The Writing the Future report, commissioned by writer development agency Spread the Word and to be launched at the London Book Fair on Thursday, found that the “best chance of publication” for a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) writer was to write literary fiction conforming to a stereotypical view of their communities, addressing topics such as “racism, colonialism or post-colonialism as if these were the primary concerns of all BAME people”, said the report’s author Danuta Kean.
Even though the books market today is dominated by mass-market fiction, 42% of respondents from a BAME background wrote literary fiction, compared to 27% of white writers, the report found. Crime, by contrast, one of today’s biggest selling genres, only accounted for 4% of BAME novelists’ output, compared to 16% of work by white writers.
“Writers find that they are advised by agents and editors to make their manuscripts marketable in this country by upping the sari count, dealing with gang culture or some other image that conforms to white preconceptions,” writes Kean.
–Diversity in the UK.
In other words: white people don’t want to read about people of colour unless those people are presented to white people for consumption on white people’s terms.
In other other words: white people do not want to read about people of colour in roles and situations white people believe should be reserved for white people only.
Note that words like “believe” and “want” here don’t necessarily refer to conscious maliciousness on the part of white readers, editors, agents, and publishers. But they do represent a dangerous sort of cultural narrative everyone needs to not just be aware of, but to actively deconstruct.
Narratives exploring racism, colonialism or post-colonialism are important, yes. But sometimes everyone just wants to see people who look like they do save the world and get the boy/girl/etc. without having to deal with all the heavy Really Real World shit. That narrative has value, too, and shutting it out–even unconsciously–has consequences.