When you get unsolicited advice from a stranger, it’s best not to react hastily. I’m trying to coordinate a symposium in Toronto next year; right now it’s tentatively called “Still Searching for Mirrors: Multicultural Children’s Literature in Canada.” I made up an outline in which I ask some questions and fill in some blanks; I’ve listed possible panels and filled them with librarians, scholars, authors, educators, and activists. I emailed this outline to a bunch of people in Canada, and so far I’ve either gotten a positive response or no response at all (mostly the latter). This morning a well-intending individual responded to my request for help by suggesting that I should “be careful in calling Canadian publishing racist.” He went on to point to one particular Canadian press that he thinks is doing “some pretty amazing stuff.” [ETA: didn’t I just say something about not being too hasty? my bad—I didn’t send him the outline (though I did offer); I sent my standard query email in which I noted that I had recently been “focusing on racism in the children’s publishing industry in Canada.” So he wasn’t responding specifically to my panel title, but to my focus as a blogger.]
It might surprise him to know that I also have respect for that particular press—which is why I didn’t call that press “racist.” In fact, I didn’t call ANYONE racist. Ever since seeing that great Ill Doctrine video on differentiating between people and their behavior, I’ve tried to be diplomatic and refrain from saying so-and-so or such-and-such press is “racist.” JSmooth is right—when you do that, everybody gets up in arms and falls all over themselves rushing to defend so-and-so or such-and such press who couldn’t possibly be racist! Of course, not calling someone racist doesn’t mean you’re willing to erase racism from the conversation. It just means you’re choosing to focus on the particular behaviors or practices that are creating inequity based on race.
The panel in question is actually titled, “Responding to Racism in the Canadian Publishing Industry.” In my mind, this suggests a few things:
1. Racism exists in the Canadian publishing industry. See my stats here.
2. People are actively responding to this situation (not languishing as victims), and we can probably learn from their example if we’re seeking to develop strategies for creating greater equity. I thought it would help to hear from self-published authors of color and those who started their own press rather than deal with the traditional system.
3. Those “people” responding to racism may also include certain outstanding publishers—like the “pretty amazing” one mentioned before, and the newly formed McKellar & Martin—that recognize we’ve got a long way to go before publishers truly serve all the young readers in Canada.
We’ve already established that I’m not a “sweet” person; I’m a Scorpio, I can be hard-headed, and I resent the implication that the potential sensitivity of Canadian publishers ought to be a factor in designing this symposium. Of course, I do want them to participate, but if they refuse on the grounds that I called them racist—when I didn’t—then they probably weren’t worth inviting anyway. I’ve been having a productive (and highly entertaining) conversation with a black woman publisher in Canada (yes, that’s right—there’s a black woman publisher in Canada!) and hope to feature her and her press in the not-too-distant future. For now, I’ve got an abstract to finish…