When Did Artistic Merit Take A Back Seat To Race And Gender?
Recently I saw an interesting tweet by one of our featured writers. In this tweet he brought up the topic of having a writing submission get rejected because he’s a white male. While that may sound ridiculous and possibly made-up to some of you, I can actually attest to this happening in the literary world—because it’s happened to me in the past, too.
It’s been over a year since I last submitted work to a literary magazine, and one of the reasons I’ve stopped submitting work is because of a particularly interesting rejection letter I received. The editor of the magazine I last submitted to told me they enjoyed the work and normally would at least publish it on their online issue, but they were looking to publish the stories from a more racially diverse pool of writers for that particular issue.
Okay, that sucked, but I figured it was their right to select the writers they wanted. Also, it was an extremely liberal publication, so, my whiteness might not have been right for their target audience. Whatever. I don’t really think of race or gender when it comes to writing; I just focus on whether the prose is good or not. But I do understand from a publishing standpoint that you want to feature the work from writers and artists who best reflect your customers. That’s just good for business.
Here’s where things get strange, though. I noticed this has been increasing in the last few years, but it’s gotten much more obvious recently. Most publications I enjoy and would like to submit to state in their submission guidelines that they strongly prefer the work of POC and the LGBTQ community. Granted, a lot of the publications are affiliated with colleges or liberal minded owners, but it’s still discouraging for us average white dudes.
Again, I have no problem with keeping your audience in mind. I understand how important it is to have representation for all kinds of people in your market. Plus, we all know white males have had it easiest when it comes to getting work in the writing world for, oh, the last hundred years. But at what point does it become biased to deny someone simply because they aren’t your ideal demographic?
Now, I’m not saying my work is great or even superior to anyone else’s. For all I know my work was rightly passed over. But I have spoken with quite a few talented writers who’ve also dealt with this form of rejection. Even some who’ve been published in more conservative publications without problem. In the same line, I would bet those particular publications would be more prone to reject POC or those in the LBGTQ community. Which makes me really sad to see the rotten trend of growing division in this country slime its way into the arts—which used to the one place where people could be themselves without fear of being ostracized or rejected for being different.
Without losing myself in a rant, I’m going to throw out the typical white guy answer to this “problem”—at least when it comes to the arts. Award the best person the job. Don’t base it on anything else. Don’t even ask or assume a persons race, gender, or nationality when going over their work. Only focus on the quality of the work. Of course, if you are specifically looking for a certain gendered or diverse group of writers, that’s fine. Just say so openly. Countless publications across the diversity board have been doing that for years.
This hand picked diversity does make me think of an interesting trend in schools like Harvard, though—they made it so Asian males must score higher than other races to get accepted. This is because Asians, for whatever reasons, have kind of flooded those types of educational institutions. This article by the Washington Post goes into much more detail than I will, but I find it fascinating how the school is pretty much being racist against Asians because their presence makes the school “not diverse enough.” This has led to some almost comical instances of Asian students pretending to be black in order to get in.
I really don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, because I’m very pro diversity. I just prefer equity over equality. I don’t think we are all equal. I think we are all unique and made special. We all bring our own talents, thoughts, and ideas into the world. Forcing us to all play on an equal playing field isn’t fair to the best and brightest or the ones lagging behind. Fair isn’t about the color of your skin, sexual preference, or nationality. It’s about showcasing everyone’s unique abilities. It’s about treating people for who they are on the inside.
Not every person who wants to be a great writer will be. Not every great writer will get the chance to show the world their greatness. But I will tell you, rejecting a person’s work solely based on the color of their skin is wrong. If their work isn’t up to your standard, tell them. But don’t use race, gender, or sexuality as the breaking point. Remember, equity, not equality.
This is why I started DPW. I wanted to create a place to showcase EVERYONE’S work as long as the work is of good quality. That’s the only factor in our decision. Politics, race, sexuality, gender, and nationality don’t matter. If you can write, you can write. If our readers can’t see the beauty of an author’s prose because of their world views, that’s their loss.
I’ve noticed Stephen King has lost a lot of fans because of his disdain for Donald Trump. Now let me ask you this: how does his political views change the quality of his past work? I understand if his new books contained anti-Trump propaganda, but it doesn’t alter his previous work that his fleeing fans once loved.
To end this, I’m going to issue an open question:
Why do we let personal qualities change our views of the art?
Share your opinions in the comments. Then check out these other life articles.