you will be treated differently because of your skin" at a young age. All children of color experience racism at a young age. Many queer children struggle with sexuality and/or gender before they're even five years old. Their issues are real, and they need sources and guidance in how to deal with such issues. They don't need novels and plays that are blind to their identities. Identity blindness only helps the default. It only helps the privileged.
We don't live in an ideal world. We don't live in a colorblind world, and I'm tired of colorblind novels. In a world where white is the default, we deserve characters of color to be unapologetically labelled as such.
So there's my dilemma. Rowling has done a lot. We just deserve a lot more.
Congrats congrats congrats, Ms. Dumezweni!!!!! You're going to make an amazing Hermione :D (I'm honestly so excited for this, I hope they get it on DVD so I can watch here in the USofA.)
If you want to get more involved with the Write Inclusively campaign and be up-to-date with it, sign up for the newsletter. We do not email much - in the last year, only two emails have gone out.
02 November 2015
We've got another #WriteInclusively guest post in line! :D I love these posts, and am actively looking for more. Especially if you are a writer of color, please please contact me! I'd love to have you guest blog.
Take it away, Katherine!
Let’s get this out of the way—I’m a white writer who thought I could write diversely and failed. Here’s how:
I was raised in a liberal household in the greater San Diego area, where over a hundred languages are spoken and white people are less than half the population.
I grew up watching Sesame Street and The Cosby Show and I spent more time singing along to Boyz II Men at middle school dances than actually dancing with anyone.
I don’t have many friends but I’ve had acquaintances of all races throughout my life. One of them, a high school colorguard teammate, used to let me ask her anything I wanted to know about being black on the long bus rides to competitions and parades.
When I moved to Wisconsin for a few years in my twenties I called out relatives left and right over their nakedly racist comments (the 2008 election was…fun).
There has never been a time that I didn’t consider myself progressive and open-minded, but most importantly, I’ve long been aware my place in the privilege pecking order—I don’t have it the best, but I certainly don’t have it the worst.
So when the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign started trending on Twitter last year, I charged into it with that righteous sense of sincerity tucked in my back pocket. I watched as pleas from writers and agents and editors and librarians and parents gathered into a great chorus, amplifying the ugly truth of fiction’s diversity problem: it’s not simply the lingering effect of tradition or an innocent oversight. It’s a tragedy of human potential.
Because diversity isn’t a movement or an agenda or a phase. Diversity is inevitable. White people only make up about 16 percent of the world population but control every pillar of power: politics, business, religion and entertainment. Think of how fast civilization could progress if all the ideas and wisdom and stories of the remaining 84 percent were just as welcome.
This cry for representation is the backbone of #WeNeedDiverseBooks, and as the campaign gained steam, I sympathized with the participants, retweeted them, nodded my head in solidarity. And when the time came to apply diversity to my own work, I assumed I was beyond ready for the task. But white privilege is almost invisible to those it benefits, and sometimes it reveals itself in unexpected ways.
Like writing dozens of characters in numerous short stories and novels that are uniformly white, not from some conscious decision but because, well, I’m white too. It’s an utterly weak excuse, which is why I tried to rectify it when I embarked on my third novel. It wasn’t easy, but after half a dozen revisions and two passes through my critique group, I thought my first attempt at writing believable people of color was a success. This confidence lasted through the first six months or so of querying, boosted by a relatively high request rate. It didn’t even tarnish when almost every pass was attributed to a lack of connection with the main characters because that’s allegedly the most subjective—and thus best—reason to be rejected.
And then #WriteInclusively came along. Reading through SC’s tweets and conversations, it became clear that I had fallen into the tokenization trap. There’s no other way to put it: my characters, while lovingly rendered, are POC on the outside but not on the inside.
Their appearance and other surface details reflect diversity, and although their struggles revolve around the main plot, not their identity, that’s not really the problem. It’s that I missed an opportunity to incorporate all the struggles POC face on a daily basis into the layers of their characterization—the microaggressions and fears and compromises that could have made my thriller that much more thrilling.
Alas, that manuscript is already out in the world, in the hands of agents, one of which was active in SC’s Query Kombat tweetstorm—I might have cringed permanent wrinkles into my face. But I’m eager to discuss a revision strategy in the event I get The Call, not that I’m entirely sure what that strategy will be.
Because the easy lesson in all this is to be more thoughtful and respectful when blending diversity into my stories. The harder lesson is to understand that I’ll never get it right due to the myopia inherent in white privilege. Diverse characters in a white writer’s novel will never have the impact on #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #WriteInclusively that diverse characters from a diverse writer’s novel will. And that’s fine.
