In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the months of protesting that followed, the publishing industry has decided to take into account the role they play in systematic racism and how they have been uplifting those systems that benefit it and white privilege. As a young Black woman pursuing a career in the publishing industry, this is something I am glad to hear. I recently decided to spend some time learning about the diversity efforts that have been happening in the publishing industry, but unfortunately, I walked away incredibly disappointed.
I found that even though the earliest diversity efforts started in the early 1990s, there has been minimal progress. The highlight of my research was discovering that someone had finally started to quantify the industry’s diversity progress. Lee & Low tracked the diversity in employees from numerous publishers and reported the data every four years. The two surveys published so far, the first in 2015 and the second in 2019, show that there has been very little progress.
Even though it’s disappointing, it’s just data. Right? While accurate to an extent, there could be a change in the atmosphere and experience for BIPOC coming into the industry. Luckily I was given the opportunity to have a conversation with someone who was in my shoes just a few years ago and now works in the publishing industry. When I asked her about her experiences, I was hopeful that she’d share insights that would give me a little hope about coming into the industry.
Our conversation was inspirational, and I’m grateful for the advice she gave and the help she offered. Something she said that really stuck with me was that when she spoke with other BIPOC professionals, a common thread between their experiences was that they all had a friend, mentor, or some sort of foot in the door that got them their first position, unlike her white counterparts who were typically able to just apply and get a position. This is part of the experience that wasn’t taken into consideration in the survey’s data. These are the interpersonal experiences that can only be learned about when you listen.
This commonality among BIPOC publishing professionals is not a coincidence. Unfortunately, there are many obstacles in the way for a person who looks like me, and while I recognize the level of privilege I have that got me to this program—being able to afford college, having a family that didn’t need me to work immediately after high school, etc.—I wish privilege wasn’t needed at all. I wish that we lived in a world where anyone whose desire is to work in the publishing world—or any industry for that matter—could have the resources and ability to follow that passion. However, we do not live in that utopia. As we work together to make this industry better for everyone, I will continue to take up space and soak up all of the experiences that I can for those who look like me but couldn’t make it to the seat next to me.