‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs:’ Observations on White (Female) Dominance in the World of Publishing
The corporate world of publishing is dominated by straight white women. Sadly, they exhibit the same favoritism towards their own demographic as white men have done for years, reproducing white supremacy faithfully. White women have long criticized white men for discrimination against them, but as a group, they have also leveraged their whiteness in order to exhibit the same behaviors as their white male counterparts. The hypocrisy which attends these actions has yet to be negotiated by white women as a group.
This fact is most salient in the world of publishing because it illustrates that active participation in white supremacy — complete with self-deception — has been wholly embraced by white women. As a result, publishing companies — and the MFA programs, other workshops, etc which are part of this system — has not changed at a fundamental level: it remains a white supremacist institution in a white supremacist society. As such, it is attended by the same subconscious deliberate ignorance among white women as a group as white men have acted in any number of institutions for hundreds of years. As a result of this over-privileging, black, brown, and indigenous peoples (BBI) as a group are still effectively marginalized. This is particularly relevant in publishing because speaking and writing are elaborations of having a voice.
In their eagerness to make their voices heard, white women as a group have dominated publishing in the last decade or so. This is true regardless of whether or not it is consciously intentional. In this regard, as a group they are behaving like teenagers at a Who concert whose stampede is indiscriminately harming POC/WOC. In one study completed by a children’s book publisher, white women dominated executive positions at large publishing companies at a rate of 59%. This percentage is higher if other management (leadership) positions are included. Importantly, at the editorial level, 84% of desks were occupied by white women. That is, there is an almost 5/1 chance that the person editing any given piece of writing will be a white woman.
Editors have power because they can suggest and/or implement changes in the writing. If the group which is editing is monopolized by any one demographic, there is the risk that other voices will be misunderstood, misinterpreted and potentially altered in deleterious fashion. White women as a group do not experience racial or ethnic discrimination and, in fact, are often as ignorant as their patriarchal counterparts when it comes to race and ethnicity. From the standpoint of the BBI person, a white female editor is just as likely to miss — or actively ignore, as the case may be — stories which reveal unique contexts that include the experiences not only of being of a particular background but also of being a BBI person in a white supremacist society.
The writer Marlon James has stated that he believes all writers have to pass through a white women gauntlet at publishing companies, and that this homogeneity in racial representation needs to be addressed. Given this inordinate amount of power, it is no surprise that books written by white women flood the market at every quarter, thus allowing this particular perspective voice while continuing to relegate stories written by BBI peoples to secondary (or less) status.
In the last several years, I have had the opportunity to become involved in the world of writing and publishing along with two friends who are women of color (WOC), and here are some observations:
1. In a total of 28 workshops, 91% were white women;
2. White women’s POV dominates, and this is almost exclusively about personal experiences. Infrequently, the story includes a some peripheral mention of the sociopolitical backdrop which POC are forced to deal with due to minority status on a routine basis, day after day.
3. When WOC include a backdrop of social realities in the writing which renders white supremacy visible, there is resistance in the form of:
a. Self-Deception: ‘What are you talking about?’ which is the workshop equivalent of ‘racism is over;’
b. Channel-Shifting: ‘Why are we talking about race when the real problems are personal relationships?’ (economics, feminist issues), which reorients the class back to white female issues by excluding the priorities of others (that is, reproduces white supremacy);
c. Passing the Torch: ‘Let’s talk about white women who understand your dilemma.’ Writers suggested include: Lionel Shriver; Nell Zink; Laci Johnson — three women who clearly illustrate they don’t understand racism through their writing, which in each case bleeds a certain amount of unacknowledged white privilege.
4. Serial Killers. Our admittedly anecdotal sample indicates that a number of white women seem obsessed with writing about serial killers.
In general, we’ve noted that white women, generally speaking, must be victims in their writing. By framing all writing from a personal standpoint and simultaneously ignoring the social backdrop which attends us (white supremacy), they achieve this goal. As a result, any writing which exposes a backdrop which reveals their (unearned) privilege causes a certain amount of discomfort: it creates incongruence between their perception of victimization and larger reality of white supremacy which privileges them.
This discomfort is exhibited as a constant reordering of priority towards personal experiences and victimization at the expense of the larger social backdrop, one which is typically relevant to BBI peoples because we are constantly reminded of our subordinate status. Apparently, because exposing this backdrop frames white people — including white women — as perpetrators in a social context, a high degree of resistance follows as white women try to marry this fact to their own perception of themselves as victims.
It is clear, after participating in this context for several years, that a strong bias towards white women informs the publishing world, what is deemed ‘appropriate’ for publishing, and ultimately who is published. This, in turn, leads to a higher likelihood that white women will be published. Our experience is that white women treat us, as women of color, with the same blind and sometimes flippant disregard that they claim white men used to oppress them. Approximately a decade ago, white women claimed that white men were biased, publishing only each other and, as a result, guaranteeing that they were dominating publications and awards. A mere decade later, white women (who, as a group, voted for Trump at a rate of 53%) are doing exactly the same thing to WOC.
White women as a group indicate that they are primarily focused on maintaining white supremacy. A win for white women that continues to exclude BBI peoples is ONLY a win for white supremacy. How could this be a success for all women when 90% of the world’s female population isn’t included? It isn’t. It is only a success for whiteness. As with white men, if white women do not admit their advantage — if they are always the victims — then our disadvantage ceases to exist in their minds. This denial is severed from reality.
I have presented the above factual (statistical) information to some white women in the world of writing and have generally received responses that fall into either the ‘victim’ category or the ‘denial’ category. This is the equivalent of asking about the weather and getting the response ‘Cloudy with a chance of meatballs.’ White women are only partially tethered to reality in their assertion of victimhood, because they are not only victims of a patriarchy, they are also recipients of all the benefits of white supremacy. To acknowledge the first part while ignoring the second is exactly the same behavior white women criticized re: white men less than a decade ago. The term for this type of ignorance is hypocrisy.
When white women refuse to acknowledge their white privilege — which, in publishing, even exceeds white male privilege at this moment in history — they actively participate in white supremacy through their denial. As a result of this (white female) denial, WOC are often marginalized in workshops and MFA courses which leads to a decrease in authentic opportunity. The aspect which white women seem to want to deny is that white women have a decided advantage when it comes to publishing, book award winning, and ultimately, a voice that is heard and that matters. When white women resist admission of their racial advantage, they render POC/WOC invisible by refusing to see our oppression.
Obviously, in order to genuinely eliminate white supremacy, white women as a group must follow through with the same behaviors they demanded of white men: provide equal opportunity. The statistics above indicate that they aren’t.
Instead, as a collective, white women have opted for the same old unearned booster their male counterparts chose: white supremacy and its bedfellow, hypocrisy. It may be somewhat cloudy for white women, but the meatballs are still falling on top of people of color.