So what can I do? I’m tempted to stay in my lane when it comes to main characters, especially when writing in third-person-limited POV and absolutely when writing first-person, because when I write white characters I don’t have the specter of inauthenticity hanging over me. I feel much safer incorporating diversity into the supporting cast, and I will strive to write them with the care and consideration they deserve.
How? By opening my eyes and ears and heart and imagination. By listening to POC and reading their stories. By following them on Twitter and engaging in conversations. By learning, growing, trying harder, writing better. No doubt I’ll stumble more along the way, but there’s nowhere else to go but forward. And there’s no excuse not to try.
Katherine Memmel is Fiction Editor for Black Heart Magazine and content manager for an international trade publication, with short stories featured in various online venues and an erotic romance novella trilogy (under the pen name Katrina Sparks) available soon from Enamored Ink. Tweet her!
Thank you thank you so much for the post!!! Some key points in my opinion were the idea that We Need Diverse Books (instead of a focus on diverse authors) has led to tokenization of people of color in literature. It is so so important to realize that people of color aren't just a change of skin, but have different experiences all together.
What were your thoughts? Comment below!
If you want to get more involved with the Write Inclusively campaign and be up-to-date with it, sign up for the newsletter. We do not email much - in the last 11 months, only two emails have gone out.
I got an email a while back from an author concerning a topic that has been quite prominent in writing circles today: Should white authors write people of color narratives?
I don't have the answer, mostly because I do not speak for anyone other than myself. I'm not going to give my opinion, either, because I know people will assume I do speak for more people -- even if I say many times that I only speak for me. So, this is a discussion for you.
Here's the letter:
I found your blog through a Twitter rabbit hole that started with @tehawesomersace feed. She linked to some important pieces about the need for diverse writing but how we need to de-center whiteness in this discussion, which I get and agree with. Here's my problem though. I'm white, mostly (my father is mixed race with non-African American heritage, but I look white and benefit from its privileges.) I'm also a writer who has found that my passion for stories is two-fold; 1) YA characters and genre, and 2) Books that are based on real events that deal with heavy issues. My first novel is currently in the query process and was inspired by a story I read in the news about a religious fundamentalist family. And the idea I want to pursue for my 2nd book is based on this news story about a small town that of last year STILL had a segregated prom.
So the reason I'm writing you is, before I start, I want to get the opinion from a few writers of color if me pursuing this novel is something a white writer can do well. I've been outlining/writing character profiles while I decide, and I plan to make the MC a black student who moves to the town from a bigger city, to help her father care for her ailing grandmother. She'll befriend a white student and convince her to help her fight to desegregate the prom. The "best friend" will be white, and the protagonist will be black. It will not be a white savior story. I also plan to be very, very careful and do a ton of research to make sure the MC isn't a) basically a white character that I claim is black or 2) a conglomeration of stereotypes. I'll also make sure to have as many POC beta readers as possible, prior to trying to get it published, should I get that far.
I should also clarify that I'm not just a white writer who wants to tell a story with black characters because it's a good story, or because I want to be "inclusive." I'm someone who is extremely passionate about the Black Lives Matter movement, pretty much since it started, and has worked hard to educate myself on how to be a better ally to POC. I read POC, I follow activists on Twitter, I try to educate my white peers on ways their thinking/speaking is problematic, I'm a Ta-Nehisi Coates fan-girl, you get the idea. Black Lives very much matter to me and I want to honor them in my writing.
Basically, I want this story told. If I knew that a black YA writer was already telling it or working on it, I'd drop it immediately, because I wouldn't want my work to overshadow theirs, as their perspective would almost certainly be superior. But if no writer of color (that I can find) is interested in telling this story, do you think it's possible for me to do it, in a respectful and powerful way? I've been ruminating on this question for about a week, and it's keeping me from starting it. I figured it couldn't hurt to ask someone else whose perspective I value.
Anyways, thanks for your site, and for being open for questions and interactions. I'm glad you're a resource for writers like me.
Here are some points I have that hopefully lay a platform for the discussion (and please discuss in the comments).
A fiction writer's job is inherently to express and convey realities outside their own realities.
But this gets troublesome when a person writes from a privileged position (for example, non-black people writing about black people).
Writers do not exist in a vacuum outside of society, and neither does their work. Writers' actions have an impact on society, whether for positive or negative.
I'd like to push back on the idea of "If we get a lot of beta readers of color!" If you have 16 people of color read your novel, it still doesn't guarantee that your book with a character of color is "okay". People of color are people, not magical "Not Racist" stamp-givers. The onus is on you to be responsible for your own book.
