Photo from Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s blog post “Scholastic, and a Faustian Bargain.”
Love in the Library is a children’s book by Maggie Tokuda-Hall which tells the story of how her grandparents fell in love while imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp during World War 2. Recently, Scholastic books contacted Maggie to inform her that they were assembling an AANHPI (Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander) narratives collection tentatively entitled Rising Voices, and they wanted to include it.
But first, they said, they wanted her to make some changes to her author’s note.
Where Maggie had written…
Their improbable joy does not excuse virulent racism, nor does it minimize the pain, the trauma, and the death that resulted from it. But it is to situate it into the deeply American tradition of racism.
They wanted her to write…
Their improbable joy does not excuse or minimize the pain, the trauma, and the death that resulted from it.
And, beyond that, they also requested the removal of an entire paragraph relating the racial injustices of the past to the racial injustices of the present.
Because calling out the American tradition of racism isn’t for kids (unless they’re Japanese kids in an internment camp, Black kids getting shot for playing with toy guns, or Latin American kids in ICE cages) and because, while the white publishing establishment claims to love having a diversity of authors in their catalogues, they don’t like it when those authors express perspectives that question the white American culture’s delusions of benevolence, justice, and equity.
Because when the white publishing establishment offers a Japanese American author a seat at the table, they don’t want evidence of her generational trauma, they just want her to shut up and look Asian.
The irony of curating a collection tentatively titled Rising Voices: Amplifying AANHPI Narratives with one hand while demanding that I strangle my own voice with the other was, to me, the perfect encapsulation of what publishing, our dubious white ally, does so often to marginalized creators. They want the credibility of our identities, want to market our biographies. They want to sell our suffering, smoothed down and made palatable to the white readers they prioritize. To assuage white guilt with stories that promise to make them better people, while never threatening them, not even with discomfort. They have no investment in our voices. Always, our voices are the first sacrifice at the altar of marketability.
So much more can be said, but I will conclude with this — 76% of all editors are white (most of them women).
An editor has the power to remove what they find too troubling to admit, an editor has the power to elide over what they find too ugly to face, and, when the editor is white, an editor has the power to overrule the truth about the Japanese internment with an historical delusion that racism had nothing to do with it.
The racial composition of the publishing industry impedes our nation’s efforts to reconcile with its past, atone for its crimes, and learn from its mistakes. Which is why it’s critical that writers of color find editors who will not question their versions of the truth, who will trust their stories, and who will help them dismantle the structures of systemic racism that have silenced them for too long.
Because, yes, editors have power.
For a directory of editors who represent a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds go to editorsofcolor.com.