The Double Standard Applied to POC in the Book Community

This is a post largely inspired by what went on with Tomi Adeyemi and Nora Roberts.

If you’re not familiar with the situation, that’s fine. If you are, please don’t bring mob drama to my doorstep.

Because although this post draws on what happened between Tomi Adeyemi and Nora Roberts, there is a bigger takeaway outside of just “who was right” and “who was wrong” and the Twitter mob mentality.

It’s about race. It’s about privilege. It’s about knowing just how quick people are to cancel POC authors when one, small mistake is made.

And how this probably wouldn’t have happened to such a large scale if a white author made such a mistake.


I feel the need to put a bunch of disclaimers in:

  1. I was certainly nervous writing this, and then preparing to post it. Not only does it have the potential to bring mobs to my doorstep, but it can also bring hate my way for talking about something that I genuinely believe is an issue in our community. Be considerate.
  2. Knowing this, please understand if I close the comments section or take down this post completely. I do not want people using the comments section as a way to be racist. I will not tolerate people being racist in my comments section, nor will I tolerate harassment towards me or other commenters.
  3. If someone says “I don’t think this is a race issue” I’m going to scream. Literally.
  4. I took time and effort to educate people about this–for free–and I would once again appreciate it if you were respectful.

UPDATE: Also, please do not comment if the majority of your comment is about how Tomi Adeyemi was in the wrong. I know she made a mistake, and that’s not the point of this post, and by doing so, you’re deliberately taking discourse away from what’s really important. You’re bringing something minor into something that has a bigger picture + greater impact.

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SOMETHING I SEE SAID A LOT IS how POC have far fewer chances than white people to mess up, and I completely believe this is true.

We all saw how when white authors mess up (i.e. Keira Drake and The Continent [1]), they get hired sensitivity readers and are given a second chance to fix something that is super offensive and racist.

Very rarely are offensive books pulled, and even then it’s only at a lot of very loud voices from the publishing industry. Over 1000 people signed the open letter to Abrams about A Suicide Bomber Sits in the Library[2], and only after that happened did Abrams release a statement indicating that the offensive graphic novel would be withdrawn.

In the Vulture article about Keira Drake and The Continent (note how this article is somewhat biased in my opinion, but it presents some key points I want to touch on), Keira Drake, a white woman, got to call her editor and rewrite The Continent. Her editor also was apparently hesitant to send her the full feedback from the sensitivity readers as “they’d already put Drake through the wringer.”

However, A Birthday Cake for George Washington, another book with racist elements, was “written, edited and illustrated by people of color” and depicted smiling slaves preparing desserts, but was eventually “removed from bookstores.”

This isn’t to say that the George Washington book wasn’t racist (as yes, POC can be racist), yet I think it’s good to note how a book that is said to be created by people of color was pulled, but one by a white woman with a hefty advance was not.

I believe that even outside the publishing industry, POC in historically white positions are held to a higher standard and given less chances.

Let’s look at college–a topic I am (very stressed about and) quite familiar with. Top colleges are so hungry for diversity and that “perfect POC student” so they look diverse that they ended up accepting students with falsified records because they’re only willing to accept one type of perfect black student that feeds into their “diverse campus.”

The story of what happened with the kids from Landry [3] talks about how top colleges readily accepted black students with fake records who appeared to fit into that perfect nothing-to-something stereotype. (It also touches on the abuse and issues with what Landry was doing, but that’s not my main point.)

And although there are a lot of issues with the situation at Landry, I think it’s important to note how desperate certain industries (i.e. college admissions + publishing) are trying to increase diversity, yet they’re doing it selectively. They’re only looking for that “perfect POC student” or that “perfect POC author” and if you mess up? That’s it.

Selective diversity isn’t diversity. Giving POC less chances to mess up and less opportunities is not equality, and this double standard is harmful and something that I think that we need to address for the publishing community to truly open itself up.

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WE ALL KNOW that the stats look bleak.

 

Lee and Low (2015) [4], Publishers Weekly (2017/18) [5]–all the surveys show just how undiverse publishing is.

And the lack of diversity is a large reason why I believe the double standard for POC authors exists.

Because there are so few POC in the industry–as authors or working as pub professionals–they usually end up as tokens. As rare, and in many peoples’ eyes, representative of their whole race.

And that’s a harmful thing.

Because not only are POC human and they mess up just like any other author or worker, putting the responsibility of representing their whole race is how we end up with these double standards.

The industry is looking for any excuse to use white authors instead of POC. It’s what they’ve been doing for dozens of years, so if it ain’t broke, why fix it? (Hint: It is broke.)

POC authors now have to live up to perfect, unrealistic standards. They can’t mess up. They mess up, and publishing can find another POC to become their token, or replace them with a white author that’s been sitting in their back pocket.

