No More All-White Panels: A PLEDGE

http://laurelsnyder.com/?p=2806

 

Our industry marginalizes people of color. We know this.

In a multitude of ways, we do not include or promote their voices as we should.  This is problematic for the authors, editors, illustrators and other people of color who must work twice as hard for far less attention and reward.  But it is also problematic for the children we claim to serve, who desperately need to hear a range of voices. Our young readers are increasingly diverse.  It makes no sense that their literature not represent them.

In recent years, there has been a growing movement to improve this situation.  We Need Diverse Books has had a dramatic impact, and many now recognize the need for more inclusive literature. We give lip service to this need. We talk about mirrors and windows, as well as the importance of #ownvoices. And yet, though we now see a lot of conversations about the need for diversity, in practical terms, not much has changed.

Our industry is a complicated machine, with many moving parts.  We are authors and illustrators, editors and publicists. But we are also booksellers, teachers, and librarians. We are event organizers and reviewers. This complexity can make it extremely easy to pass the buck.  “What can I do?” each of us thinks.

For several years now, I’ve sat on the programming committee for a book festival. In the past, I’ve helped coordinate conferences and reading series as well. This has given me an interesting vantage point.  I’ve gotten to see how few people of color are supported with marketing dollars.  There are always a few superstars pitched—bestsellers and award winners—but not many.  The publishers, who I assume must answer to their company’s bottom line, send out the authors likeliest to sell lots of books. In an economy built on systemic racism, this means they send out mostly white authors.

But festivals and conferences are exactly how new authors become bestsellers and award winners.  In addition to selling books, these events bring visibility. They draw the attention of award committees and open the door to financial opportunities like school visits and other paid events. So this marginalization becomes a cycle. Success breeds success.  Money follows money.

Today, I’m calling on my fellow authors and illustrators to make a change. To refuse to play a part in this cycle.  We can’t change everything overnight, but we can refuse to participate in the marginalization of our colleagues and friends.  We can hope that our example draws attention from conference and festival organizers, from publishers, booksellers, educators, reviewers, and others. If enough of us join together, perhaps diverse panels will become the rule, not the exception.

Of course, our industry does not only marginalize people of color. We have a great deal of work to do in supporting other underrepresented populations as well.  We must strive to include LGBTQUIA authors and illustrators, those with disabilities, women, and Native authors, among others.  Until our conferences and festivals fully represent this country’s diverse population, there will be serious work to do.  However, for the purposes of this pledge, it feels useful to focus on one specific goal. One clear mission.  Which is this:

In a world of wildly talented authors and illustrators of color, there is simply no reason for an all-white panel, ever.  If you agree with me, I hope you’ll make this pledge, by leaving a note in the comments below.

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WE PLEDGE TO SERVE ONLY ON PANELS THAT INCLUDE VOICES OF COLOR.

Due to the ubiquity of all-white panels in the professional and academic spheres of publishing, literacy, and children’s literature, we feel it has become necessary to take a stand.  We pledge to decline service on all-white panels of three or more speakers (excluding the moderator), at any conference or festival, and to decline invitations from any conference or festival without meaningful representation overall.  We know that the voices of people of color are essential to any meaningful conversation in our field, and we do not want to contribute to their exclusion.


*this post is written in partnership with #kidlitwomen, a month-long effort to highlight the voices of women authors and illustrators, and to address the issues they face.
**this post is also made in conjunction with No More All-Male Panels