A Different Kind of Book Banning

So! Now we would like to talk about something more serious than poor old Alice and her mayonnaise hair! Which is racism! As the ever-astute Nathan Bransford noted this week, banning books in the age of the internet is largely a symbolic act, one which rarely prevents kids from getting their hands on those books and which can even lead to a huge spike in sales for the banned book in question (as demonstrated last week by Speak's impressive jump in Amazon sales rankings, thanks to the publicity campaign by new Rejectionist bestie Dr. Scroggins (in solidarity: The Rejectionist officially bans all books by Carleen Brice! Get purchasing, people!)).

But what about books that are banned in a different, and far more insidious way? Perennially brilliant bloggers and writers Zetta Elliott and Doret of Happy Nappy Bookseller put together a list of YA books by US authors of African descent this year, and the results are pretty staggering (even to us, and we would consider ourself someone who is, at this point, entirely unsurprised by rampant industry-wide douchebaggery). Out of the ALA's estimated 3,000 YA titles published annually in the US, want to know how many of those were by black authors in 2010?


Yep, sixty.

So: that's pretty fucking sad. The statistics for 2009, gathered by the CCBC* and also covering books by Latino, American Indian, and Asian/Pacific Islander writers, are even more depressing.

Like Zetta, we are pretty tired of talking about this. Racism: it is boring. There are only so many different ways a person can say KNOCK THAT SHIT OFF AND PONY UP TO THE REAL WORLD, PUBLISHING. We are tired enough of talking about it as a white person, who does not in any way, shape or form have to deal with that level of discrimination in an industry we hope to make a career in; we cannot even imagine what it is like to be a writer of color looking at those odds. This is an issue not just shaped by consumers--hardly, since youth of color are literally clamoring to see themselves represented more fully on the printed page. It's an issue shaped from the top down, by an industry that is horrifyingly monochrome.

Zetta has come up with a great list of actions you can take, including asking YA bloggers you follow to spotlight some of these books and requesting your local schools and libraries order them. We would add to that list only this: this is industry-wide, and it is real, and it is our job to BELIEVE PEOPLE WHEN THEY SAY THAT RACISM IS HAPPENING. Can we put that in larger caps please? DON'T ARGUE WITH THAT SHIT. Just ASK WHAT YOU CAN DO. There is no excuse for not publishing writers of color, for not putting the same marketing dollars behind writers regardless of their race, for bullshit lines like "these books don't sell." These books don't sell because they are unpromoted, unsupported, and passed over by chain stores when they have people of color on the covers. Not because black and brown people don't know how to put a fucking sentence together.

Let's not forget the stories that aren't being allowed to be told, and let's raise our voices in solidarity to demand a space for them in the world of books. The entire internet got behind Laurie Halse Anderson last week, and it was pretty awesome. We have the power to make change when we demand it, Author-friends, so let's ALL START DEMANDING.

*The number of books published in these stats includes picture books, which the ALA's estimate does not.