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Ode to whiteness: British poetry scene fails diversity test

24 May 2018

From The Guardian:

The British poetry world is “failing to meet even the most basic measurements of inclusivity”, according to a new report which highlights the “systemic exclusion” of poets and critics of colour from UK and Irish poetry magazines.

Collecting data from 29 magazines and websites including PN Review, Poetry Review, the Guardian and Oxford Poetry, the study found that between 2012 and 2018, 9% of almost 20,000 published poems were by poets of colour. Of the 1,819 poems, 502 were published in a single magazine, Modern Poetry in Translation; if this is taken out of the equation, only 7% of poems were by poets of colour. The study, conducted by poetry reviewer and blogger Dave Coates for Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics, points out that in contrast, at the 2011 census, 12.9% of the UK population identified as black and minority ethnic (BME).

When the study analysed the race of poetry critics, it found an even starker divide: of almost 3,000 articles written over the period, just 5% were by critics of colour. While around 46% of poems and articles published were by female or non-binary poets and critics, the study found that male critics were twice as likely to review other men than women – a figure that rose to three times as likely at the Guardian, four times at PN Review, and five times at Modern Poetry in Translation.

. . . .

Parmar said the report had already had an impact, with newspapers including the Guardian and the TLS committing to commissioning more critics of colour. She pointed to the effect of a 2005 report which found that less than 1% of poets published by a major press in the UK were black or Asian; following the launch of diversity mentoring scheme The Complete Works, that figure now stands at almost 10%.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Perhaps PG is from the wrong generation, but he instinctively finds race-based decision-making to be repellant.

Particularly during an era in which the access to readers has been thrown wide open via ebooks and self-publishing (plus anybody can put up a website regardless of any identity consideration other than whether their name is on a credit card), considering what lineage an author claims or what sexual orientation the author espouses instead of what words the author has placed on an electronic or paper page hearkens back to the “one drop of negro blood” and apartheid-era rules for PG.

Explicit or defacto quotas based on race, gender or any other characteristic other than whether an author writes in a manner which is pleasing to this or that audience will invariably devolve into rent-seeking for an increasing number of self-defined groups that, in one way or another, have managed to persuade parts of the general public that, historically, others like them have suffered from discrimination.

PG suggests once you start down a road of reparations for an historic wrong, you raise a perpetual question of how large such reparations are, how long they must be paid and to whom they should be paid.

Must every manuscript or book include a description of groups subject to historic wrongs to which the author belongs? Or do we make an automatic assumption that if the author doesn’t affirmatively claim membership in one or more of such groups, the author is a member of a currently disfavored group?

Non-US

20 Comments to “Ode to whiteness: British poetry scene fails diversity test”

  1. Let the story/poetry stand/fall on its own merits, not on the person that wrote it.

    Those that worry about things other than the words or meter obviously didn’t enjoy/get into the story/poetry (or maybe they are just too small-minded to look beyond the person putting together the words …)

  2. Terrence OBrien

    Collecting data from 29 magazines and websites including PN Review, Poetry Review, the Guardian and Oxford Poetry, the study found that between 2012 and 2018, 9% of almost 20,000 published poems were by poets of colour.

    OK. So what?

    • The question is whether they were cherry-picking mags/sites to make the numbers go which way?

      I know there are a couple sites/bookstores that the numbers would go the other way as they cater to ‘color’ at the expense of those that are not …

  3. Felix J. Torres

    Could it be that poets “of color” prefer to exercise their creativity through other outlets? Or other media?

  4. You mean like that one trying to get HBO to pay him for a shot of a trashcan he’d tagged? (too lazy to check to see if tagger was ‘of color’ but if he wasn’t then I’m sure the SJWs would have been all over his butt for stealing ‘culture’ from others …)

    ((Yes, me be insensitive to other peoples’ sensitivities – as others have said, ‘Pull up your big girl/boy pants and get over yourselves!’ 😉 ))

  5. Like cultural appropriation, this is a serious infection of the body of quality literature which, if not stopped, will eventually lead to its denigration if not its demise. The only criterion for publication should be merit. Trouble is, under the Trojan Horse of gender/race equality this movement is attempting to re-define the elements which comprise good literature to include a pastiche of puerile thought – a spontaneous recording the first things that comes into authors’ heads and calling it art. God help us all.

