As my journal had just started, and I didn't quite know how to get it all together, I completely forgot to discuss New York Times' list of summer reading, which was released years ago.
All of the books were written by white authors ONLY.
I wanted to discuss this at the time. I guess I shall discuss it now, then, albeit briefly.
It's about the issue of being a writer of color in world of books.
Let me begin by mentioning the incident that happened in 2014 at the National Book Awards:
After author Jacqueline Woodson, who is African American, accepted the National Book Award in young people's literature for her memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, host Daniel Handler, also known as Lemony Snicket, told a "joke" to the audience: she's allergic to watermelon, but this shouldn't be, because she's Black. Funny, right? He had also "joked" that he wanted blurbs from her, Cornell West, Toni Morrison, and Obama, but only if he wrote about being African American. Also funny. Right?
This would have been remotely humorous (actually it was so subpar I doubt it would ever be funny) -- if he wasn't addressing an audience which was all-white to begin with. Sadly, his jokes were not misplaced.
The publishing industry IS anti-color. Not intentionally, of course.
I have already been informed multiple times that i am one of the FEW Indian American writers who are males. Most American writers of Indian descent, it seems, are women.
This statistic is startling, but not surprising. After all, I am neither a doctor nor computer guy. ( I suppose if I want to get real nitty-gritty about it, I am also not a cab driver or nor do I work in a 7-11.)
I am a writer.
I've seen that most heads of the publishing world are white. (This means top agents, top publishers, top editors. There are, of course, one or two notable exceptions, who are predictably high-profile, as they are so few.)
I have gone to fancy New York Book Publisher parties, only to discover that I am a rarity, one of the ONLY authors of Indian descent, and one of a handful of nonwhite authors who are not the hired help.
In one event, in fact, I was mistaken to be a cater-waiter. I felt just as bad as when I would go to Barney’s – in suits – and be mistaken for a store clerk.
Okay, now that I am ranting about skin color, I also want to mention a couple of incidents which just happened to me in New York City.
The first case took place when I had to go to court appointment due to a jury duty issue. (My type of blindness had made me ill-equipped for a case, so I had to personally show a signed letter from my neuro-opthalmologist explaining this.)
Succinctly stated, this is what occurred: I went with my friend, who happens to be a White man. At the door of the courtroom, right before all the jury duty-troubled people entered, folks had to show their IDs. On this specific occasion, we were all, for the most part, people of color. We all were forced to bring out our driver’s licenses. All, except for my white friend. He waltzed in, no problem.
“Can you believe it?” he boomed. “I got in, and I never had to show my ID!” His obliviousness to his white privilege stunned me.
The second experience happened just last month. I was going to a pop concert with a friend, who was White as well. Upon entry, I was frisked. The rest of the attendees, who were mostly white, weren’t. My friend wasn’t. Thinking he was defending me, he yelled to the security guard, “DON’T YOU WANT TO FRISK ME TOO?” He was very valiant, but, let’s face it, he could have been arrested. The security guard responded curtly: “No, thanks. I make the decisions as to who I’ll stop.” He was loud, apparently wanting the whole theater to hear him.
I had to then explain to my friend the order of “threat hierarchy.”
Here’s the brief list, from most threatening to least threatening:
Men of color. Women of color. White men. White women.
“This is why," I said, "the savior-teachers in all movies about inner-city school kids were white women like Michelle Pfeiffer."
“And this is why that white woman in a sari illegally passed security and shook President Obama’s hand at that one dinner event,” I continued. “If it were a brown man who did that, he would have been shot on the spot by Secret Service.”
The silliness of the whole thing? This was a Culture Club concert. Yes, Culture Club.
What was I going to do, shoot Boy George while he sang Karma Chameleon?
Racism, it turns out, involves more than nonwhites being attacked by the police.
But back to the publishing industry.
0Perhaps one of the most troublesome moments in the publishing world was when I was moved to a "star" front-row table at a gala, simply because I had a brown face, and would show folks that my publisher actually had writers who were not white in their fold.
It would make for a great photo-op.
I sometimes prefer flat-out hateful redneck racism, rather than the implicit racism found in publishing, by supposedly "sophisticated" individuals.
In some supposedly progressive 'book blogs,' I discovered that my book was being discussed and criticized not because of the writing itself, but because of my race and ethnicity. I found myself jokingly referred to as "Apu the Writer" and found out my book was considered anti-white simply because I had discussed issues of race.
The following experience was one of the most obnoxious ones. I had gone to yet another gala, when a senior editor at a major-league publishing house spoke to me. I was excited, thinking he was going to say something grand which would elevate my career. Instead, I was told: “You really behaved well in this lily-white party!” He meant it as a joke, I assume. But it came off as just another example in which a writer of color thinks s/he will get something nice, but instead be reminded of their second-billing. I was reminded of Woodson, who actually was excited to win a book award, but because she is a woman of color, she won something else: a dismissive, supposed joke about her race.
I find it fascinating that I could be even remotely compared to Burroughs or Sedaris, or to a lesser degree, Eggers. They would never have to deal with any of this. I love their writing, yes, but I know they certainly are not as subversive as they want us to think. Nope.
As my wonderful, brilliant friend, a very well-known author of color, told me, they have what he called: “The Complexion Connection.”
He's absolutely right. Sorry guys, you might have anti-establishment experiences to tell, but you are still part of the establishment. Which certainly makes more of a difference than publishers want us to believe.
There are usually two reactions to my situation -- to my boat -- and to anyone in the same boat by the publishing folks. Either I am dismissed and gently mocked (I was once told to get off my "soapbox" just because I questioned something dealing with skin color), or I am exotified and fetishized to a ludicrous degree in which my 'Indianness' is considered my only virtue. So, yes, I can definitely be used as a “diversity-prop” – the kind you see at certain political campaign events (like Republican affairs and Bernie Sanders stops) where the camera zooms in on the one or two brown faces there, simply to show that there is some color in the snow.
Ultimately, I may be a brain injury survivor with epilepsy, who has bisected blindness, distorted hearing, and retrograde amnesia, but I am a BROWN brain injury survivor with epilepsy, who has bisected blindness, distorted hearing, and retrograde amnesia.
And, in this industry of books, it makes a BIG difference. Bottom line: my survival from brain injury sometimes seems miniscule in comparison to my survival in the publishing industry as a person of color.