Hashtag Highlights Anti-Black Bias

Jennifer Baker

The month of June brought the continuation of daily protests around the United States, and the world, in recognition of violence against Black people and the importance of Black lives. As protests progressed, waves of social media posts and newsletters from publishers proclaimed solidarity. Numerous publications made promises to stand with the Black community, insisting comprehension of the significance of Black lives and condemning racism. However, the numbers from various surveys—such as the Lee & Low Books Diversity Baseline Survey and Publishers Weekly’s annual salary survey—have continually reflected the dearth of Black people working in book publishing as well as the low numbers of Black authors published and supported within the industry. On June 5 on Twitter, Tochi Onyebuchi, author of the novel Riot Baby (Tor, 2020), noted the discrepancy in the abundance of empathetic posts to the Black community from publishers and the need to truly reconcile industry bias; as a first step he called for an open dialogue about the compensation Black creators receive in book advances. Onyebuchi asked, would white “allies” come forward? Several white authors replied that they would—but didn’t provide any numbers. A day later Leatrice “L. L.” McKinney, author of the young adult fantasy trilogy A Blade So Black (Imprint), created a hashtag and put out the call: “Come on, white authors. Use the hashtag #PublishingPaidMe and share what you got for your books. Debuts as well. Let’s go.” 

Advances were disclosed by hundreds of writers, including both emerging and well-known authors, and ranged in amount depending on publisher. The number of six-figure advances received by white writers eclipsed the number for Black writers, particularly in the case of debuts published by major houses. In genres such as literary fiction, a white male reported receiving $800,000 for his debut, and white authors writing young adult fantasy disclosed receiving more than $100,000 per book. Award-winning, critically acclaimed, and highly respected Black authors such as N. K. Jemisin, Kiese Laymon, and Jesmyn Ward, revealed their book advances or their struggles to advocate for more money even after the publication of well-received, solidly selling works. 

Many within the industry have been watching the progression of #PublishingPaidMe, including Black editors. Cherrita Lee, who has worked as an acquisitions editor at an indie press, says she sees #PublishingPaidMe as a “sad necessity” because it brings clear inequalities to light. “Salaries, advances, royalties, all payment and remuneration should be open, public, and honest. It’s the only way to ensure that payment structures are fair.” A Black editor at a Big Five publishing house, who asked to remain anonymous, says they do not anticipate any direct public response from publishers to #PublishingPaidMe. They said they do hope these publishers are “having internal conversations about the biases associated with advances” and offered some advice: “Stop telling editors to pick ‘realistic’ comparative titles and to be conservative when working on profit and loss statements for diverse books.” Profit and loss statements, or P&Ls, are a set of calculations editors use to project what a book will earn based on monies fronted by the publisher and how much the book is expected to sell; they are often drafted when an editor prepares to make an offer on a title and can influence the size of advances. Numbers are crunched to include in- and out-of-house costs, and when those numbers are based on underestimates of sales, they create advances that reflect flawed and biased thinking. 

While the size of book advances are often hinted at via coded language in announcements on the industry website Publishers Marketplace, one of the most public records of publishing deals, exact numbers aren’t often shared unless there has been an exceptionally large advance (typically six or seven figures) receiving media coverage. Though there are outliers, #PublishingPaidMe showcases that major publishers have often put those funds behind non-Black voices. In making this financial information publicly available, #PublishingPaidMe crystallizes the divergence between “perceived” value for Black stories and the same Black lives the industry proclaims to respect. 

Although publishers remained quiet about the inequities the hashtag laid bare, authors expressed their dismay on Twitter. For some the revelation was validating and for others eye-opening. Ivelisse Rodriguez, author of Love War Stories (Feminist Press, 2018), is hopeful for change that may come out of the #PublishingPaidMe discussion. “While the [results of the] hashtag [were] demoralizing and disheartening, I generally believe that you can only work with the truth. So my hope is that now that writers of color know this, they will be in a better position to negotiate and advocate for themselves.”

