The Achievements of Marginalized People Are Earned, Not Gifted

the-hate-you-giveWithout having read Angie Thomas’s book, The Hate You Give, I’m already certain of its quality. Where is all this buzz about the book coming from, considering it is only being released today? Why am I so certain it will be a great book to read?

Some of the buzz is coming from the many people who get a chance to read a book before it’s officially released. These are people who are part of the publishing process, and those who have been given ARCs. Part of my reason for being sure this will be a good book comes from trusting the judgment of these readers.

The other source of my confidence comes from a more complicated truth. When a marginalized writer of an OWN story (like Angie Thomas) gets a big publishing deal, people like me tend to assume the book is great. Why wouldn’t we? We know how the publishing industry works. We have seen how hard it is to get an agent, never mind get a deal like Ms. Thomas’s. Intimate experience has taught us nothing in this industry is a gift.

Another group of readers have a less informed point of view about big releases from marginalized writers. These are the people who think there’s a quota of books by certain categories of authors that publishers are forced to print.

This assumption is ridiculous on the face of it. Do they honestly believe there are only a handful of books written by marginalized writers that are remotely worthy of publishing? Do they not realize marginalized writers not only have to compete against everyone else, but also have to fight to be seen among other marginalized writers?

Despite the absurdity, they continue to think the accomplishments of marginalized writers of OWN stories as gifts from the publishing industry.

Marginalized authors of OWN stories can’t be ordinary. They can’t write a premier book that is simply GOOD. That will never be good enough for them to get a publishing deal, never mind a big release. Every book they get published has to be EXTRAORDINARY.

The two sets of assumptions are polar opposites, but both create a trap for marginalized writers. On the one hand, there’s the group of people who believe each book you publish will be golden. By virtue of how hard it is to get OWN stories published, they assume everything you publish will be an example of your best work. You have no room for mistakes, which everyone makes. There is no expectation of growth. If your book fails to dazzle such readers, they won’t come back for another.

On the flip side, the other group consists of readers who assume you are mediocre. They believe you have been given a deal because you were the best out a small pile offered to a publisher, who ultimately settled. Readers like this might change their minds, if you can get them to give your book a chance. That is the hard part. They are far more likely to cling to the belief they’d be wasting their time if they read your book.

The best picture debacle of Oscars 2017 highlighted this phenomena for me. I read a Tweet the following day that suggested Moonlight was only produced in order to satisfy calls for diversity. The person went on to suggest it wasn’t enough to give the Oscar to Moonlight; they had to humiliate the cast of La La Land in the process.

In other words, the makers of Moonlight didn’t earn their Oscar. It was gift from the film industry. The creators of La La Land aren’t to blame for what happened. They never intended to be part of the harm inadvertently caused to those involved in Moonlight. It doesn’t change the fact that harm was caused by that series of unfortunate events. Many people now have it fixed in their heads that the predominately black team behind Moonlight were gifted an Oscar by the mostly white team behind La La Land.

Like I said, this monumental screw-up highlighted for me how the achievements of marginalized people get reduced to a gift, rather than the fruits of hard work.

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