Yesterday we published our first report from our Public Diversity Editor, Vanessa Willoughby. As promised, we published it with minimal stylistic editing, all of which Vanessa approved before publication.
Why are we publishing a diversity report? It's a question worth asking again, and the answer is simple: either you think that the world is just and that the inequalities experienced in our society (or, more acutely, in the publishing world) by people of color, women, and LGBT people are because of their inherent lesserness, or you accept that bias and privilege are real.
That means, as two white male cofounders, we have unconscious biases. Since they're unconscious, we're by definition not aware of them. Anybody who has ever had a friend or loved one point out something blindingly obvious in their personality, that they missed, will agree that humans are complex, and we don't always see ourselves clearly. We have tremendous cognitive biases. When someone points out where you are failing, that does not somehow make you weak — instead, it allows you to correct the failure and become stronger.
One thing that's difficult in addressing diversity is looking past quota or color. The first reaction to realizing you have very few black writers in your publication is to look for black writers. But doing so misses the point of inclusion, where Vanessa rightly pointed out our focus should be. We're not trying to get a cookie or do something good for good's sake, we're trying to broaden the point of view of our writers and the people we write about.
That means not looking for x black people, or x gay people, or x women, but spending time reading people of color, say, to find voices that resonate with us, and then reaching out. We shouldn't hire somebody because they're a person of color, we should push ourselves to read broadly among people who fall into those groups, and discover those voices that speak to us, within circles we otherwise may not have travelled.
The people we publish are not a quota, they are individuals with viewpoints, aspirations, and biases of their own, and widening our circle by including them makes the varied points of view we publish more interesting. If, with their help, we lean away from the mean of the history of publishing, that strengthens us.
The only thing we missed seeing mention in Vanessa's report this time was how we did with inclusion of LGBT folks and issues. We have published pieces by or about genderqueer and trans writers, from gay and lesbian points-of-view, and from bisexual writers as well. We want to make sure that these writers are considered as well in Vanessa's next report.
But other than that critique, we have taken her report in the spirit it was offered, and are considering ways that we can do better. Not, again, for a reward or pat on the head, not because it's the "right" thing or because it matches or progressive values. We do it because the history of publishing is the historical story of mostly white men, and as white men, we're fed up with them. We want our work to be better, broader, deeper, and more resonant.
Thanks to Vanessa for her work on this, and thanks to you for reading. We're always happy to hear what our readers think; we hope that Vanessa has started a conversation you'll want to join.