Tuesday, February 1, 2011

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Black History Month Tribute: Blacks in Publishing


Black History Month always excites me. And why wouldn't it? It provides an opportunity for me and many others like me to be exclusively proud of our heritage--the struggles, the triumphs, the mishaps, the scars, the resilience, and the beauty. It also provides a learning experience for those who are unaware of the huge part black people have played in making America the nation that it is.

Someone asked me the other day, "Is it OK for black people to have black this and black that?" In other words, is it OK for black people to uniquely identify their successes, achievement, status, or lack thereof as "a black thing"? I have to say yes, and I would say the same for any other minority group. If we don't have an opportunity to highlight our presence in history and contemporary times and our hopes for the future, we run the risk of being overlooked. Yes, we really do.

Here is where I digress into my sociological background. A majority does not have reason--and sometimes the ability, because of its position of power--to recognize the plight of the minority unless the minority brings its issues or concerns to the forefront. Think about it. If you are seated on the peak of a mountain, your view of what's happening in the valley is limited. But if a loud noise starts to rise up and maybe your mountain begins to tremble a bit, causing you unrest, you may find yourself climbing off your perch to see what in the world is going on. And even further, if you think of a marriage relationship with one person as a dominate personality and one with a more understated personality, you can see how the one with the dominate personality would overshadow the other--at times, unintentionally, and other times with well-thought-out intention.

I do not say this to create an argument but to make a point. It is important to recognize the innate desire of the minority to create balance--or the necessity to fight for balance. Sometimes the minority needs to make lots of noise to be heard, so that the majority is "encouraged" to have a conversation that welcomes an equal place at the table. This is an eternal struggle. Even if the balance shifts and the once minority becomes the majority (perceived power and all), the new minority will have to make itself known to keep things in balance.

This is why I love Women's History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Native American Heritage Month, and any other time where the minority has a chance to tip the scales and celebrate itself in a big way. My hope is that a residue is left after the celebration that affords the minority increased visibility and voice.

I began plotting out how I would contribute to Black History Month 2011 some time last year. I wanted to discuss our history in the context of my current life focus, which is publishing. I have had an opportunity to explore and discuss with other publishing professionals how people of color are positioned in publishing as decision makers and as the talent--and while things have come a long way since the Jim Crow South, we still have a long way to go.

People of color (not just blacks) make up only 2 percent of publishing professionals, according to Elizabeth Bluemle's Publishers Weekly article "The Elephant in the Room." I can't singlehandedly change that--obviously. But what I can do is talk about the impact of black publishing, and in turn add to the noise that is seeking for ethnically reflective representation in the industry. Because, as Bluemle says, "This discrepancy between the real world and the publishing world limits the range of books published, the intellectual scope of discussion, and—for the bottom-liners among us—greatly stunts the potential market." And we just ain't gon' have none of that!


I invite you to join me for the next several weeks as I explore Black America's contribution to the world of publishing.
    Please feel free to leave comments in any of the posts adding what you know or appreciate about people of color in publishing--as professionals, authors, and readers. I want to get your feedback especially your thoughts about the history, where diversity in publishing is today, and what the future of publishing looks like for people of color. No wrong answers. One rule: be constructive, uplifting, and solution oriented. The rest is for the birds!
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