The demand for accountability isn’t losing steam. Since #PublishingPaidMe took off in June, hashtags and accounts popped up to bring more transparency to publishing salaries and to collate this information for authors in the United States and the United Kingdom. The day #PublishingPaidMe went viral, Hugo-nominated illustrator Grace Fong started a spreadsheet compiling the numbers shared online. Since then a Google form was created in which writers, illustrators, graphic novelists, and others can anonymously submit their publishing information. The newly formed Transparency Project, co-led by Onyebuchi, will maintain and compile this data with the help of volunteer statisticians; focus will remain on Black creators, in order to preserve the hashtag’s original intention. But as more information reveals inherent bias, the question remains: Will this lead to an actual dismantling of a problematic system? A second Black editor at another Big Five publisher, who also asked to be anonymous, says it remains to be seen: “I’m not sure I believe it all just yet, but I’m cautiously optimistic that if ever there was a time to shake the table and demand them to do more, to do better, it would be now.” 


Jennifer Baker is a publishing professional, creator of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, and a contributing editor for Electric Literature.

A Letter From a Black Woman in Publishing on the Industry’s Cruel, Hypocritical Insistence That Words Matter


Mariah Stovall


Dear White people in publishing,


In the publishing industry, we deal in words. We know, perhaps more than anyone, that words matter and the pen is mightier than the sword. But ask yourselves this: Has your love of words become an excuse for complacency?

Right now, many businesses in the industry are rushing to make vague statements in solidarity with Black Americans. They are declaring that Black lives matter. They are promising to do better as gatekeepers and arbiters of culture. I believe there is plenty of sincerity behind these statements. I believe there is opportunism and a fear of being seen as complicit behind them as well.  

Why should Black people like me believe these are more than empty words, when many of these statements assume an entirely White audience and are focused on propping up businesses’ past work with Black people?

Publishing is no different from the other predominantly White liberal institutions in which I’ve spent my entire life. I am all too familiar with White liberal racism, with its unconscious bias and reluctance or refusal to admit fault and be self-critical. This too is racism. It is deeply entrenched in coded language and packaged in a message of self-proclaimed allyship and false empathy. Sticks and stones and state-sanctioned harassment, systemic discrimination, and murder may break Black bones and words also hurt us.

The publishing industry can do better in the future, but nothing can negate its past failures. Think of all the stories that have already been silenced because of passive negligence and willful discrimination. Think of all people who were already pushed to their breaking points and left the industry. Think of all the people who were so alienated that they never even tried to get into publishing in the first place. By all means, keep promoting the Black people you work with and have worked with in the past, but stop congratulating yourselves for it.

This is a call to hire more Black people in every department across every part of the industry, but editorial and acquisitional roles are particularly important to me. A Black marketer, a Black publicist, a Black designer, a Black salesperson, a Black reviewer or a Black bookseller will never have the opportunity to work on a wide array of Black books if White agents, editors, editorial directors, and editors in chief refuse to treat Black submissions with the same open-mindedness as White submissions.

Why are Black stories riskier bets than White stories? Why is there a tacit assumption that there can only be so many Black stories in the marketplace at one time? Look to your peers in other fields. No one is limiting the number of Black artists at the top of the Billboard charts.

I know that you know Black people are extraordinary artists across all disciplines, and that our work resonates with you, because you’ve been selectively borrowing, stealing, and appropriating our culture for years, and when you do acknowledge us, you often fail to adequately compensate us. 

We’ve had the Lee & Low reports for years. We’ve had diversity panels for years. Since my first internship in 2013, I’ve been told that change needs time to trickle from the ranks of exploited and underpaid interns and assistants to the senior and executive levels. Asking individuals with very little power, job security, and in-company support to lead the charge is crazy-making. The reason it feels so impossible for us is because it is. But I’ve kept my head down and accepted this absurd premise because it was effectively my only option.

I am tired of keeping my mouth shut when I encounter racism in publishing, in the hope that someday I will be promoted to a position in which I can do something about it without fear of retaliation, or being told I’m overreacting, imagining things, misunderstanding, or not giving a racist the benefit of the doubt. I am tired of thanking White people for doing the bare minimum. I do not want to be able to name every Black editor and every Black agent. I don’t want to be condescendingly deemed exceptional just because I exist.