Your beta readers of color are probably not going to share your royalties. There is very little you can give them in exchange for what they can give you. Seeking betas of color is a messy business. You don't exist outside a power vacuum.
A book concerning race written by a white person is almost guaranteed to be of lesser quality than a book on race written by a person of color. Yet, these books will be promoted, propped up, and celebrated more than books written by people of color.
People have written from the perspective of characters with marginalized identities well before. It is very rare, but it happens. (I am thinking of Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun.)
^This is very rare.
Books concerning race written by white people are allowed to have a few mistakes because "how would they know otherwise?" Meanwhile, all books written by all people of color (and especially Black and Latinx people, and even more, women of color) are expected to reach a much. higher. standard and even then, will not get the praise they deserve.
Writing from a position of privilege about marginalized people is almost, by definition, cultural appropriation (since you will get the royalty money/fame/recognition).
Can this be avoided/done justly?
This is what I mean when I say writing and publishing doesn't exist in a vacuum outside the racist systems in the USA today. Things. get. complicated.
Disclaimer: the above letter discussed only race as a marginalized identity. I'd like to open up this conversation to writing about all marginalized identities, centered on people of color with intersecting marginalized identities (because, you know, there are queer, disabled, low-income, women, trans people of color too).
So this is a discussion for you. What's the point of this discussion? Not answers, because I doubt we'll come to an answer. The purpose is to centralize this discussion in one forum to make a resource for writers wanting to learn more about this. Ultimately, each writer by themselves will make their own decision about their books' substance.
Here's a list of things I'd like you to follow as you write and discuss:
Take Space, Make Space. If you have lived experience with a marginalized identities, you are encouraged to take up space in this discussion thread. If you don't, you are encouraged to listen, ask questions (please do!), and not expect answers.
What Do We Need From Allyship? Writers with marginalized identities: this is a space to make your demands. What do we expect out of allyship? What can writers with privileged identities do to help us out? (I think we can expect more than simply buying/promoting our books, which is literally the bare minimum to be considered "not racist". Because if they weren't buying/promoting our books in the first place...you know what I mean?)
Share Yourself, For Yourself. I'm talking to writers with marginalized identities: you are not obligated to partake in this discussion. I do hope you do (because I want to make this a space for our empowerment) but share yourself only for yourself, only if it empowers you. You can drop out any time, pick up any time.
Use "I" Statements. We all speak only for ourselves. Make sure that is reflected in the way we discuss. For example, instead of saying, "Apple pie is awesome," say instead, "I think apple pie is awesome."
Listen, ask respectful questions. This is for writers discussing marginalized identities they don't hold. Writers with these identities should take up the most space, and others should listen, ask for clarification, and not speak over them. This doesn't mean go silent - this is a discussion, and it'd be so so awesome to see a ton of comments being generated! Start off by asking questions (but please don't expect writers with marginalized identities to console or comfort you).
Self-educate. The writers with marginalized identities that will partake in this discussion do not have to teach. First use Google with your questions. If you still are confused, feel free to ask, but don't expect an answer. These are tough issues. If they all had answers, we'd be in a much better place.
We have another Write Inclusively guest post in store!!!! I'm really excited by this one - it involves intersectionality. This is basically the idea that many people can/do have multiple marginalized identities. For example: a Black gay woman. These three types of oppression (racism, sexism, and heterosexism) can not be separated from each other to describe this woman's life; her sexism is informed by racism, vice versa, and including heterosexism. Take it away! #
When I pick up a book, I don’t expect to see myself reflected. I’ve been an avid reader literally as long as I can remember--I taught myself to read at three--but between being genderqueer and growing up poor and grappling with mental disabilities portrayals of people like me in literature are practically nonexistent. I see myself written in piecemeal: here is a character with a classed existence to which I can relate. Here is a genderqueer character with a fluidity like my own. Here is someone whose constellation of mental demons echoes mine. But they never come together.
Too often in writing social power (i.e. privilege) is presented as a zero-sum game. This is a side-effect of tokenism--oh, look, I included a Black character! There you go! My book is diverse! But this ticking-off-the-boxes diversity is not what makes a book good. That’s just surface diversity. Nowhere is there an acknowledgement of the sheer breadth of the multifaceted nature of the Black community: that Black men and Black women experience the world differently, that Black queer people exist, period, that Blackness may intersect with ability status in unique ways. When we, as writers, do not dig into these complexities we are failing our readers. We are not doing our homework.