Look now at Tomi Adeyemi. She made a genuine mistake about talking about an issue publicly, apologized and worked it out privately, and yet dozens (maybe hundreds) of people are blacklisting her work and harassing her just because of one tweet [6 & 7]. She didn’t mention the similar titles ever, yet people are accusing her of being ignorant enough to do the same thing that woman who tried to copyright “Cocky” did.

People are so quick to pounce and criticize on POC women, and I’m honestly so tired to keep seeing this happen.

Sure, you can say “Vicky, but we don’t know that people wouldn’t have reacted this way to a white author.”

And yes. We don’t know. But I choose to believe race is a factor. After watching how quick people are to blacklist her, how offended they are at a situation that doesn’t really involve them, and how quick they are to pounce and criticize on things that she never said, I believe this is more than people put into a tizzy over a simple faux pas.

You might even look back at your thought process and still believe that you were justified in blacklisting her, and that race had no play in your decision to blacklist her. And there are probably people out there who would have done exactly the same in a situation with a white woman, but I also stand by my belief that there are many more people out there who wouldn’t have reacted so harshly to a white woman.

Subconscious racism is a thing, and it’s still as much as a problem as overt racism.

People were fine boosting Tomi Adeyemi when she had the hype, but with one small mistake? Blacklisted forever.

There is no true data on what would have happened if Tomi was white. But I think this still highlights a issue and I personally believe that race does play a factor.

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THE DOUBLE STANDARD EXISTS because we expect POC to operate at higher standards than white authors. Because we tokenize them and turn POC into the perfect model for their entire race, which holds them to higher standards than white authors. And because there are so few POC in the industry yet so many POC in the real world that publishing views them as replaceable.

The publishing industry has had years to accustom itself to forgiving white authors for their mistakes–whether it’s a small faux pas or writing something racist or being a sexual harasser. Diversity is basically a new concept in publishing, and we’re expecting POC to prove their worth, which we shouldn’t be doing. We should give POC the same leniency we give white authors.

Yet we don’t.

We’re expecting POC to be perfect all the time and if they’re not? Then publishing can throw them out and find another–they let so few POC authors into the industry it’s alarming.

I think the only thing that we regular people can do about this is evaluate ourselves and our actions. Dig deep, examine how we look at things, how we react in some situations and other situations. Examine how you might be supporting diverse authors because you think it’s a trend, even though diversity should not be a trend.

This post probably made dozens of people uncomfortable by making them think about examining their reactions and action. But what I ask of you is to push through the discomfort, push through your insisting that this “isn’t a race problem” and really look at yourself and those subtle actions that can make the book community so harsh to POC creators.

much love, vicky

Your thoughts?

No racism will be tolerated, nor will harassment towards me or other commenters. Also, don’t say that “I don’t think this is a race problem.” Please stay respectful and understand if I close the comments section.

Also, remember that this isn’t about Tomi vs. Nora and I don’t want comments focusing on that in this post. Please stay focused on the bigger picture and not fall prey to petty arguments. I do know that Tomi made mistakes and I acknowledge so. That’s not the point of this post.

SOURCES

[1] Keira Drake and Can You Revise a Book to Make It More Woke? on Vulture (note that this source is kind of biased in my opinion, but it obviously states some key facts.)

[2] Episode 40! A Suicide Bomber Sits in the Library: Conversation with Samira Ahmed, PART 1 on the Kid Lit Women Podcast

[3] Louisiana School Made Headlines for Sending Black Kids to Elite Colleges. Here’s the Reality on the New York Times

[4] Where Is the Diversity in Publishing? The 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey Results on Lee and Low (2015)

[5] The PW Publishing Industry Salary Survey, 2018 on Publishers Weekly (2017/18)

[6] Tomi Adeyemi’s Original Tweet Receipts

[7] Tomi Adeyemi’s Update Tweet

28 thoughts on “The Double Standard Applied to POC in the Book Community

  1. This is extremely well written and I appreciate the amount of time you spent providing sources and further reading! This is such an important conversation and it’s definitely not the first time I’ve seen an AOC get blacklisted unfairly for something over twitter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It’s a real shame how AOC get blacklisted so quickly, even when it’s one tiny mistake, yet the book community lets sexual harassers and other harmful figures run rampant.

      Like

  2. This was really an eye opening post. I see parallels in the LGBTIAP+ community, not of authors themselves, but higher standards for the books. If it isn’t Great it doesn’t do well even though there’s worse straight books that do better.
    All authors have a brand they have to maintain and a debut poc author isn’t as strong as white established authors. It will be interesting to see if this affects the rest of her career.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! Yeah, for queer authors especially, sometimes there’s this standard because of the suffocating nature of OwnVoices that makes it even worse for them because they might not be out yet.

      I really hope it doesn’t affect her career, but I definitely think she lost some fans from it, unfortunately.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This was really a post that gave me new insight on the events, and extremely well-written as well as eloquent as always! You truly have some extremely valid points that we should all come away with.

