Writers, you have a voice. Use it to speak out against racial injustice.
Now is not the time to be silent.
Courtesy of Derick McKinney via Unsplash
I’d like to first honor the incredible Chantai Thomas, who has been working with LTS Editorial on our marketing for years, for taking the lead on this piece. Tackling racial injustice is a tough, messy process, and her willingness to devote time and energy to this has been invaluable. - Lauren Taylor Shute
The cruel and needless death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of white police officers has brought to the forefront of our national consciousness something too easily repressed by the privileged in times of health and prosperity: All races are not treated equally in America.
This nation has an enduring and systemic issue with equality that has led to the death, injury, and oppression of countless Black people and other people of color, and to the degradation and rot of the very institutions bearing the motto, “to protect and serve.” This harm is regularly perpetrated by police officers, as in the cases of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor; as well as by racist civilians, as seen in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery -- now being investigated as a federal hate crime. These are only the most recent egregious instances of disregard for human life and racism resulting in the death of a Black person, and they join a list that is longer than any of us can imagine. LTS Editorial stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement; with those against racist and violent policing; and with those against racist civilian vigilantism. These problems are large and looming and we’re all asking what we can do to help; here are some ways you, as an ally and a writer, can use your voice and actions productively in this fight.
If you’re writing a book right now, this is the time to consider and take seriously the diversity of your story. Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie gave a TED Talk in 2009 about the “danger of a single story”-- how detrimental an overreliance on stereotypes or superficial characterizations of a race or culture in media can be to that race or culture. When we lack diverse stories and diverse storytellers, we lose out on myriad perspectives and experiences, and we risk homogenizing our understanding of entire groups of people. Without diverse voices, we also perpetuate the myth of White ubiquity, where the White (and typically middle class, abled) experience is the default.
We’ve written before about the importance of representation in writing and how to ensure that your story approaches diversity in the right way. At the top of the list: have a sensitivity read done by someone from the population or background you’re writing about.
So many people look to stories for insight into other ways of life, and as a storyteller, it’s your duty to create diverse characters and plots in an informed and conscious way, so that your readers are left with a respectful and honest impression of the real human beings your characters are based on. Our sensitivity readers at LTS Editorial work with this goal in mind.
Whether it’s us or another service, the reader you choose should be well-informed and have the background and experience to give you the constructive feedback you need. The insight you get from a sensitivity read will help check and reform any implicit biases or stereotyping you may have unintentionally brought to the page.
Now is also the time to educate yourself by reading work by BIPOC writers. If you want guidance on where to begin with antiracist literature, take a look at this reading list from author and historian Ibram X. Kendi.
In addition to antiracist reading, explore other kinds of literature -- novels, short stories, poems -- written by Black people. Actively seek out work that shows the nuance and richness of the Black experience. Fiction has always been a wonderful way to connect with experiences different from your own.
See if the authors you read are active on social media and connect with them there so that the work you do is present in your daily feed. Layla F. Saad, author of Me and White Supremacy, has a particularly robust Instagram account, as does academic and activist Rachel Cargle.
And whatever you choose to read, try to support Black-owned independent bookstores when you shop. Books about race and antiracism have been flying off the shelves since the protests began, and buying from these bookstores is a good way to support the community that needs it right now. Here’s a list of Black-owned bookstores you can buy from online, and take the time to see if there are any bookstores in your own community that you could shop at as well.
The more you learn about racism yourself, the more informed you’ll be when pushing back against racism and prejudice expressed by others. We should strive to be vocal in our support of social justice issues, even when it’s hard or uncomfortable. Take, for example, the literary agents who resigned from St. Paul agency Red Sofa Literary after the agency’s owner Dawn Frederick tweeted about calling the cops on looters during a riot. (We know looting is illegal, but as Frederick pointed out in a statement released a few days after the incident, the consequences of calling the police in the midst of widespread civil disobedience could very well be disproportionate to the property damage done by the looters.)
Or think of the members of the press covering the protests despite facing targeted aggression from the police at these events. The list of assaults on journalists grows longer every day, and the ACLU is suing state and local law enforcement in multiple states for violations of their First Amendment right to freedom of the press and right to protest. The Washington Post’s motto, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” is especially poignant now; democracy also dies in silence, complacency, and injustice.
Protesting is, of course, an excellent way to engage with racial justice issues in a concrete way. Protests have been held across the country every day since George Floyd’s death. Finding an upcoming protest in your area is just a Google search away, and you can connect with your local BLM chapter on social media to stay up-to-date on the latest news and events in your community. Remember that there is still a pandemic going on and protests can become unexpectedly volatile; your health and safety are valid, so if you don’t feel comfortable attending a protest, don’t force yourself into it.
For real change to happen, it’s critical that we don’t let this movement lose momentum. It’s easy to be active and vocal when we have constant media coverage of protesters and police going head to head and every politician is adding fuel to one fire or the other, but there will come a time when protests aren’t newsworthy anymore, and fewer and fewer people are interested in seriously engaging with issues of racial injustice. That’s when we need to dig our heels in the deepest.
Be humble and willing to confront your own privilege. Examine your efforts and ask yourself if your allyship is authentic or performative. Learn about inclusivity and social justice, and interact with these topics regularly. And always, always be willing to amplify Black voices in this movement. We all shoulder responsibility in this fight for equality, and not all lives matter until Black lives matter.