‘A Conflicted Cultural Force’: What It’s Like to Be Black in Publishing

‘A Conflicted Cultural Force’: What It’s Like to Be Black in Publishing

There is, in a curious way, a greater openness to books by and about Black people, but that has not necessarily changed the structure of the industry. Every major publisher now is singing the “diversity of voices” blues. They want to increase diversity of voices, but diversity of voices doesn’t have anything to do with anti-Black racism in publishing. Many a publisher is issuing lists of books that mostly white people should read to inform themselves about the issue. It almost seems as if these books are being bought and read as if they were a genre of self-help book. The scandal for me is that, as a result of reading these self-help books, will there be self-improvement? As with most self-help books, the answer might be no. After all of this hoopla, after all of this self-education, I worry that we’re going to wake up and be exactly where we were before any of this happened. I don’t think that as a result of white people reading certain books, we’re going to be living in a postracial America. The industry is predominantly a white industry. The number of Black editors in New York City is shockingly de minimis. I work for the largest American book publisher, and I cannot name more than a handful of Black editors there. That is not particular to Penguin Random House, that is endemic to the industry. And I think unless you have systemic change from top to bottom, publishing will remain a conflicted cultural ...
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