The desire for diversity is loud and clear within the Publishing community, however are many today ignoring the need for cultural exploration and instead abusing cultures through misappropriation. Why is it all too familiar of members of a dominate culture appropriate from disadvantaged minority cultures and how can we avoid this within the publishing community?
The ‘whiteness’ of book publishing in recent light has not gone unnoticed, with the book trade being described as ‘Hideously white’ with BAME authors struggling to find ground to be published. Last year, 7% of all titles were penned by BAME writers leaving 93% of titles to white authors. With this the lack of diversity within the industry, countless authors are falling into a cultural debate to whether their book is diverse enough or inappropriate. Examples include recent novels such as Cinder by Marissa Meyer, set in a futuristic China, was deemed inappropriate due to heavy American influences whilst ignoring exploration of culture and politics within the setting. Is it becoming all too familiar for writers to adopt references to other cultures for their own personal gain?
But why are more authors not being consistent with diversity and fall into this cultural appropriation row? I feel the answer lies within the diversity of the publishing community itself. The statistics don’t lie and demonstrate a harsh reality to BAME authors with many writers of colour today struggle to get published due to the fact white writers have already ‘been there’ and ‘done that’. This unconscious bias had led to a downfall in cultural books being published by the right authors and by the right perspective. However, this leads us to the argument of censorship. Is it right to make authors feel fearful? Restricting authors to what they can and can’t write would only create clone like writers with a lack of range within what is published yearly. But is this allowing non-BAME authors to become ‘lazy’ with references to culture in their writings? I would say yes. Not only are we seeing authors exploit different cultures from a narrow perspective inappropriately, we are seeing a wider audience accepting it.
Many novels are accused of being white-washed due the lack of respect for BAME characters. So how severe is the ‘race-problem’ in publishing? Constant updates demonstrate how ethnic minorities are marginalised by the industry for using their roots and not their voices. Authors today are advised on making their manuscripts ‘marketable’ for the country at a cost of cultural representation.
“writers find that they are advised by agents to make their manuscripts marketable in this country upping the sari count, dealing with gang culture or some other image that conforms to white preconceptions’Danuta Kean – https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/apr/15/report-books-world-ethnic-minorities-london-book-fair
Some direct the blame of appropriation towards large publishers with only 8% of their workforce identifying as BAME. With other creative industries shedding light on equality, it seems a shame that many are ignoring the loud cry for diversity within this sector. How can we change that though? The need to make publishers less conservative and less discriminative is needed now more than ever. What is worrying for the future of diverse publications is the already downfall of cultural representation.
“The past ten years of turbulent change affecting the UK book industry has had a negative impact on attempts to become more diverse” –Danuta Kean – https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/apr/15/report-books-world-ethnic-minorities-london-book-fair
The lack of progress for the BAME community is a clear sign of prejudice they face covered by false titles written by white authors. Directing narratives away from authentic voiced is sheltering the light given to minority ethnic authors. Many identify cultural appropriation as a common thread seen though all levels of literature however why are smaller publishers able to do a much better job of publishing BAME others as opposed to larger publishers? Internships and apprenticeships are being offered regularly to manage the diversity issue and help promote those form less privileged backgrounds, allowing them to get their voice heard. Is the issue stemming from the industry being ‘too white’ and ‘middle-class’? We need to give all writers of all ethnic backgrounds a chance to have their opinion expressed through the art of publishing.
Award winning novelist Kerry Hudson stated she believed change was needed in the UK publishing industry “to reflect the extraordinary spectrum of communities in the country”. She later went on to say, “without making change and making change now we risk turning our proud literacy legacy into a factory producing monocultural, ‘safe-ish bets’ based on the success of previously published books on similar models” Cultural appropriation is continuing now by white authors without being recognised by editors and publishers. A push for change is needed to identify when it is right and wrong to implement cultural references. With only little change actually happening in the publishing industry so far, I fear the road to solving cultural appropriation is a long way away.
The Guardian – Unpaid Placements should be Banned Kerry Hudson Quotations https://www.theguaridan.com/books/2015/jul/09/unpaid-internships-should-be-banned-to-build-diversity-in-publishing
The Bookseller – Rethinking ‘diversity’ in Publishing https://www.thebookseller.com/blogs/rethinking-diversity-965246
Megaphone – Survey results: Are BAME writers being published in 2018 https://megaphonewrite.com/2018/11/21/survey-results-are-bame-writers-being-published-in-2018
Salon – Writers imagination vs Cultural appropriation https://www.salon.com/2016/09/26/writers-imagination-vs-cultural-appropriation-in-search-of-common-ground
The Conversation – Cultural appropriation and the witness of book publishing https://theconversation.com/cultural-appropriation-and-the-whiteness-of-book-publishing-79095
The Week – What is cultural appropriation and how is it offensive? https://www.the.co.uk/cultural-appropriation
The guardian – Report finds UK books world has marginalised and pigeonholed ethnic minorities https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/apr/15/report-books-world-ethnic-minorities-london-book-fair
Figure 1 https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwj16O2O77PiAhWb8uAKHQxADwEQjRx6BAgBEAU&url=https%3A%2F%2Ftheapprenticeacademy.co.uk%2Fblog%2Fusing-apprenticeship-to-support-diversity-and-inclusion%2F&psig=AOvVaw0DpAMemwbqtCM23lvAh1-W&ust=1558777034175682
Figure 2 Cinder book cover