The systemic problem


In a survey of New York Times articles published in 2011, author and cultural commentator Roxane Gay discovered that nearly 90 percent of the reviewed books were authored by white writers.


Among Amazon editors’ top 20 picks of 2014, just three authors were minorities.


14 percent of books published in 2014 were by or about people of color, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center.

Less than 1 percent of literary fiction and poetry books published in the United States are translations, and more than 60 percent of those are from Europe and Canada.


All of this stems from a systemic problem in the literary and publishing world. While it’s disturbing to know that the people who decide what stories can come to life are limiting voices and different experiences, it’s moreso unsettling to realize their justification for dismissing writers of color. They reject cultural references in books because they won’t be understood and even book covers are “white-washed” in order to satisfy “market demands.”

These practices are reprehensible. People are getting stripped of their voices, or are being covered with erasure strategies to re-write a story that fits the same narrative. As a writer of color, that narrative has always been fed to me and it’s always taken part of me to look the other way. No one should have to turn a blind eye to this, especially not in our current political climate. More than ever is it important to depict accurate representation. Movements like WeNeedDiverseBooks and Writers of Color fight for this representation by advocating for authors of color to write themselves into the narrative of American history. While there are noteworthy books that most people are familiar with, (Tori Morrison’s Bluest Eye or Alice Walker’s The Color Purple) that are written by people of color, they highlight matters such as racism or slavery. They are not valued for writing about normal experiences and thus limits their talent and leads to what the author of Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls the “single story, in which the work of minority authors is used merely to highlight differences and reinforce stereotypes.” The West doesn’t have a monopoly on love and loss, or any universal theme that ties a story together.

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