The chicken came first.
By Bianca Reagan on December 16, 2008
On Race and YA Lit, by Neesha Meminger, Racialicious.
. . . years ago when I was submitting my first (admittedly awful) manuscript to agents, some of the nicest rejections I received were accompanied with, “Your novel has much to love, but regrettably, we already have an Asian author for our list.”
Now I understand The Brushoff – I’ve provided plenty of those in my life and do not resent or judge other providers of same. But to be satisfied with ONE author representing an entire continent that consists of countries as varied as Korea, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan, and Nepal? Seriously?
All you have to do is stroll through the aisles of a bookstore to see that the fantasy, mystery, romance genres are stocked full. And not with fantasy, mystery, or romance by authors of Color. Those, if and when they exist, often get stocked in the African-American, Native-American, Asian-American, Latin-American, or Multicultural sections.
Given the choices that agents, publishers, and major bookstores make about what they acquire and how they promote it, does the market inform what gets published?
Or does what gets published actually inform the market?
It's the latter.
This week I had a related discussion with one of my male colleagues [Hello, and please leave a comment!] about women in television. It is the same argument I have with many male people about the representation of women in American media. Their side usually goes like this:
"I see women in television all the time. There's Lifetime, WE, Oxygen. Men only have Spike. Even though men comprise the leads on almost every scripted and nonscripted series on television, along with almost all the substantial secondary roles, that reflects the demand of the audience. If women demanded more TV shows about women, then networks would produce them. Studios and networks don't want to lose money. You shouldn't blame them for producing programming for men, by men and about men (specifically white, ostensibly heterosexual and Christian men) because that's what audiences want. Why do you hate capitalism?"
That was a compilation of sentiments, not direct quotes. During my last conversation like this, I wanted to start screaming and throwing things. It usually takes my Dirty Girls story to get the other person to accept that I have a valid, informed position about media representation, despite the fact that I've been writing about this for over two years and I have a degree in film production . But by that point in the discussion, the other person is irritated by a multitude of issues, mainly the fact that I won't back down because I know what I'm talking about.
Each time I have this conversation, I try to get better at it. Yet it still amazes me when people are oblivious to their own privilege and the effects that it has on everyone else. Which leads to the screaming inside my head.
Lack of demand does lead to certain shows getting canceled and certain books not flying off the shelves. However, if the people who control the supply of media don't believe that certain demographics exist (or would prefer that certain demographics didn't exist at all), the audience can never demand what they don't know about.
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