White Women, White Supremacy, and Literary Appropriation Part 1:
In order to write this essay well, I must first expose the profound impact of white (female) supremacy in the world of publishing and the way in which this reveals the significant degree to which ‘whiteness’ privileges white women in this arena. In 2016, multicultural children’s book publisher Lee and Low completed a study on 34 American book publishers and 8 review magazines and found that they were overwhelmingly white, including staff comprised of 78% white women. At the executive and board levels, white males comprised 40% and white women comprised 46%. Lee and Low asked if this profound preponderance of white women — this homogeneity — results in a lack of diversity in actual publishing and found that these numbers are reflected in the publishing world. That is, white women are published at much higher levels than people of color of all genders. (https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/82284-new-lee-and-low-survey-shows-no-progress-on-diversity-in-publishing.html)
Unless we make the assumption that white women are simply better writers and that white supremacy doesn’t determine their success at all, then we must admit as a society that white women are highly privileged when it comes to publishing and that their resulting ‘success’ is based on white supremacy and, to some extent, the oppression of people of color.
“I had assumed that…rejection was part of the writer’s life. It was only when I read the article Writers Shouldn’t Romanticize Rejection in “The Atlantic Monthly” that I realized the gargantuan hurdle ethnic writers faced when pitching to a publishing industry that was predominantly caucasian.”
Farah Hasan, Here’s What White Privilege Looks Like in Publishing. (https://www.browngirlmagazine.com/2017/05/heres-what-white-privilege-looks-like-in-publishing/)
When speaking, they continue to disregard the elephant in the room — the profound advantage they receive as a human being in a white package — and instead focus on their oppression as women. As a result of this lack of admission of profound privileging, they continue to publish each other, thus supporting the same system of unearned privileging — ie, stealing from POC’s — as they have criticized white men for doing for centuries. This determined lack of insight is contrived, much as white liberal behavior is contrived, to convey that the white women is ‘nice’ and also a ‘victim’ while she simultaneously and subversively finds ways to make her voice heard at the expense of people of color. This fact is true even when these white women are writing about POC’s, as if to convey that they, positioned as oppressors, are able to write about POC victimhood. This results in books so superficial that they embarrass the entire publishing world, and this fact is not perceived by the publishing world because the context is dominated by other like-minded white people, relatively if not entirely clueless about what it means to be racially and ethnically oppressed.
Overwhelming evidence indicates that white women continue to access white supremacy by publishing each other regardless of quality, depth, or authenticity; a few of many examples include Shriver’s The Mandibles, Zink’s Mislaid, and Cummins’ American Dirt, all of which offer the typical distorted, deformed, and superficial version of POC experience as delivered by white women.
Despite the fact that they continue to enjoy privileges that all people of color, regardless of gender, do not have, this fact is subverted by utilizing a variety of defensive maneuvers that allow white women to maintain their dominance as ‘white’ and simultaneously refuse to acknowledge it, much like the white males they’ve criticized for centuries. Because white women are not acknowledging their profound racial advantage and the ‘work’ this privileging does to reward them regardless of the quality of the writing, the difficulty that WOC and POC are forced to tolerate as a result of this privileging is rendered invisible.
When white women refuse to admit their privilege and cast themselves as ‘victims,’ the attention which should be going to POC’s is once again subverted to whiteness and white priorities. This fact cannot be erased with any amount of gender discrimination: whiteness is still a massive advantage whether or not white women are discriminated against by white men, and when white women don’t admit it, they literally erase us as POC, making us nonexistent. White women have a profound advantage in their whiteness; where is the courage to admit it? As long as white women refuse to acknowledge that they are privileged much like the white men they criticize — and then behave appropriately, as they’ve asked white men to behave — then as people and women of color, POC’s disappear.
This is a responsibility that white women, as a collective group, are currently shirking in order to maintain their dominance.
As the writer Marlon James states, “Writers of colour pander to the white woman.” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/27/us-study-finds-publishing-is-overwhelmingly-white-and-female.
This fact should be elaborated upon in detail, because it illustrates the profound hypocrisy involved: people of color, who are writing about their authentic experiences, are forced to pander to white women, whose profound social advantage could not possibly allow them the experience of racial or ethnic discrimination. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? That the privileged person — whose privilege is bought expressly at the expense of the POC’s they oppress — should be listening to the POC with the AUTHENTIC experience of discrimination? In what distorted brain is the conclusion made that people with NO experience should be pandered to by people with the experience?