It is key to realize that no one group is homogenous--not all genderqueers are like me. I don’t speak for all of us. Not everyone was poor the same way I was growing up. Life plays out at the intersections of identities. Drama occurs at the fractious tensions between our privileges and marginalities. It is easy to write a simplified character—one who is marginalized along just one axis—but to do so flattens the richness and tensions of most people’s real lives. To do so would be to flatten the richness and tension of my own life. As a writer, it’s important to me to push through that, to articulate characters who live and breathe and struggle at the intersections. To do otherwise would be a disservice to a reader who exists in this web of identities, some person who, like me, has long been rendered invisible by the general body of literature.
I write fantasy novels. That in itself has the potential to be a radical act, which is one reason why I write them. I love the radical potential of speculative fiction to portray the world as we would like it to be. As we could imagine it to be. What would it be like if we dismantled the oppressive structures we suffered under? How would we do that? What would we erect in their place, and how might they accidentally go awry? What would a society with a wildly inclusive understanding of gender look like—one where all gender expressions and identities are validated? How would that shape the way families form? How would that change the way children are raised? These are the kinds of questions fantasy and science fiction can tackle. But only if we are brave enough to ask these questions to begin with.
As I write my own stories, I strive to be as intersectional in crafting my characters as possible. There is no true diversity without intersectionality. There is no veracity without intersectional characters who inhabit (messily, simultaneously) spaces of both privilege and marginalization along different societal axes.
I hope that by writing with an intentional focus on intersections that readers at multiple points of marginality might pick up a book and feel, for once, seen. Acknowledged. Humanized instead of Othered. That’s the power that art and literature has--to be inclusive, to recognize others, to create community. My hope is to do that for someone, and one day, for someone to do that for me.
B R Sanders
Pronouns: they/them/their. B R Sanders is a white, genderqueer writer who lives and works in Denver, CO, with their family and two cats. B’s latest novel, Ariah, is about queer elves carving out lives of their own in a hostile culture. B’s previous novel, Resistance, is about lesbian elves overthrowing a city. They write about queer elves a lot. Stay in touch with B with their newsletter, their blog, or on twitter.
Thank you thank you so much!!! Make sure to Tweet them, share this post around, and comment in the section below. If you want to get more involved with the Write Inclusively campaign and be up-to-date with it, sign up for the newsletter. We do not email much - in the last 11 months, only two emails have gone out.
It is October 12th, federally celebrated as "Columbus Day." But on this blog, in this sphere, it is going to be celebrated as "Indigenous Peoples' Day." Nine cities have already made the name change, and it's time to make it federal.
This post will be long, but important. So buckle down, and get reading!
(The apostrophe placement in "Peoples'" is important to note. There is no one indigenous "people" because there are hundreds, if not thousands of individual tribes. It is more accurate to say "peoples" when describing them. Putting them into one group erases their distinct cultures and enacts violence through stereotyping and marginalization.)
Reconsider Columbus Day
*Trigger warning: facts of Native and indigenous peoples' genocide and the brutalities committed against them in the past, by Christopher Columbus specifically, and in the present*
I'm not going to spend much time in this section because this day is a celebration of Native and indigenous people. This day is also a celebration of their past and ongoing resistances. So: one must know why they resist.
Columbus should not be celebrated, and no day should be his namesake. He was, by all accounts (except of those who promote colonial and race-based oppression), a horrific man.
"Greed for gold, capitalistic greed through the potential of wealth through the slave trade, and the religious beliefs of Apocalyptic Christianity were three primary motivations Columbus had for setting sail...."
Christopher Columbus kidnapped Taino people, taking their kindness for weakness. He raped and murdered Native peoples and asked the governor of Hispaniola to cut off the noses and ears of Native peoples resisting slavery.
His journal reveals the satanity of his character, with lines such as: "They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” And: “As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts."
Christopher Columbus, through his attempts at enslaving Native peoples, set up the preemptive framework for the African slave trade. Natives were used to gather gold and if they couldn't find enough, their hands would be cut off or they would be killed.
It is estimated that 100 million (yes, one hundred) Native and indigenous peoples in South, Central, and North America died at the hands of European invaders and diseases.
In modern times: Brutalities against indigenous peoples have not ended. The stealing and desecrating of Native and indigenous land continues to this day.
These are the facts. I can go on, but I won't. Educate yourselves and understand the brutality that this man enacted upon millions and millions of peoples, being the catalyst for the largest genocide in all of human history, and being the catalyst for ongoing oppression.
*end trigger warning*
I want to take this next section to talk about Popé and how amazing he was, his iconic rope, and his legendary story. I get excited just hearing about him.
