Writer Wednesday: Representation & Perspective
Good morning authors and welcome to the middle of the week! I hope you are all doing well and continuing to practice self care in these wild times. There is a lot happening in May. Here in the U.S. there is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. It is also Mental Health Awareness Month. In past posts I've touched on both Diversity and Mental Health Representation but as these are ongoing issues, there is always something to talk about in regards to these topics. Today, I am going to talk about Representation and Perspective, and how these two don't mean the same thing. This week, I am focusing on how this applies to culture and race in diversity literature.
Representation & Perspective
America has a beyond complicated and sordid history with minorities in this country and it is important to keep learning about the history of the cultures and people who are now woven into the fabric of the nation. Because if we do not recognize the sins of our past, if we bury the darkness then how do we disrupt and break the cycle of violence? Our school curriculums should include the high and low points of our history. And the literature we consume is a vehicle for experiences outside our own.
There are still a great many hurdles and divides in the publishing community when it comes to representation. Even though we are seeing a great number of diverse stories being published and several hitting Best Seller status, it's important to note that as visible as these stories are, they still represent a mere fraction of the books being released and diversity in publishing still has a lot of catching up to do. This is not helped along by what seems to be the constant merging of big houses, making the gaps and margins even tighter. This is not helped along by even some of the mind sets in the writing community, where an us vs them mindset still rears its ugly head in various spheres. We also can't ignore the one step forward, three steps back messaging sent by the industry who just months ago promised to take strides toward better diversity and then signed multi million dollar book deals with members of the same administration that fueled these tensions.
Where do you push back against such a design? Financially? Do you boycott the publisher, when the house is so vast the trickle down effect falls on the very authors and their teams you wanted to support in the first place? It is a difficult and tenuous ground to stand on and while social push back seems to have some effect, the people in positions of power still have...the power.
What can the little guy do? Well for one, the reading and writing community can continue to lift up the voices of representation. We can also recognize the differences of representation and perspective. Collectively, the Asian Pacific area is a pretty vast group of incredibly varying cultures, not a monolith, and representation goes beyond a handful of authors. This is something publishing still falls short on when it comes to the theory of 'slots' and 'comp titles'. Comparison titles are supposed to help a potential book pinpoint an audience and aid in marketability but at what point does it hinder the potentiality of a novel in our current publishing landscape?
On another point; it should go without saying but there is differentiation between own voice, cultural perspective and outsider perspective. This is where publishing has gotten itself into hot water in the past. (The infamous backlash surrounding American Dirt comes to mind). It is important that we continue to broaden the range of representation welcomed into publishing. Okay, sure, the outsider perspective has a time and a place. I think there is a way to write the outsider perspective in a manner that is sound, sensitive, and respectful, and that is to acknowledge that the POV perspective is taken from the outside looking in, to be up front that the story is not cultural representation (that includes in the marketing of such a story). There are good stories of experiences of the outsider learning and growing from cultural exposure, BUT, those stories should be treated categorically separate from #ownvoices, not share the same 'slots' at the table. This distinction is something the industry has made major missteps on in the past and while we can continue to spread awareness of this distinction and make ourselves heard when it comes to broadening the range of representation, there is still the issue of those in power and the decisions they make. Which is why it is so important to continue to show up for emerging #ownvoice authors.
Showing up can be done in several ways. Talk about these books. Boost these books on your reading lists and social media. Buy the books. Check them out of the library. Review them. Tell your friends. Spread the word. Demonstrate a desire and demand for these stories because, unfortunately, the foremost language big publishing understands is monetary.