This is a form of white intellectual distortion, manipulation, and narcissism based on centuries of self-privileging: that, under all circumstances, white people’s voices will be the only ones which are heard. This is true despite the fact that the treatment of the subject is virtually always superficial, stereotyped, and saturated with privilege. This ridiculous reality should be emphasized: human beings with the AUTHENTIC experience of discrimination are FORCED to pander to the very group of people who are socially positioned as their oppressors, and who are choosing to both act oppressive AND lie to themselves about it. All of this is negotiated by ‘ignorance’ on the part of white women, who use this deliberate lack of knowledge to manipulate their continued dominance in the form of publications in which their voice, once again, rises above that of POC’s with a plethora of superficiality and profound lack of insight we’ve come to expect in the last few centuries.
Lionel Shriver: Lisping ‘Mexicans’ and Black Women on Leashes: Plain Old White Supremacy, Unleashed
The queen of white women privileging paired with a highly contrived ‘ignorance,’ Shriver embodies the arrogance and self-deception of ‘manifest destiny’ like no other. On the cover of her book The Mandibles, one critic writes that Shriver ‘knows her own people,’ ie, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Too bad she doesn’t hold them accountable for their egregious historical behaviors and instead opts for one of white supremacy’s favorite tools of oppression: distraction and domination in the form of stereotyping.
Against the backdrop of financial and economic disaster, Shriver creates a world of pleasant, innocent white people bantering about the deterioration of society — with her attendant implication that diversity caused economic deterioration for white people — while a wide range of people of color are stereotyped, stigmatized, and otherwise rendered inferior. Shriver’s greatest hits include: a black woman on a leash, a lisping Mexican, and (of course) the voice of ‘sensibility’: a white female writer who simply wasn’t appreciated as much as she should have been for her writing. How tragic. Who could this wholly sympathetic character be, while a black woman is crawling around at the animal end of a rich white person’s leash??
Here are some comments which Shriver has made about diversity which reflect her deep-seated investment in white supremacy and maintaining her unearned publishing advantage, one which is based on centuries of white supremacy:
“Those who embrace a vast range of ‘identities’ — ethnicities, nationalities, races, sexual and gender categories, classes of economic under-privilege and disability…are now encouraged to be possessive of their experience and to regard other peoples’ attempts to participate in their lives and traditions, either actively or imaginatively, as a form of theft.” https://www.dhakatribune.com/magazine/arts-letters/2018/07/15/quota-qualms-shriver-and-kureishi-in-diversity-debate
Note that she makes no mention of ‘white’ identity, the original identity politic, and the way in which white supremacy has necessarily resulted in other humans reasserting their humanity after 500 years of subhuman classification of 90% of the human race — POC’s — and global, international white theft. She disregards that white supremacy is, in and of itself, an institutionalized form of thievery; that is, because she is a white woman, she has such profound unearned advantage that even if she writes about somebody else, she is more likely to be published than that person writing about him or herself. This results in both reward and money for her when the POC depiction, and publication, would have been more genuine; ie, it’s stolen. This thievery is never acknowledged; instead, she’s the ‘strong’ writer. If she really believes she’s that strong, why is she so afraid of real competition?
In Hanif Kureshi’s article in the Guardian, ‘Diversity in Publishing is Under Attack: I hear the sound of knuckles dragging,’ he states ‘It is good news that the master race is becoming anxious about whom they might have to hear from’ and ‘The truth is, the conservative fear of other voices is not because of an anxiety that artists from outside the mainstream will be untalented, filling up galleries and bookshops with sludge: it’s that they will be outstanding and brilliant.’
Kureshi summarizes the fundamental basis for white fear: that the competition which white supremacy eliminated through its lies, murder/genocide, and thievery — and which affected 90% of the human race — will now be able to compete with them, assuming equality. And, this isn’t good news for people who haven’t had to compete on an even playing field: white women like Shriver who are only familiar with competing against 10% of the population, all of whom are white people who are recipients of the same profound privileging she enjoys.
It must incite a great deal of fear to know that the competitive arena which her ancestors exerted such effort to eliminate through declaring all POC’s subhuman will now potentially compete with her writing: POC’s who have been forced to develop a high degree of stamina and who — let’s not forget — have the AUTHENTIC experience which these white women try with such fruitless and futile effort to understand will now have a chance. It isn’t even an equal chance: it’s just a chance, less of one than any white person receives. Yet, even that is too much competitive threat to Shriver. Is it any surprise that she becomes fearful when faced with the prospect of actual competition with people who have the actual experience of discrimination, genocide, and damage at the hands of her ancestors?