    • Felix J. Torres

      Around these parts the only valid criterion for publication is the author’s willingness to click “UPLOAD”. 😀

      Which is something a whole lot of “people of color” in the US have been doing for years. I would not be surprised if something similar were going on in Britain. These days the only reason to suffer the biases of the gatekeeping establishment is if you *want* to be gatekept.

    • The only criterion for publication should be merit.

      Publishing is a business. The criterion is profit potential.

  6. The problem here with the establishment is the confirmation bias that people assume that white folks (esp. men) are more skilled. Rather like how Oxbridge isn’t admitting very many BAME students.

    Ideally, yes, it would only be about merit, but when you’re looking to publish traditionally (and yes, loads of ppl don’t these days), someone who is BAME already has systemic racism to overcome in the publishing industry, on top of being a fantastic poet.

    • Strange, but in every piece I’ve submitted, not one asked what race I am. I can only conclude the editors chose or declined my work based on the ms and their needs.

      • In romance publishing, it has been quite clear, especially lately. That’s only one example.

        • If it’s “quite clear,” you must have bushels of examples of minority writers who were rejected because of their race. “Yes, we could publish you and make a million, but we don’t like the color of your skin.”

    • I always like how ‘someone who is BAME already has systemic racism to overcome’ is always assumed to be the reason for everything BAME thinks is holding them back. As for Oxbridge, do you have the numbers of BAME trying to get in that have as good as or better grades than the non-BAME that are getting in?

      It’s a bit like when I was working the tech world, we didn’t get a tenth of the females applying that we got males so of course the office reflected this, but it wasn’t some ‘systemic THING to overcome’, it was just what we had to work with.

      If I send in a story using the name A. B. Cash, the publisher has no idea race/sex/personal persuasion, they can only judge the story by how it’s written. Of course if I’ve written it in a way to annoy or offend most readers, then they may not want to pick it up – even if my name was Steven King.

      As another Anonymous posted above: “Publishing is a business. The criterion is profit potential.”

      No matter your race/sex/personal persuasion, that’s what they’re looking for. The problem is that they have no idea what really has profit potential. (Which is why so many here are self publishing – if your stories take off the publishers come to you – though they still seem to be offering poor returns and crap contracts …)

      • Why are you assuming that automatically BAME will have lower grades (in the case of Oxbridge) than white students? Publishers and Oxbridge are demonstrating their confirmation bias, and it’s quite apparent that it’s biased against BAME.

        • Oh, I’m ‘not’ assuming lower grades, there are plenty of other reasons why someone doesn’t go to Oxbridge.

          Do you by chance have numbers proving that non-BAME with lower than BAME grades are being accepted? Then you have something to talk about.

          As pointed out below, Britain’s BAME is about 8% or so, so all things being equal we’d expect 8%, except it doesn’t take into account how many of those 8% ‘want’ to go to/have the grades/can afford to go to Oxbridge.

          Same thing goes for writing, how many BAME are trying to write/can actually write/have written something publishers think they can sell?

          By the way, non-BAME here, I didn’t have the grades or funds to even try for Oxbridge, and I self-published because it beats the heck out of trying to eat rejections slips (I hear that Harry Potter writer ate over a hundred of them before getting a chance.)

          Something happening/not happening isn’t quite as black and white as you seem to think it is, there are many shades of grey.

  7. Given that Britain’s Black and ethnic minority population is approximately 8% of the total population I’m not sure how the numbers could be anything but what they are.

    Or am I missing something here?

  8. For sure we’ve come a long way from the times when discrimination was de facto. However, when it comes to writing, and a manuscript or poetry is submitted for publication, does that writing says “I am of color?” Even if the writing itself is about color people, nothing in the writing says what is the race of the author. Unless the publishers actively research the race of the writer, where is the discrimination? The quality of the writing is color blind. And articles like this one has the opposite effect on me. Talent, smarts, hard work is demeaned, for the sake of a false belief in equality of mediocrity.
    Probably this article was written by a white person, who was thought in school to hate their race, their country, and their ancestors. Long live anarchy.

  9. Ha, ha, ha. This reminds me of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman passing as a black woman.

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