I recently attended Leakycon in Dublin, which for those who don’t know, is a Harry Potter convention and a bloody darn good one at that.
Part of that, the Leakylit track, hosts a variety of panels where authors and readers alike can discuss issues such as how Harry Potter influenced literature to how privilege and publishing seem to come hand in hand. It’s a great way to interact with authors and have a genuine discussion about what everyone loves: books.
Me and my new lit panel pal Sophie (One half of the blog TLCC!) went to a panel all about Inclusivity and World building. This turned out to be about 90% inclusivity and 10% world building which I was very much okay with, because the conversations we were having were so important and so interesting. As such, I had to share them.
Representation within the publishing industry is not good enough. There were 4 authors on the panel and between them, they could only name 2 black editors in UK publishing which is shocking, frankly. The publishing industry is both very white and very privileged and covers are often whitewashed because of this.
Rick Riordan talked about this in 2015, when a main character in The Kane Chronicles was whitewashed on the front cover in various editions in Italy, the Netherlands and Russia. Riordan stated on his tumblr page:
“I’m sorry: ‘people in our country will only buy books with white people on the cover’ is not a valid excuse”.
And he’s right. It’s really not.
Similarly, token representation is not representation. It’s not good enough to throw in a person of colour and say that you have representation in your book. You cannot use minorities as a way to check off a box for your own well-being. This is not just an issue in books, but in all media where a minority is used to give the pretense that the book or TV show or whatever it is is diverse, when it really really isn’t.
As a white cis woman, I am definitely coming from a place of privilege when speaking about this. I have never had to experience seeing myself erased by whitewashing. I have never had to experience seeing myself represented because people ‘feel they have to’. I have never had to because my privilege is so evident, and this is why listening and reading own voices that have had to is so important.
Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give is a great example of an own voice novel I have read within the last few months. Angie Thomas is a black female writer and the story and characters she depicts are so relevant to today’s society. Catherine Johnson made a great point during the panel: just because The Hate U Give has such good representation, doesn’t mean we don’t need more like it. One thing Catherine said really stuck with me and I had to frantically scribble it down. It’s so obvious, yet so true, and what we all need to remember:
“Make your stories look like what the world looks like”
Yes, Angie Thomas’ book is excellent and it’s everything the world needs right now but, if anything is going to change, we need more of the same, and we need it yesterday.