I was going to do Simon’s meme today but my camera battery died last night and no one likes posts about books when there aren’t any nice sparkly pictures, so I’ve decided to do a post in response to a couple of interesting posts by Eva and Aarti that I’ve read today and yesterday about reading and race instead. Sorry, Simon – I will get around to the meme, I promise!
Eva’s post on ‘white privilege’ and the Eurocentric, white author domination of the publishing industry has garnered a lot of discussion, as it should. Race is a complicated minefield of a topic that everyone has different views about dependant on their own life experience. As a middle class, wealthy, privileged English white girl born, brought up and still living in one of the most multicultural cities on the planet, I don’t think about race, ever. But this is because I don’t have to; as Eva quite rightly says in her post, as a white European I have the world at my disposal; I don’t have to ever face the indignity of something as simple as not being able to find make up that suits my skin tone, or having the colour of my skin used as a way to describe my appearance. The world is set up to uphold the subtle, all permeating attitude that has prevailed for centuries; white is best, any other skin colour is inferior. Of course today we have our positive discrimination policies, our politically correct children’s books with children of all colours and shapes and sizes featured; our soap operas with families representing every ethnic minority possible, all designed to demonstrate just how far we’ve come in the area of race relations, and how wonderfully equal the world is. This is nothing but an elaborate smokescreen, however; how else can we explain the shocking statistics showing the poor academic attainment of black boys? How else do we explain the appalling minority of black, asian and other minority backgrounds in positions of power in our government, in our businesses, in our academic institutions? Western society is set up to favour white people; and if you’re of the right class, from the right school, and a man, you’re even better off to boot. So much of our everyday lives are dominated by the inherent, unthinking assumption that white is the ideal that I don’t think we even notice any more. Eva’s post made me realise just how blind to racism I had become. I didn’t agree with all of her points, but the essential ingredient of the unjustness of the white superiority attitude that is prevalent in every area of our lives struck me powerfully. I want to do something about it, but what? How do you undo centuries of brainwashing?
One thing I said on Eva’s blog was that I didn’t think that the publishing industry in the UK was as white centric as the US, as I have seen a lot of books available by authors from all different nations and cultures, many of whom are not white, in our bookshops. I thought I’d go on Amazon US and Amazon UK and compare the bestsellers lists to see whether there is a difference between the publishing industry in the two countries when it comes to promoting authors from ethnic minorities. I was surprised, saddened and disappointed to see both lists were very similar, with not one book written by a non white person among the top 50.
However, a search on the UK’s population statistics showed that actually only 7.9% of the UK population is non white. That’s a tiny proportion. In real terms that’s 4.6 million, compared to the over 60 million population of the UK. If a country’s publishing industry is supposed to represent the interests of most of its readers, is it therefore wrong for the majority of the books published in the UK to be by, and about white people? Surely it’s a case of supply and demand? Unless we believe that the publishing industry is removing the element of choice by only supplying what they think will sell, and ignoring the work of non white authors writing about non white experience. I don’t know enough about the publishing industry to make a judgement on that. However, what I do know is that I would love to read more books by and about people who aren’t English, and I’d love to read more books set in the historical past of other countries. Are these books written? I don’t know; they might be, but I never get to hear of them. Perhaps they are written in their country of origin and just never translated, because they’re not considered marketable outside of their own nation. But, as Aarti says in her excellent post, aren’t all of us, regardless of how the colour of our skin compares to the majority of the rest of the population in the country we live in, entitled to be able to access literature that speaks to us, that speaks about us, and is written by people we can relate to? If so, is it right for a country’s publishing industry to be directly correlative to its population statistics? And, why is it assumed that white people don’t want to read about people from other ethnic backgrounds anyway?
I’d love to read your thoughts on this issue. I’m still trying to work out my own!