Popé is revered as the leader of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Pueblo scholars refer to him as the one who carried out the first successful American revolution against a foreign colonial power, Spain. Popé (Ripe Pumpkin) was from Ohkay Owingeh (known today as San Juan Pueblo) and, as best can be determined, was born around 1630. Little is known about the upbringing of Popé. Though, there is no reason to believe he did not grow up like any other Pueblo Indian boy of his time who strictly followed the customs of his community. Religion was inextricably woven into the pattern of pueblo life. Young Pueblo boys were taught the ways of being and becoming a young man both in a secular sense and through a religious understanding.
Popé’s presence was first recorded in 1675 when he and 47 other Pueblo men were prosecuted and indicted in Santa Fe for the alleged practice of sorcery. As a result of the trial, four men were sentenced to hanging. The remaining men were rounded up and publicly condemned to lashings and imprisonment. The Pueblo villages sent a delegation to Santa Fe to protest this treatment and threaten war. Fearful for his life, Governor Juan Francisco de Treviño released the prisoners and allowed them to return home. Upon being released, the Pueblo captives were told to give up their idolatry and iniquitous ways. This was a time of intense hardship for Pueblo people under the Spanish regime. Popé grew up seeing his people forced into the Spanish repartimiento system. Under this system Pueblo people served as slave labor and were required to provide food and supplies to the Spaniards.
Pueblo scholar Joe Sando writes that the Spaniards constantly harassed religious leaders and that a Tewa kiva was filled with sand so the people could not hold their nightly dances. In Pueblo thought and culture, when religion is suppressed, the natural order of life is disrupted. Suppression of religion, according to Pueblo worldview, means a threat to the livelihood of the people
It was against this background that Popé and other Tewa war captains began discussing what might be done to rid the country side of the invaders. Several Pueblo leaders gathered in Taos Pueblo to plan the Revolt. Popé emerged as a key organizer. It is suggested that he was an important individual because he had access to the inner religious circles of Taos Pueblo. It took a unique individual to orchestrate the Revolt across two dozen communities who spoke six different languages and were sprawled over a distance of nearly 400 miles - from Taos at one end to Hopi villages at the other. Pueblo people were prohibited from using horses. Moreover, during Spanish rule they were not allowed to use guns of any kind.
Pueblo people come from a running culture. It is no surprise that Popé and his followers agreed that runners would be sent to each of the pueblos. The runners carried a deerskin strip tied with knots. Each knot represented the number of days remaining before the campaign against the Spanish would begin. Each morning at every pueblo a knot would be untied. When all the knots were untied, the uprising was to begin in all of the pueblos. This plan almost failed because several sympathizers notified the Spanish of the plan. Thus, the revolt began two days early and, on August 10, 1680, the Spanish were caught by surprise. They retreated to Santa Fe and were eventually overpowered by a large number of Pueblo warriors.
On May 21, 2005, after a long struggle, the unveiling of the Popé statue for the National Statutory Hall took place at Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo). This unveiling was in remembrance of the event that took place in 1680. Popé was the earliest individual to be honored in the collection of the U.S. Capitol. Cliff Fragua (Jemez Pueblo) was the first American Indian artist to sculpt a statue for the Statutory Hall. Popé joins the figure of the late Senator Dennis Chavez as New Mexico’s two contributions to the U.S. Capitol. The addition of Popé to the National Statutory Hall completes the group of 50 individuals chosen to represent the United States.
In the seven and a half foot marble rendition, Popé holds a knotted cord in his left hand, which was used to determine when the Pueblo revolt would begin. He holds a bear fetish in his right hand which symbolizes the center of the Pueblo world and religion. There is a pot behind Popé, which signifies Pueblo culture. The deerskin he is wearing is a symbol of his status. The shell necklace that he is wearing is a reminder of where life begins. Popé wears Pueblo moccasins and his hair is bound in a traditional Pueblo style. On his back are the scars that remain from the whipping he received for his participation and faith in Pueblo ceremonies and religion. Herman Agoyo, San Juan Pueblo, succinctly states the following about the importance of Popé:
“To the Pueblo people here, Popé is our hero. Tribes were on the verge of losing their cultural identity when the Pueblo Revolt brought everything back on track for our people.”
This is just one story. One person, from one tribe, amongst the hundreds and thousands of tribes and millions of Native and indigenous peoples. Queer Natives, women Natives, so many other Natives who haven't been in the spotlight (did you know some Native and indigenous peoples had a Two-Spirit term to identify non-binary peoples in their community? By non-binary, I mean people with genders that can't be described as either male or female). Please take this time and this day, especially, to learn about indigenous history, indigenous peoples, and their stories. Revolt against Columbus in your own minds.