I often wonder if I would be where I am today if I had darker skin and curlier hair, if I were naturally loud and outgoing rather than soft-spoken and reserved, if I took up more physical space instead of being petite. I don’t, for a second, doubt my own abilities; I never forget that American meritocracy is a myth and American racism is alive and well, thanks to the masterful ways in which our leaders have woven it, often invisibly, into every aspect of this country—from our legislation to our art—for hundreds of years.

To all the self-proclaimed allies reading this, especially those of you with hiring power, or the power to acquire, or the power to allocate marketing dollars, here’s another cliché for you: Actions speak louder than words.

I demand that those who hold the most power and benefit from the most privilege make changes that are in direct proportion to that power and those privileges. Stop leaning on your Black employees and writers to fix this for you. If you can’t bear the brunt of the responsibility, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your ability to effectively lead a company. Don’t make empty gestures. Don’t make promises you can’t keep because you aren’t willing to do the work.

Right now, Black people have your attention. That is not an excuse to forget about the Latinx, Asian, Native/Indigenous, queer, disabled, rural/non-coastal, and working- and middle-class people of the world (and do not forget that these identities are not mutually exclusive, and can also coexist with Whiteness).

I have no faith that meaningful, measurable, permanent change is on the horizon. Prove me wrong. And if you do, don’t expect me to thank you.


Mariah Stovall is a literary assistant at Writers House and previously worked at Farrar, Straus and Giroux and at Gallery Books. Her fiction and nonfiction can be found in Vol 1. Brooklyn, Literary Hub, HelloGiggles, Joyland, Hobart, and elsewhere. She is working on her first novel.

Resources for Writers in Support of Justice and Action


As writers speak up, protest, and stand together with those who seek justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless others who have been murdered, marginalized, and repressed as a result of white supremacy and anti-Black racism, we acknowledge that our commitment to fighting for racial justice must extend beyond the page. To that end, we are compiling a list of resources that we hope will help you in your own response to racial injustice and police violence. We will be updating this list as we learn of new resources. (If you know about a resource not on this list, please send an e-mail to editor@pw.org.)


Creative Ideas for Engagement

Organized by Nate Marshall and José Olivarez, a group of over twenty poets is sending personalized poems to anyone who donates $20 or more to any bail fund. Requests can be sent to poemsforthefree@gmail.com

Poets Kaveh Akbar and Paige Lewis raised more than $10,000 by drawing original comics for anyone who made a donation of $50 or more to any bail fund.

Poet Cameron Awkward-Rich gave copies of his books (up to thirty copies total) to anyone who donated at least $25 to the Okra Project, the Black Visions Collective, or the Emergency Release Fund.

Poet Danez Smith is collecting money via Venmo to distribute food, supplies, toys for kids, and more to community members in Minneapolis and the rest of the Twin Cities. 

Poets Safia Elhillo and Hieu Minh Nguyen raised money for People’s Breakfast Oakland, Bay Area Anti-Repression Committee Bail Fund, and Black Earth Farms by offering one-on-one poetry workshops or readings and copies of books, respectively, to anyone who donated to the funds.

Poet Kate O’Donoghue offered three hand-written poems or short prose passages to people who donated $10 to one of a group of Black-led queer organizations or mutual aid funds.

Publishers Weekly reported on how independent bookstores across the country are supporting the movement for Black lives. Strategies included donating to bail funds, curating reading lists, and opening physical space to protestors and organizers. 

Throughout the pandemic, Brooklyn-based literary nonprofit Wendy’s Subway has organized regular Wednesday writing nights. On June 3 the organizers chose a prompt to express solidarity with protestors: “If you’re not at a protest tonight, join us as we imagine abolishing the prison-industrial complex, imagine defunding the police, imagine an end to senseless Black death.” 

The Center for the Art of Translation and Two Lines Press matched donations up to $10,000 to the Bail Project, Black Lives Matter, Campaign Zero, and the Equal Justice Initiative.

Writer Hanif Abdurraqib will donate 100 percent of his book royalties from all copies of his collection A Fortune for Your Disaster sold in 2020 to the Okra Project.  

Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds, and Jacqueline Woodson organized the Kidlit Rally for Black Lives, which was hosted by the Brown Bookshelf on Facebook Live on June 4, 7 EDT. More than twenty-five authors, publishers, and artists gathered to “unite in support of Black lives, speak to children about this moment, answer their questions, and offer ideas about steps we can all take going forward.”

Coffee House Press announced on June 4 that it will donate 10 percent of all profits from website sales to National Bail Out for an indefinite period.

Workers from across the publishing industry are holding a day of action on June 8 in solidarity with the protests around the country. Participants are taking the day off from work to devote time to support the Black community through protesting, organizing, and fundraising. Organizers suggest donating one day’s pay to a relevant fundraiser, and considering making the contribution a monthly commitment. Publishers Weekly reported on the effort. 

Independent publisher Ugly Duckling Presse printed protest signs available for pickup at their Brooklyn headquarters.

Center for Books Arts has also printed free posters for pickup and is hosting a free online workshop on June 13: Posters for Protest.

Broadside PR offered five free one-hour publicity consultations to Black authors with publishing contracts.

Writers Jessica Keener and Lise Haines launched the Writers Against Racial Injustice fund-raiser on Facebook for the Equal Justice Initiative. The first thirty people to donate more than $100 received a copy of Jabari Asim’s essay collection We Can’t Breathe.

Sundress Academy for the Arts is donating $2 from every book sale, entry fee, or application fee to support the Loveland Therapy Fund, which provides financial assistance to Black women and girls nationally seeking therapy.


Reading Lists

Black Liberation Reading List, compiled by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library.

An Antiracist Reading List by Ibram X. Kendi, the director of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center and author of Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. (New York Times)

Do the Work: An Anti-Racist Reading List by Layla F Saad, author of Me and White Supremacy. (Guardian)

A Nonfiction Anti-Racist Reading List (Publishers Weekly)

City Lights Bookstore’s Antiracist Reading List by the venerable independent bookseller in San Francisco.

What Is an Anti-Racist Reading List For? Lauren Michele Jackson, author of White Negroes: When Cornrows Were in Vogue. . . and Other Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation, questions the sudden proliferation of anti-racist reading lists, for whom and for what purpose they serve. 

The University of Minnesota Press’s collection of antiracist books is available to read online for free through August 31, 2020.

Investing in Futures: Beyond Policing is “a free workshop of structured conversation, imagination, and play, designed in urgent response to the injustices and racism that resulted in the death of George Floyd which spurred protests across all 50 states and around the globe.”


Resources for Activism 

Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University “aims to attract support from visionary philanthropists and foundations to fund teams of scholars, policymakers, journalists, and advocates to examine racial problems anew, innovate and broadcast practical policy solutions, and work with policymakers to implement them.”

Black Lives Matter is “a global organization whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives.”

Campaign Zero is a “data-informed platform that presents comprehensive solutions to end police violence in America. It integrates community demands and policy recommendations from research organizations and President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.” The Campaign also runs the “8 Can’t Wait” campaign, which lists eight policies that can reduce police violence, and provides information on which policies your city adopts and how to contact your mayor or sheriff.

The Equal Justice Initiative is focused on ”ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.”

The NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, works to “secure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons.”

Unicorn Riot is a nonprofit media organization of artists and journalists “dedicated to exposing root causes of dynamic social and environmental issues through amplifying stories and exploring sustainable alternatives in today’s globalized world.”

Actionable Items for New Yorkers is an accessible Google Doc of concrete actions, including places to donate, scripts for calling local officials, and opportunities for volunteering. 

Defund12.org is a crowd-sourced tool for generating an e-mail demanding “government officials and council members to reallocate egregious police budgets towards education, social services, and dismantling racial inequality.”


Mutual Aid

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the United States, many communities turned to existing mutual aid programs or started their own. Vice explains that mutual aid is when “communities take on the responsibility for caring for one another, rather than forcing individuals to fend for themselves.” Mutual aid systems also typically lack a centralized hierarchy, and are instead run by volunteers. 

