As I was preparing this week’s edition of the Incident Report everything was going fine and then white people started acting stupid again. Okay, maybe we act stupid all the time, but in the peaks and valleys in our stupidity, it seems we’ve reached another peak.
When I read the American Library Association renamed the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, I sighed as I knew some white folks would be upset because we always seem to get riled up when our privilege and racism get called out.
From American Library Association and Association for Library Service to Children’s press statement:
Although Wilder’s work holds a significant place in the history of children’s literature and continues to be read today, ALSC has had to grapple with the inconsistency between Wilder’s legacy and its core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness through an award that bears Wilder’s name.
An example of the problems with Wilder’s books is this original line from “Little House on the Praire”.
There the wild animals wandered and fed as though they were in a pasture that stretched much farther than a man could see, and there were no people. Only Indians lived there. (Italics mine.)
It took over twenty years for this offensive line to be noticed and fixed. In 1952, the publisher agreed to fix the problem writing the statement “would never have appeared in anything published in recent years.” More in-depth views on the problems with Wilder can be read at American Indians in Children’s Literature, Smithsonian.com, and Diversity and White Privilege.
But white people. For the last few years, I’ve wanted to be a journalist that covers Twitter responses because it seems to be the easiest job in the world. With a quick Twitter search, you can see the crazy.
Hey white people, if you read the Little House books growing up and you cherish those readings, that’s okay. No one is trying to take that away from you. Please pay attention.
“But, but, what does this have to do with crime fiction?”, you cry.
Things came to a head as they usually do in social media, specifically a thread in the Sisters in Crime listserv about the Laura Ingalls Wilder award. Apparently, the thread was so volatile that the Sisters in Crime organization decided to retire their discussion forum:
However, a recent contentious discussion thread required us to accelerate the timeline. These types of devolving hostile discussions have no place in our organization. No member should ever feel discounted or bullied.
I haven’t read the thread but from the Facebook post above and other comments, the situation got bad, real bad. As Catriona McPherson wrote:
It’s deeply sad to see people unthinkingly sending the message “you don’t matter” to fellow writers whose struggles are greater than we privileged white people will ever know. And make no mistake – that’s the message
But the problem is bigger than a single thread in a Yahoo group. It’s no secret that the mystery genre has a big issue with inclusiveness within the community especially relating to writers of color. Kellye Garrett wrote this Facebook post:
Just gonna say it. The mystery writing community is so far behind when it comes to embracing diversity, having TRUE inclusivity and making the few writers of color we do have feel like an actual valued part of the community.
Although I appreciate that efforts are being made, they can’t just be “surface” efforts. We also have to realize that this is not something that can be fixed in a day or a Facebook post thread.
It’s going to take work, it’s going to take money, it’s going to take uncomfortable conversations and it’s going to take us ALL calling out outdated and prejudice thinking. (Because if you see bad behavior and you’re too scared to say something, you’re essentially condoning it.)
It will pay off in the long run, not just to retain writers of color but to retain younger writers as well.
We have work to do.
If you’re reading this and you’re white, don’t say, “Not all white people.” Take a page from the #metoo movement where “Not all men” is NOT a valid response. This is not about you and your feelings as a white person. Let me repeat that: this is not about us.
So what’s a white person to do? From everything I’ve read from the #diversityjedi and #OwnVoices movements, here are some things I am trying to do.
Some things I believe white people can do to support the voices of writers of color are:
- Demand of the publishing companies you like to actively search out and publish writers of color
- Purchase and read books by writers of color.
- Actively promote writers of color.
- Listen to writers of color.
One of the things about the Incident Report is that I get an opportunity to promote the work of all writers and when I get a chance, I do try to promote the work of writers of color. Do I miss some books? Do I make mistakes? Do I have some work to do? Sure. But I’m listening and learning. Last year, my author diversity was abysmal: 85% male and 85% white. So far this year, I’m still at 85% male but my writers of color jumped to 30%. I have more work to do. I will always support the efforts to give a voice to those who aren’t heard. If I’m not, please let me know.
Thanks for stopping by and reading the Incident Report.