    Though I do understand that we all make mistakes, the big issue I had was how Tomi handled the situation. Her apology felt a little hollow, and Tomi did not stop her fans from attacking Nora Roberts. The situation overall and the whole cause of the situation also made me extremely uncomfortable and a little wary, to be honest.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yeah–that’s definitely true and I do wish she did a lot of things differently. Yet I don’t think it’s something people should blacklist her completely for, especially when it’s minor compared to some other authors’ status as overtly racist or sexual harassers. And thank you for the kind words!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is such a well-written post, Vicky, and I admire you so much for having the courage to share your thoughts about this topic! ❤️ I had some experience receiving a lot of hate for a discussion post I wrote a little while ago (a lot of my points were sadly misinterpreted and taken out of context), so I completely understand how frightening it is to share a post that could receive backlash.

    I definitely agree with the points you brought up regarding selective diversity and how it makes it difficult for POC authors to maintain this impossible standard that’s been set. The moment they make a mistake, it’s as if they’re blacklisted forever. Although I don’t like the way Tomi handled her apology, I think it’s highly unfair and unfortunate how quickly others jumped on her. We’re human, we all make mistakes. To discredit everything this author is and what she’s done because of one error is truly sad.

    Wonderful post! 💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I understand that! And I definitely think Tomi did things wrong, yet the backlash is really sharp for something as small as what happened, unfortunately. Thanks, Kelly!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I missed this drama, so I took a couple of minutes to go google it before reading this post. This is a very eye-opening post about the publishing industry, and I do believe this argument would have been received differently by the public if it had been between Nora Roberts and another white person. I don’t think Tomi Adeyemi handled the situation well (for the little I’ve seen), but there is a double standard in publishing. Thank you for writing this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think you’re totally right.

    I’m always trying to be self-aware when it comes to who I choose to blacklist for myself and if they’re a POC I ask myself if I would be so quick to blacklist a white author for the same mistake.

    It frustrates me to no end that other white people will blacklist Tomi Adeyemi for this, which honestly is so small in comparison to problematic behavior coming from white authors, but will look past a white author being racist, sexist or homophobic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah! I think that’s a good policy, and seeing some of the people (romance ppl I get, but YA readers?) blacklist her so quickly is just really harmful in general.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is an incredibly well written post, thank you so much (as always) for tackling difficult and important topics so eloquently.

    “SOMETHING I SEE SAID A LOT IS how POC have far fewer chances than white people to mess up, and I completely believe this is true.”

    I am going to be honest: due to the privilege that I have and benefit from, I did to not notice the racial component of the Tomi and Nora issues and how it is indicative of a great issue until you mentioned it. And once I read your post it was one of those moments where the lightbulb went off in my mind to say ‘of course… how did you not notice this before?’

    While I am sure that some of the people to blacklist Tomi because of this would have done the same if it were a white author, you honestly cannot deny that a white debut author would have gotten a lot more general support from people in the backlash. And that double standard is a problem. This situation just shines a light on how the POC doublestandard is at play, and the only way to change the implicit biases we have that enable this standard is to sit with this discomfort and challenge the the unconscious bias that feeds into it.

    Thank you, Vicky, for helping me learn and become a better ally.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Kaleena! This comment completely made my day, and I’m glad you learned something from my post! I definitely think some people would have blacklisted her if she was white, but I agree that a white debut author would not have had the same intenseness of a negative response.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Absolutely right. As the rare Asian person in the publishing industry this is something I’ve been aware of for years and although I’m not in a position to change anything, I have a lot of hope (just by existing in this space) that things will change. It’s not just publishing or the book community though. In all industries in the west if you are a POC you have to be the best of the best. It’s only straight white men who get to be mediocre.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yeah, that’s definitely true and the double standards extend to other industries. although I have a friend who’s a banker and she says around 50% of the people are POC, so that’s a little more reassuring? still not great, though :/

      Like

  9. Ah Vicky, I’m a bit late to this post but this was such a well written and needed post. My thoughts on what happened were actually biased towards Tomi in a way, I’d had the pleasure of meeting her at the book signing for CoBaB before she made a mistake and honestly I was just stunned at seeing how quick everyone was to blacklist her. I guess in a way I shouldn’t have been as stunned but I guess I just expected people to understand that we ALL make mistakes. We’re human, we are gonna slip up and our mistakes have consequences.

    Whilst I have privilege (and recognise this) thanks to this community my eyes have been opened immensely and they keep being opened each day, thanks to people like yourself, who have the courage to tackle topics others may shy away from. If I’m being totally honest, when I heard about the Tomi vs Nora thing, my first thought when I read through things saw comments was: If the roles were reversed, and Nora had made a mistake, would you all be pouncing on her? Would you all be backing Tomi up? I believe that they’d not have pounced on Nora the same way they had on Tomi which to me indicates double standards POC are being held to, which you talked about in this post.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write this post and publish it ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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