As the fight for racial justice causes further emotional and financial strain on Black communities, mutual funds are emerging as one opportunity for direct action. For instance, one group founded the short-term Disability Justice Mutual Aid Fund, as reported in Variety, which offers aid to disabled protest organizers. One longstanding network is Mutual Aid NYC, a “multi-racial network of people and groups building support systems for people in the New York area during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.” 

Different localities might have several different mutual aid funds, but if you can’t find one, here’s a guide to digital tools for mutual aid groups to help kickstart your own. 


Legal Defense & Bail Funds

Note: A number of organizations have reported an unprecedented volume of donations due to media coverage, and some are choosing to ask prospective donors to redirect their contributions elsewhere. Consult each website for updates before you donate.

The Bail Project is a nonprofit “designed to combat mass incarceration by disrupting the money bail system—one person at a time.” They are providing bail for protestors in cities where they have offices.

Brooklyn Community Bail Fund is “committed to challenging the racism, inequality, and injustice of a criminal legal system and immigration and deportation regime that disproportionately target and harm low-income communities of color.”

The Community Justice Exchange “develops, shares and experiments with tactical interventions, strategic organizing practices, and innovative organizing tools to end all forms of criminalization, incarceration, surveillance, supervision, and detention.” It hosts the National Bail Fund Network, a “formation of over sixty community-led bail and bond funds that are part of campaigns to end pretrial and immigration detention.”  

Minnesota Freedom Fund “pays criminal bail and immigration bond for those who cannot afford to as we seek to end discriminatory, coercive, and oppressive jailing.”

The National Bail Out collective is “a Black-led and Black-centered collective of abolitionist organizers, lawyers and activists building a community-based movement to support our folks and end systems of pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration.”

The American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program aims “to preserve and extend constitutionally guaranteed rights to people who have historically been denied their rights on the basis of race.”

Southern Poverty Law Center is a nonprofit legal advocacy organization “specializing in civil rights and public interest litigation. Based in Montgomery, Alabama, it is known for its legal cases against white supremacist groups, its classification of hate groups and other extremist organizations, and for promoting tolerance education programs.”

The mission of the National Lawyers Guild is “to use law for the people, uniting lawyers, law students, legal workers, and jailhouse lawyers to function as an effective force in the service of the people by valuing human rights and the rights of ecosystems over property interests.” The Guild is best known for its work defending the rights of protesters through the Mass Defense and Legal Observer Programs, “which have been providing legal support for movements for social justice for fifty years. Guild lawyers, law students, and legal workers observe police actions during protests, provide Know Your Rights trainings, track arrestees through the legal system, and provide free attorneys for protest-related cases.” The NLG has published many analyses on the right to dissent, including Punishing Protest: Government Tactics that Suppress Free Speech (2007), Policing of Political Speech (2010), and Developments in the Policing of National Special Security Events (2013), and provides free Know Your Rights handbooks for encounters with law enforcement in English, Spanish, Arabic, Bengali and Urdu.

The BLACK TRANS LEGAL and CARE FUND by PEACE OUT LOUD is “a fund collecting bail, medical and other necessities for Black Trans Activists” in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Other Resources

Here’s Where You Can Donate to Help Protests Against Police Brutality (Rolling Stone) is a list of bail funds, legal aid, and other organizations “working to help activists seeking justice for George Floyd and other victims of police violence.”

Social Justice Resources for the Book Business (Publishers Weekly)

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture has launched Talking About Race, an online portal of digital tools, exercises, videos, scholarly articles, and multimedia resources to help individuals, families, educators, and communities talk about racism, racial identity, and the way these forces shape every aspect of society and culture.

A Place to Start is “an incomplete list of resources and organizations for fighting racism and supporting justice and equality” compiled by the Museum of Modern Art.

I’m Writing to You: Letters From Writers of the Black Literary Community




On June 11, during the third week of recent protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and against police violence, we posted an open call at pw.org inviting writers of the Black literary community to submit letters written to any individual or group—a friend, a family member, the publishing community, other writers, themselves—that loosely pertained to their lives as writers. Our intention was to give Black writers a platform to directly address whatever they wanted, and on their own terms. The following selection of letters is further evidence that, as Melva Graham puts it, writing, too, is a form of resistance. “Every time you sit down to write your true voice becomes louder,” she writes, “and in the fight for racial justice we need all the voices we can get.” 