Shriver follows the typical flowchart of white supremacist behavior:
1. Exhibit any form of behavior that results in generating income for her by erasing the accomplishments of POC, accomplished by calling any assertion of our subordination as ‘identity politics.’ This is typically paired with a studied ignorance about the ACTUAL source of identity politics: the establishment of the concept of ‘race’ by European peoples in order to justify murdering, stealing from, and otherwise damaging the other 90% of the human race. Thus, she conveniently disregards that her success is likely due to the identity politics of white supremacy reflected in our current publishing arena, in which white women are often published for that reason only: they’re white women. As if this isn’t enough, the white-female dominated publishing field spoon-feeds them their own convenient ‘ignorance,’ one based on their devotion to NOT acknowledging how much procures to them on the basis of being born white. This allows them to believe they accomplished when, in fact, objective indices indicate that whiteness did at least some, if not all, of the work for them.
2. When writers of color point out her obvious racism, employ high-grade denial, as if POC’s are the ones who are the ‘problem;’ and if that doesn’t work, then:
3. Indiscriminately slap the word ‘satire’ on the writing as an excuse for superficiality, ignorance, and an obvious plug at publication and money which would otherwise be going to the POC if equality was a genuine consideration. This tack is more typical of white females who classify themselves as liberal, like Zink, but this is a topic for another essay. (More recently, I have seen efforts to promote ‘forgiveness,’ which is at least an acknowledgement that the behavior does, indeed, merit rectification. But this stance is a topic for another essay, since it is a last-ditch effort to maintain dominance.)
Publisher’s Weekly summarized the fundamental problem in the opening sentence to their article called ‘Why Publishing is So White:’ A deep dive into hiring practices across the industry shows that publishers care about diversity, but many haven’t taken effective steps to bring about lasting change.’
Publisher’s Weekly “discovered that unconscious bias is an issue in publishing, as it is in most industries.” To summarize, white people are refusing to acknowledge that, in a white supremacist world, they are biased in favor of each other. The facts are that white women are profoundly privileged and, while as a group they are quick to criticize white men for their privilege, which they often claim comes at their expense, they conveniently deny that much of the same privilege confers to them on the same unearned basis. The accurate word for this is hypocrisy.
This profound self-deception and its resulting hypocrisy continues to foster a climate in which white women can keep their heavy foot on the necks of ALL POC, regardless of gender, while simultaneously claiming victimhood. Unfortunately for POC’s, white women’s self-deception only lightens their white woman load: for us, as POC, the foot is just as heavy whether it is attached to a white male or female, because their ‘success’ is dependent on white supremacy and the oppression of POC.
In a follow-up study in 2019, Lee and Low noted that, despite the publicity garnered by their original study, there have been NO real changes. This fact, reflected in a wide range of industries and corporations, persist because white people still claim — and some of them actual believe — that what has been granted to them on the basis of hundreds of years of privileging was ‘earned.’ This distortion of reality, the application of the concept of ‘merit’ where it cannot be accurately utilized given the profound, centuries-long reality of privileging, allows white people to slide away from the truth in the interest of maintaining their egos and their cash flow. This comes at the expense of POC who are producing actual value: authentic depictions of POC’s in real literature which reflect lived reality. All this is tossed in the trash so that white women can continue to claim ‘success.’
It is time for white women to toss their ‘oops-a-daisy’ racism — one which involves the same ‘ignorance’ white men have exhibited for centuries — in the trash and ask why, if they are willing to criticize white men, they seem so determinedly focused on exhibiting the same behaviors towards a wide range of people of color. Self-reflection and honesty necessarily dictate that they acknowledge how much confers to them on the basis of extrinsic privilege and turn their efforts towards supporting people of color instead of keeping their feet on our necks just like their white male equivalents.
White women should not criticize white men for knuckle-dragging when a cursory glance at themselves indicates that, at least in the publishing world, white women’s knuckles are becoming just as abraded. It’s time to allow the publication to go to the authentic writer, not the one who has the full benefit of white supremacy, even if it means that white women are no longer automatically granted the advantage of the publication.
Even if it means that the publication goes to a piece of authentic writing, the sort of writing that only POC’s, with our actual experience of subordination, can produce with genuine depth.