Tokenism in Books Led a Father to Self-Publish Stories for His Mixed-Race Sons.

From The BBC:

Suhmayah Banda, from Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, said he wanted to write stories that “would allow my kids to see characters that look like them”.

A report for the Book Trust said one third of black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) authors and illustrators in the UK self-publish.

That compares with 11% of white authors and illustrators.

“As a family we read a lot together, and there are so many varied characters out there – animals, monsters, cars, firemen,” said Mr Banda, who is originally from Cameroon.

“But when it comes to ethnically diverse, in my case black or mixed characters, there is just not that much choice out there.”

A study by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education in 2017 found only 1% of children’s books published that year in the UK had a BAME main character, and only 4% included BAME background characters.

The 2011 census found 14% of people in England and Wales were non-white. In Wales the figure was 4.5%.

. . . .

[O]ne of the catalysts for his first story was a comment Tancho made after reading a book in school.

“He came home from school one day and told me that people in Africa don’t have water in their houses. And as an African, and a Cameroonian specifically, I was a little surprised,” he said.

“I was like, ‘Really? All of Africa?’…there are a lot of people who have and don’t have things everywhere in the world, so I didn’t like that generalisation.

“Books are the first exposure a lot of kids and adults have to the wider world. And if those books are always written to the same narrative, in many cases misleading or wrong narratives, then it is dangerous on a lot of levels.

“And I wanted to expose my kids, and hopefully others, to a lot more perspectives.”

. . . .

Mr Banda, whose day-to-day job is in IT, is sceptical about efforts in the publishing industry to improve representation.

“They have a lot of competitions going on about promoting diversity. I find them flawed at best….

“You end up having a black or ethnically diverse character put in a story that doesn’t really reflect their reality. A lot of the time that is just tokenism,” he added.

. . . .

Aimee Felone, who co-founded publishing company Knights Of, shares Mr Banda’s frustration with much of the sector.

The company’s starting point was to hire “as widely and diversely as possible to make sure the books we publish give windows into as many worlds as possible”.

It has just published its first novel, a children’s murder mystery where the detectives are two young black sisters in London and, in October, they will be publishing a story about a character who is hard of hearing.

They purposefully chose a deaf editor to work on it, to make sure the story was “genuine and authentic”.

. . . .

In her view, the approach of the industry to BAME stories often grouped together non-white people from different backgrounds.

“I think what is missed is that there are different challenges that are faced within each community,” she said.

“We’re not looking at representations of Asian women, Chinese women [for example], we’re just putting everyone together in one box [and saying] ‘Oh look we have a BAME character’.

“What does that actually mean? Whose story are we actually telling?”

Link to the rest at The BBC

PG is skeptical that traditional publishing can move beyond tokenism given the background of 99% of its employees ranging from unpaid interns to the CEO. Of course, traditional publishing also deals with traditional book stores which have the same problems.

PG suggests the possibility that indie authors who self-publish may be the only avenue by which authentic voices can actually reach readers.

16 thoughts on “Tokenism in Books Led a Father to Self-Publish Stories for His Mixed-Race Sons.”

  1. I read that as “Tolkienism” and couldn’t figure out what the article was trying to say. Time for more coffee! lol.

  2. The 2011 census found 14% of people in England and Wales were non-white.

    If one accepts the idea that people want books about people who look like themselves, then it sounds like the publishers are producing for the 86% rather than the 14%. I doubt the publishers have any reason to change that.

    If we further accept the “Looks like me” idea, there is no BAME character. One would have to write an Asian character, and blacks wouldn’t like that because they don’t look like Asians. Nor would Asians like black characters because they don’t look like blacks. So publishers would have to target ever shrinking slices of the BAME population so books look like the specific variety of BAME.

    And authentic voices? What’s an inauthentic voice? Whose voice is inauthentic?

  3. ::smh:: Same ‘ole Terrence.

    Oh, by the way, I noticed you didn’t contnue your normal spiel the other day wben you were complaining about Anazon removing certain political books from the site. How ironic when it’s something you’re interested in it suddenly becomes a problem. Otherwise, it’s the same tone deafness you always bring to a discussion–“Capatilism is king. The pusuit of money is God. Thank God for both.”

    Step outside yourself and see things from someone elses perspective sometimes.

    • God Bless Captalism and the 86%, for they have brought more prosperity to more people than any system in history.

      • I never hear anyone saying, “It was way better in communist Russia than it is in America…”

        I do hear plenty of people bashing capitalism. It’s not like there are more people now than in all of history, who have been lifted out of poverty and disease, and enjoy freedom at unparalleled levels because of capitalism.

        Oh wait, it’s exactly like that.

  4. I find the BBC’s presentation rather misleading as it hardly makes it clear – save for a somewhat indirect reference towards the end of the story – that the report is about children’s books rather than the totality of publishing. I suspect that this market means that e-books – the staple of modern self publishing – are largely excluded.

    In fact, the whole Book Trust report reads as if it is about the faults of the traditional publishing industry with the solutions being based on changing how that industry operates. The reference to “self publishing” comes with a footnote saying it also includes “hybrid publishers”, which is to say that authors are paying upfront fees to what are often no more than vanity publishers (though these are only a small proportion of the self published group).

    I’m not sure how even the existence of the self published works is established. I guess it depends on the quality of the British Library database that is being used (and about which I am totally ignorant) It is not really made clear but the greater part of the self published works are presumably using POD via KDP or Lulu or the like.

    And of course, as is always the case the statistics need to be taken with a large pinch of salt due to the normal problems of classifying the authors ethnicity and so on.

    • “I find the BBC’s presentation rather misleading …”

      It’s that way for a reason – it would be bad for their masters if they explained things in such a way that the average reader might understand.

      • I’m not sure it’s an explicit policy so much as ingrained corporate culture. News media sees itself as being in the publishing business (a legacy of the news magazine days) and most of their writers have book writing ambitions. (Won’t do to annoy the acquisition editors and get blacklisted.) They are effectively embedded in the tradpub world and see everything through their eyes.
        So for them “publishing” = “BPH” and tradpub zombie memes are gospel.

  5. Folks, it’s time to accept the mainstream media does not see Indies as part of the publishing industry. Too deeply in bed with the publishers. All they see is the honest tradpubs, the vanity presses, and the BPHs, which reside somewhere in the middle.

    So yes, all these diversity screeds are about “reforming” tradpub, not about evading it. Frontal assaults against the bastions of the entrenched powers rather than bypassing their Maginot Line and going direct to market. Even when they talk “self-publishing” they’re still talking about the old school vanity presses rather than POD.

    Those are not the lessons you’re looking for. Move along. Move along.

    • “Those are not the lessons you’re looking for. Move along. Move along.”

      Sure they are. The lesson to learn is that to them if it didn’t go through a real ‘we take a cut’ publishing middleman it’s not real publishing – no matter how much money that indie writer/self-publisher is making selling their books! 😉

  6. I wish these writers would automatically add feminism, gender fluidity, and disability to their BAME aims. It is frustrating to have to reinvent the wheel after the male children get their token representation.

    I don’t mean every book – just on the aggregate.

Comments are closed.