Dear Fellow Black Writers by Melva Graham

To My Precious Black Son by Shanay Bell

To the Tentatively Hopeful by Kameron Bashi

A Letter to the Allies by S. P.

To Writers Struggling With Their Whiteness by Sarah Valentine

A Note to the Shareholders by Donald Quist

Dear White Readers, Gatekeepers, and Members of the Media by Candace McDuffie

Dear White Publishers by Noro Otitigbe

Dearest Tayari by Leslie-Ann Murray

Dear Black Queer Boy by Myron McGhee

My Beloved Black Ancestors by India Gonzalez

Top row, from left: Melva Graham, Shanay Bell, Kameron Bashi, and S. P. Middle row: Sarah Valentine, Candace McDuffie, and Donald Quist. Bottom row: Myron McGhee, Noro Otitigbe, Leslie-Ann Murray, and India Gonzalez.  (Credit: Graham: Photos by Jamaal; Bashi: Sean Pessin; Valentine: Marcello Rostagni; McDuffie: Daniel Irvin; Quist: Dalton Rook Barber; McGhee: Gina McGhee; Murray: Veronika Savitskaya; Gonzalez: Justin Aversano.)

Dear White Publishers


Noro Otitigbe


Why did it take a public lynching for the literary community to want to hear my big Black voice? I have been submitting query letters and sending out manuscripts. I have been subscribing to literary magazines so that I can keep abreast of the writing community. I researched the agents who claim their interests are most in line with my work. I followed all the submission guidelines. I submitted poems and short stories to literary magazines that insist they are eager to hear bold new voices. I took the time to select my best material, attached it to a well-constructed introductory e-mail, then pressed Send. Then I waited. I waited to hear back from an agent, an agent’s assistant, or an editor. I waited to hear back from a gatekeeper who has access to resources that can advance my writing career. I waited.

I started writing when I graduated from New York University in May 2000. My meager administrative assistant salary afforded me an apartment in the Bedford-Stuyvesant      neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, located two blocks from the G train. The G train is a neglected New York City transit line that is constantly malfunctioning and sporadically serves what was once considered a low-income section of the city. I spent many hours on the dreary train station platform waiting for the G train, which connected me to the A train, which finally shuttled me to and from my place of employment in Manhattan. The wait became mind-numbing, so I bought a set of black Moleskin notebooks and I began to scribble whatever came to my mind during those long gaps of immobility. During that time I penned a lot of flash fiction and poetry. Expressing myself with a pen and paper kept me sane when I felt I had very little power to change my squalid living situation. I entered some of my work in writing contests. I waited.

In the years since then, I have spent most of my time honing my writing skills. I have actively participated in numerous writing workshops, creative writing classes, and critique groups. I became a regular on the open mic scene, and I completed a novel and a book of poetry. I submitted my manuscripts to various literary agencies and publishers, and I eagerly awaited a response. I waited.

This past May the whole world bore witness to a public execution that was reminiscent of both a decapitation during the Reign of Terror and a Black man being lynched in the South after the Civil War. While millions of Black people responded in outrage by taking to the streets, sharing stories of racism and calling out companies for racist practices, white people publicly aligned themselves with the Black Lives Matter movement, and companies expressed the sudden need to support Black businesses, influencers, writers, etc. I want to believe that after years of fighting oppression, white people finally see that systemic racism is a problem, but I can’t help but wonder whether publishers and other companies are taking advantage of the momentum while also taking a preemptive strike in case someone points out that they, too, are racist.

Dear white publishers, I am a Black woman who has been writing for many years. I have invested a lot of time and money to enhance my writing skills. There isn’t an agent I haven’t sent a query letter to or a publisher I didn’t research to make sure my work fits their guidelines. I do the work, and I have seen my white peers advance while I am told that my stories are controversial, or “we can’t take a risk on you.” You are now calling for the Black stories that you’ve been pushing aside for years. I really don’t care what your motives are. I do ask that when you publish me and my fellow Black writers, you offer us the same money, contract, and marketing you would to a white man writing yet another western novel. You decide which books are worthy of reading, so now it’s your chance to tell readers that books by Black authors belong on the front shelf at Barnes & Noble. Black novels should be debated in book clubs. Black stories should be turned into movies.