If you are non-Native/indigenous and live on Native/indigenous land, consider what that means, and critically consider what part you (we) have to play in this oppression. How have we benefited? We play a role. Use this knowledge as an incentive for action.
Their stories, their existence, their fight, and their celebration exists to this day, from their protests of Pope Francis's canonization of a genocidal Catholic priest, to their fight for the sovereignty of their lands.
I haven't written about the individual cultures outside of resistance. It is not my place to "share" these cultures, given that I am not Native/indigenous, and given the violence of cultural appropriation that occurs to this day. Those "sexy Pocahontas" costumes you see perpetuate violence against Native peoples. According to Amnesty International:
Native American and Alaska Native women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the USA. Some Indigenous women interviewed by Amnesty International said they didn't know anyone in their community who had not experienced sexual violence. Though rape is always an act of violence, there is evidence that Indigenous women are more likely than other women to suffer additional violence at the hands of their attackers. According to the US Department of Justice, in at least 86 per cent of the reported cases of rape or sexual assault against American Indian and Alaska Native women, survivors report that the perpetrators are non-Native men. (emphasis, mine)
Yea. So if you see your child, your friend, of you wanting to dress up as a Native for Halloween, STOP YOURSELF, STOP THEM. Enact allyship: stop them, and make complaints to any store you see that sell these costumes. The costumes promote the rape of Native women (and Native men aren't doing most of the raping...the fetishization of Native culture and women lead to race-based violence).
That's why I don't want to talk about individual Native and indigenous cultures. These cultures are not mine to share, and sharing them might perpetuate cultural appropriation and violence.
Well, I can't say Happy Indigenous Peoples' Day - yet. Hopefully that day is coming soon. Sign on to this We the People petition: let's get this name changed. Doing so will lead to educational initiatives in our schools, and in mass media, about Native and indigenous peoples, their histories, and their ongoing movements. What are your thoughts? Share them in the comments below. And please, sign, share, and spread the petition! If we get 100,000 signatures, we are guaranteed a response from the federal government.
30 September 2015
We've got another #WriteInclusively guest post. It's incredible. Buckle down, you all. Take it away, Kara.
Education is important. We spent a good amount of our lives in some type of school or class and then still learn long after we’ve grasped that shiny diploma and thrown our cap in the air. We learn not just about math, science, art, and history, but also social interaction, self-image, and confidence. We are held to standards (whether that be getting A’s, behaving in class, or getting on the basketball team) and expectations (going to college, graduating with honors, getting that scholarship) that can shape the way we think and we feel.
I went to a high school for at-risk kids.
There were a lot of us thrown in there by the public school systems that didn’t want to take the time or the effort to help us through whatever problem we were having. There were a lot of problems. Many kids grew up in bad families, in bad neighborhoods, in gangs. Others were children of illegal immigrants or young, single mothers who lived under the poverty level or were even drug addicts. Some of us, like me, had autism or other “emotional and/or behavioral disturbances” and the public school system decided that it would be easier to send them away than tailor to their special needs. We were a potpourri of different races, genders, sexualities, backgrounds. You name it.
The school system didn’t want to deal with us; honestly, they probably didn’t have the budget to. But neither did the at-risk system we went into. It’s advertised by concerned social workers as a place where you can be accommodated to your needs; in reality, we all were blurred together. To them, our problems were all the same, our stories were all similar, and our voices all didn’t matter.
Many of our voices were silenced in that school.
In a normal high school, you probably expect the textbooks to be up-to-date, the classes to be adequately challenging, and the teachers to have a degree in their area of expertise. We didn’t have that. Our textbooks (if we had them) were fifteen years old, the classes were dumbed down to the point where I was learning fifth grade level English and Math in twelve grade, and our teachers only had special education degrees and no outside education on the subjects they taught. As I quickly found out, those teachers could get nasty if you happened to know more on a subject than they did. I was personally removed from class, mocked by teachers, and set up by myself because I corrected my teachers when their facts on government, or literature, or even math, my worst subject, were wrong. When I asked my counselor at the school why my teachers seemed to hate me, she said: “It’s not that they hate you; you just intimidate them. You’re smarter than them and they don’t like it. That’s not how it’s supposed to work here.”
But, while that was a factor in our silent voices, you may be surprised to know that it wasn’t the main reason for the silence.
