How to Be An Ally to BIPOC, LGBTQ+, & Disabled Writers and Publishers

If you’re like me, you’re feeling caught up in the overwhelming stress ball that is November 2020. As I write this, it is early in the morning on November 5th and we still have not heard the election results. But, regardless of who wins, the issues of systemic racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and white supremacy will still reign at large. Yay for consistency?

Below are some tips for allies to be especially vigilant in their writing careers as they remain dedicated to providing space and support for their BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and disabled colleagues.

Nowadays, it feels like “ally” is such an overused and misunderstood term. I feel like we all know that one white girl who consistently says she’s an ally and has a Black friend and kissed a girl once but shuts up whenever things actually become important.

But there are some white folx who are genuine allies despite the hypocrisy others ascribe to the label.

So take it from a queer, non-binary, mixed-race writer (woof, aren’t labels fun?):

I have seen the positive effects of allyship. They are real.

Challenge yourself to engage in at least one of these tips when the opportunity presents itself. And keep your eyes open for those opportunities.

Look around the room. 

Representation in characters is great! But the next step towards better representation is what happens in the production of the story.

Look around the room and notice if there are publishers of color that you’re working with. Is the writer in the room the only LGBTQ+ person having to work with all straight/cis/gender-conforming publishers? Is the writer the only disabled person in the room? This will have an influence on their story.

It’s not just about the story itself. It’s about the people who are helping this story come to light.

Speak up if there’s a lack of diversity. 

If you’re white, straight, cis, male, abled, etc. - any identity that society has privileged - let your privilege speak beyond yourself. If you notice a lack of diversity in the room, say something about it. Don’t let it slide. Choose to engage in these issues rather than letting the current systems of oppression continue to run rampant.

Your voice carries more weight than you know.

If there’s only one person of color in the room, don’t make it their responsibility to point that out. Use your privilege to extend beyond yourself.

Being an ally is a verb, not a noun.

Take a moment to check yourself. 

We all benefit from various systems of oppression. That’s what privilege is. And we all have some modicum of it. So take a moment to step back and check yourself.

Privilege is tricky. It’s not glaringly obvious if you don’t attune yourself to seeing these inequalities.

But don’t think that it’s not your responsibility to identify them. Privilege can blind each of us in various ways. But that doesn’t mean we should take the world for what is handed to us.

Let yourself be wrong. 

If someone calls you out, take a moment to really listen to them. Try not to react or get defensive.

If someone is calling you out, they’re actually investing in your ability to change and grow.

So it’s not a criticism. Think of it more as a compliment.

Someone is offering you the opportunity to shift your perspective.

They’re pointing out behavior that you may not have realized you are embodying. And by doing this, they’re allowing you to recognize that you have room to improve. We all need to rely on one another to keep ourselves in check.

What are we if we are not constantly evolving?

Educate yourself. 

These systems of oppression are not going away any time soon. But progress happens in small steps forward. Just like voting, every action counts.

You have the capacity to affect change in a positive way. So why not capitalize on that ability?

If you’re looking for some resources to educate yourself on the demographics of diversity in publishing, here is a great place to start.

Lee & Low Books released their Diversity Baseline Survey for 2019 at the beginning of this year. They offer a comprehensive look into the various avenues of diversity that are not currently being met with adequate representation and support.

Also, be sure to check out NPR’s “Diversity in Book Publishing” and Chris Jackson’s piece on “Diversity in Publishing.”

Final Thoughts

Allyship doesn’t mean you have to negate your own experiences. There’s this myth that equality for one demographic of people means inequality for another.

But equality is not mutually exclusive.

If you feel secure in yourself, you’ll have no problem providing support for someone else who needs it.

So invest in your evolution and be the change you want to affect in the world. Progress only happens when we work together and look out for one another. If you’re just joining in the movement, welcome! It doesn’t matter if you’re “late” or if you’ve been here for a while.

We need everyone on board to fight for the right to exist peacefully and authentically together. 

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