It is unfortunate that it took a man’s public demise coupled with massive demonstrations of white rage for this moment to come to fruition. But so be it. I would like to be among the crop of Black writers who emerged from the ashes of a torched racist system—or at least a system that was forced to publicly acknowledge institutionalized racism. 

Noro Otitigbe


Noro Otitigbe is an author, poet, and spoken word artist who has performed on stages in New York, Berlin, Nigeria, and Italy. She is the recipient of the 2019 Jericho Fellowship Playwright Prize. Otitigbe holds a bachelor’s degree in communication studies with a minor in cultural anthropology from New York University. Her debut novel, “ideations,” was completed while participating in the Community Literature Initiative Workshop at the University of Southern California. She can be found on Instagram, @noroskoo

Dear White Readers, Gatekeepers, and Members of the Media


Candace McDuffie


The conversations around racism and anti-Blackness in the media industry are finally rising to the surface. It feels like a long overdue reckoning. Because of the constant occurrence of police brutality and violence against us—which caused subsequent global protests—Black America’s struggle to receive any semblance of justice has permeated the nation’s consciousness. But as white folks in publishing start to use their voices to state that Black lives do indeed matter, I feel that it’s evident they show up for us only when it’s fashionable and pertinent for them to do so, with no real interest in advocating for Black communities.  

The language surrounding how we acknowledge racism has changed. I have been shocked by the fact that white people are using the word Black with such specificity and so blatantly (although the “all lives matter” crew still manages to rear its head now and then). And while this awareness is vital—coupled with a “new” understanding of how white supremacy is embedded in journalism/media—some of it remains quite performative. Suddenly there’s a need for white consumers of my work as well as editors to offer up allyship and resources when they previously participated in biased systems without any remorse.  

I wrote about COVID-19 three separate times over the past three months: how it impacts communities of color more severely. (Since the start of quarantine, my mother, brother, and niece have been and still are frontline workers.) Not one white person crawled into my inbox feigning concern about racism or asking about how the Black community is doing (to put this in perspective, I received over a dozen of these messages since the Minneapolis riots). The resources currently being offered to Black writers like myself from white editors—including free workshops, pitching advice, and contacts—is something I thought I would never see since I started my freelance career over a decade ago. 

When I did my entrepreneur profiles that highlighted people of color at Forbes (which ended two years ago), white folks weren’t asking how to elevate their achievements—they only reached out if they wanted to pitch their clients to the series. I’ve written about anti-Blackness in the fashion industry, how the country disposes of Black women and girls, how Black folks are punished for their methods of protests. It was crickets then, too. Systemic racism has been the basis of America for the past four hundred years—so why are you suddenly publicly supporting Black people? The truth is: These acts of solidarity are worthless if you are not consistently supporting and standing up for us every single day. 

This means routinely acknowledging, questioning, and working to eradicate systems you benefit from. It means recruiting diverse hires, giving them leadership positions, and paying them their worth. It means giving Black writers the space and support to authentically be themselves in the newsroom. It means soliciting us to write different kinds of articles, not just ones centering our traumas. It means reading and sharing our work when it’s about social issues—not just fashion tips, viral dances, or rappers you should listen to. It means showing support for Black people on social media without using their likeness as avatars and making yourself the center of the conversation. We’ve been Black, which means we never had the luxury of learning and unlearning racism because we’ve always been on the receiving end of it. But if you’re truly devoted to helping Black people in this field, then you must not only show up for us regularly—you need to do it right. 

Candace McDuffie


Candace McDuffie is a culture and music journalist whose work has been featured in outlets such as Entertainment Weekly, Al Jazeera, Rolling Stone, and NBC News. She is currently based in Boston.

(Photo: Daniel Irvin)

Tochi Onyebuchi and Leatrice “L. L.” McKinney. (Credit: Onyebuchi: Christina Orlando; McKinney: Nicole McLaughlin)

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  • August 11, 2020