The exchanges on Twitter of the past week (please see the links below) have left many people in children’s literature feeling isolated, upset, angry and sad. This includes members of our Megaphone community. At a member’s request we provided an informal opportunity for our community to discuss the topic and air views if they wanted to. Following that discussion I have decided to restate Megaphone’s mission and the context for that mission.
This statement comes from Leila Rasheed and from Stephanie King, as the organisers of this Arts Council England funded project. Megaphone Community is a group of around 50 people and no statement can encompass everyone’s views, nor is it intended to.
Megaphone Writer Development Scheme was created by Leila in 2015 to amplify the voices of people of colour in British children’s literature. The core activity is writer education, especially published children’s writers of colour mentoring emerging children’s writers of colour.
Megaphone Community’s members are all very different and have experiences of racism that are very different. Some of us are privileged enough to experience very little day-to-day direct racism. Others experience direct racism every single day of their lives.
However, what we all have in common is not being white in an industry that normalises and centres upon whiteness. Book Trust and UCL’s research has demonstrated that over the past 11 years, fewer than 2% of creators of children’s literature published in the UK have been British people of colour. CLPE’s research, too, has shown how children of colour are under-represented and mis-represented in children’s books. Multiple reports from well-established organisations over many years have identified how people of colour are racialised and minoritized in publishing and also in education. Information is out there. It is hard to see what else writers of colour can do to make themselves heard. Publishing, and associated areas, have to want to listen.
Recently, we conducted an anonymised survey of the 50 members of Megaphone Community, all emerging children’s writers of colour, in order to better understand their experiences. Among other findings, 76% of respondents (19/25 responses) agreed with the statement that “there are some conversations I do not feel comfortable having in a group of majority white writers”. This feeling will surely only be reinforced by online behaviour such as that last week of highly visible, influential, white children’s authors.
Megaphone exists exactly because people of colour are all very different, and currently, too few voices among this vast range of people are heard and represented in publishing and literary authorship, which results in stereotyping and tokenism. We want to enable a real diversity of voices to be heard and listened to in children’s literature because we think this is the only way that events such as those of last week will stop happening. We intend to continue now to concentrate on our mission to support and sustain people of colour to write and publish great literature for children because we think that is the best and most positive contribution we can make to the situation.
Finally, we warmly thank everyone who has offered support, both moral and financial, to Megaphone in the past few days. We are glad you see us as part of the solution. We also thank our core funders and partners over the years who have made Megaphone possible: Arts Council England, Usborne Publishing, The Publishers’ Association and Writing West Midlands.
Article by one of the directly affected people: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/aug/13/pointing-out-racism-in-books-is-not-an-attack-kate-clanchy
Statement from the Society of Authors: https://societyofauthors.org/News/News/2021/August/Inclusivity-across-publishing
Booktrust represents: https://www.booktrust.org.uk/what-we-do/programmes-and-campaigns/booktrust-represents/representation-of-people-of-colour-among-childrens-book-authors-and-illustrators/#!?q=&sortOption=MostRecent&pageNo=1
Rethinking diversity in publishing: https://www.spreadtheword.org.uk/projects/rethinking-diversity/
Racism in education: https://www.nasuwt.org.uk/news/campaigns/act-for-racial-justice.html