There was a terrible secret about that school all of us students knew: You were expected to fail. In a normal school, if you hit below a certain level of grades, you might be put on academic probation, you might be talked to by a counselor. In this school, none of the above happened. No one cared. The main mindset was that we were a group of future dropouts, criminals, and leeches on society that they had to watch. We weren’t going to go anywhere.
When we filed into school, going through a security system similar to the ones you’d find at an airport, they didn’t see us as human students. They saw us as statistics. They saw the black criminal and the white drug addict. They saw the violent teenage boy and the emotional teenage girl. They saw the pregnant whore and the gangbanger father. The illegal immigrant and the child of a family that couldn’t afford the cat-food they called lunch. And slowly, we began to conform to those statistics. Because when someone says you’re broken, or stupid, or dangerous, or irredeemable enough times, you begin to believe it. Slowly, we were molded into the mindset they had for us. Our voices, once loud, were getting softer and softer.
We were told not to expect college. We were pressured to attempt workshops that specialized in getting us “experience” that had many of us working half the school day at odd jobs for no pay instead of attending classes we “didn’t need”. Behind our backs the teachers and aides would make comments on the kids; how they would never go anywhere. They would mock the turbulent relationships the students formed with each other. We were compared to dogs doing tricks for treats when we behaved.
The environment of belittlement and negativity that surrounds at-risk children is dangerous. It cuts off many voices that don’t fit the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Heterosexual Rich Male ideal. It makes us, the victims, feel like our stories are not important because why would anyone want to listen to us if we are just going to fail? Many of us internalize the negativity until we truly believe our stories are not worth anything.
But they are.
We were a diverse, living, feeling group of teenagers whose stories were shocking, terrifying, and maybe even heartwarming. There are thousands of us in your towns and cities whose experiences are as different as snowflakes and like snowflakes, are looked over when spread apart, but unable to ignore when banded together.
This problem goes deeper than schools and teachers, it goes deeper than report cards and minimum wage jobs; it goes deep into the norms and constructs of our society where a single role and stereotype is held as the be-all, end-all. These social constructs that teach us that because we are from problem backgrounds we are unclean, unwanted, and undeserving feed into an endless cycle that perpetuates the feelings of inadequacy and our often violent lives.
Look closer at us and you’ll see that the “black criminal” is actually incredibly smart and wants to be an engineer, the “white drug addict” has abusive parents and trust issues that he covers up with weed and pills, the “violent teenage boy” was terrified because he was about to leave the school he’d come to rely on, the “emotional teenage girl” had autism and could write wonders onto a page, and the “pregnant whore” resolved to be a better mother than her own while the “gangbanger father” that impregnated her was risking his life to escape his gang and take care of his new family.
Before we learn to #WriteInclusively, we must also learn to #ThinkInclusively about others and ourselves. We must not negate the importance of our own stories or fall prey to a society that waves away uncomfortable, unsettling viewpoints as “something we don’t talk about.” We must learn to see the worth in every story. Especially those that tend to go unheard. Many of the voices from my school are silent now; I don’t know what happened to the kids I’ve been around for so long. Honestly, I don’t think their stories are any brighter than mine is. But right now, I’m the one talking. That needs to change. We need to realize that everyone’s voice deserves to be heard, whatever the expectations put in place. Those expectations must always be defied.
Kara Barbieri is a nineteen-year-old graduate from the Illinois at-risk school system and a Sociology major at her local community college. She is currently seeking representation and enjoys writing about kickass pirate queens, huntresses, and other diverse, complex women. She has Autism, likes goats, and can write wonders onto pages. She can be found on twitter at@Kara_Barbieri.
Kara is one of my close friends, an incredible person. I'm so so happy to have her on this blog. THANK YOU so much for sharing your story.
Everyone: PLEASE comment and discuss. Share this on Twitter. Thank/talk to her on Twitter. Be sure to engage and discuss, that is one of #WriteInclusively's main goals. What did you think?
If you want to get more involved with the Write Inclusively campaign and be up-to-date with it, sign up for the newsletter. We do not email much - in the last 10 months, only two emails have gone out.
25 September 2015
A WRITE INCLUSIVELY GUEST BLOG POST IS HERE!!!!! The fantastic Meghana Ranganathan is here to speak. Take it away!
In fifth grade, my history classes focused on ancient Rome and Greece. In sixth grade, we learned about medieval and renaissance Europe. In seventh grade, we learned about United States history. Ninth and tenth grade, we learned about Europe and the United States in the 20th Century. After that, we no longer were required to take history classes.
Six years of history, and we spent one year on the Eastern half of the world. In one year, we jammed the entire continent of Africa, and China and India into nine months. And of that year, we spent most of the time discussing what those countries were like after colonialism. Our few months of learning about India were based on how the British affected India. Because these countries needed the presence of white people to make their history relevant enough to teach in a typical school.
