by April Powers
Happy Women’s History Month to those observing in the US, UK, and Australia. We hope that you will share our Celebrate Women Reading List; and boost the uproariously funny Black History Month event that the SCBWI hosted. If you can imagine all of your favorites – Kwame Alexander, Jerry Craft, Van G. Garrett, Lamar Giles, Kwame Mbalia, Breanna J. McDaniel, Oge Mora, Karyn Parsons, and Alicia D. Williams battling it out in a free Family Feud-inspired trivia night celebrating Black history, you will be in for a treat. We included the question graphics for anyone to play at home, but this will only be available for a few more weeks!
Though we had so many enthusiastic responses, we did hear that the Winter Conference “left me feeling deflated because there was so much focus on diversity that it left me thinking there was no room for a white, upper class female writer who has had every advantage under the sun.” And “how can you say you’re inclusive and you’re striving for equity when you exclude other people” at socials or events?
Feeling excluded hurts. We know that our biological response to being excluded can be very powerful, especially at a time when so many of us crave connection. Though race is a social construct, history shows us that many who continue to be excluded in any industry do better when they have a space to call their own.
Though we have hosted events intended to shine a light on underrepresented people while including everyone (“allies/co-conspirators”), to some, it has felt like an observation tank or a place to find an expert reader rather than a safe space where creators can be themselves without judgement. It takes extra energy for people to code-switch in order to fit in with majority culture, energy that could be better used creatively. While maintaining exclusive safe spaces for those who are underrepresented, the SCBWI also looks forward to creating more opportunities for member connection based on genre and other craft-focused meetups.
The social justice movement has prompted so much introspection that to ignore this in our conference would have been disingenuous and unfair to you, our members. We want you to know what the industry is thinking, doing, hoping to achieve. The US publishing industry, along with many others, has been taking a hard look equity and inclusion for several years but has not significantly moved the needle for underrepresented creators. Does this mean there is no room for creators from dominant cultures? On the contrary, we have seen that the numbers haven’t really moved much. But if we don’t discuss it, they never will.
BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disabled, marginalized religious communities, and others have always and continue to ask “is there room for me?” In the US, white Americans* make up less than 60% of the population but considerably more in the publishing industry. If we thought of the world as 100 people, BIPOC people would be the global majority.
The SCBWI appreciates all of you who understand this journey and how it will improve the quality of children’s books. Creators, publishers, books, editors, agents, leaders should reflect the world in which we live, not simply those who have disproportionately had access. As our population grows, so too does the demand for great children’s literature. We strive to offer you the best tools to create it. There is plenty of room on the bookshelf; and if there’s not, let’s build a bigger shelf.
*Please note that I refer to US numbers because we focus our expertise on the US publishing industry and currently the largest region for the SCBWI is in the USA.