Looking towards college, I wanted nothing more than to break out of this cycle of focusing on the West and learn something – ANYTHING – about some other part of the world. I was so looking forward to learning the history of my ancestors – India – as well as the histories of South America, more about Africa, and Southeast Asia. I’m currently in college and out of about 80 history classes, 17 are based in countries that aren’t in Europe or North America. And from those, only 6 are about the country before colonialism.
Now, I’m not trying to write off these classes or the importance of knowing the history of the West. To be fair, a fair amount of those college classes were about the experience of minority groups in America over the last century, which is really important stuff. But those numbers just show the gaping hole we have in our education system. I’m set to graduate college in two years, and yet I can say that I know absolutely nothing about South America. Literally nothing. I haven’t sat in on one lecture or one day in school where we’ve talked about the history of South America. I can’t tell you much anything about Southeast Asia, the vast majority of Africa (though I can point to the countries and name them), and all of Asia except China and India. It’s embarrassing.
#WriteInclusively means so much to me because books and movies are the way that I learn about the experiences of people from all over the world and the way that I spread knowledge about my experiences as a South Asian female and my family’s experiences. And it’s so important to have those experiences be real and true, otherwise it’s functionally the same as teaching incorrect history, or the wrong formula for the quadratic equation. It gives an incorrect vision of the world and the people that make up the world.
And yet, this happens all the time. For me as a South Asian, I pay particular attention whenever Hollywood comes out with a movie set in India, or whenever a book about India or Indian people comes out. But as I’ve come to realize, most of these movies and books end up being about white people experiencing India, not Indians sharing their experiences (e.g. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Outsourced). There are exceptions, but I remember my first picture book about India when I was little got me so excited in the bookstore, because it was a book about someone like me. I took it home and opened it, only to find it be about a white girl going to India on vacation and her experiences. If that’s the only perspective people get on India, it creates stereotypes. Like India being this crazy country that white people have to struggle to navigate. Some part of that stereotype is true (driving in a car in India is horrifying), but we need more depth in media. I remember my mom getting so excited whenever she saw an Indian person on a television show, only to have that character be a silly stereotype of a nerdy guy with a “funny” accent who smells like curry.
The intention for my writing is to show people another side of India and the Indian people. To show people the amazing villages, the strong people who fought for Independence many decades ago, Akbar the Great and his rule over India in the 1500s, to explain the experience of a second-generation Indian female living in the United States. My parents grew up in the United States, so I’ve been called “basically white”, “whitewashed”, “only Indian by blood” and told by other South Asians that it would “do me good to take a class on India.” I grew up thinking I was the only one to experience that. In fact, I still haven’t met another second-generation person of color with whom I can share that with. I want the things that I write to tell other second-generation people of color growing up that they’re not alone, and that no one can tell them what they identify with.
And I want to learn about other identities and other countries through others’ writing. I want that to be my continuing education, and I can only do that when we support those writers who are brave enough to tell their stories and tell the stories of their countries. I will continue to support #WriteInclusively in hopes that these amazing stories start showing up on bookshelves.
Meghana Ranganathan is a writer and a student specializing in applied mathematics. She is passionate about writing important stories from new perspectives and spreading facts about science issues like vaccines, climate change, and evolution. She runs a science blog dedicated to discussing the science behind these issues and others.
Things she thinks are genius: Jurassic Park (the book), Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, Dollhouse, cheesecake, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, apple cider, the humor in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gus and Shawn’s relationship in Psych, most M.I.A. songs, the combinations of spices in Indian food. She strives to come up with something about a quarter as amazing as most of these things.
Thank you so much for being a guest blogger!! As an Indian American myself, I can relate so well to what you have brought up. Some of my favorite quotes:
1. "And it’s so important to have those experiences be real and true, otherwise it’s functionally the same as teaching incorrect history, or the wrong formula for the quadratic equation. It gives an incorrect vision of the world and the people that make up the world."
2. "But as I’ve come to realize, most of these movies and books end up being about white people experiencing India, not Indians sharing their experiences."
3. "But those numbers just show the gaping hole we have in our education system."
4. "Because these countries needed the presence of white people to make their history relevant enough to teach in a typical school."
Writers: what do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments. And be sure to tweet and share this post. If you want to possibly be a guest blogger, email me.
If you want to get more involved with the Write Inclusively campaign and be up-to-date with it, sign up for the newsletter. We do not email much - in the last 10 months, only two emails have gone out.