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January 11, 2010

Comments

Linda Hargrove

Hi, Dee. Well-said, black woman. I was going to leave a comment on Facebook but I figured I'd better leave it here at the source instead.

I feel like I (and my two contemporary fiction titles peopled with lots of black characters) have been stuck in the projects for a while. I also feel that there's no getting out until we ALL get out, with renewed minds, spirits, and hearts, and start talking face-to-face about the problem. (whether we all think it's a problem or not)

Most people that frequent TMA (imho) will read your post and say 'no she didn't' and just chalk it up as another 'black' rant. Instead of seeing it as a plea from God's heart (which is what it is).

This reaches beyond fiction, beyond nonfiction (or at least should). It should reach to the way we worship in church, in our homes, with our iPods, with our children etc. etc. Hey, but don't get me started here. I might start preaching my woman at the well message.

So, I'm stuck in the book ghetto, feeling only marginally interested in writing my third novel which will have stronger themes of biblical racial reconciliation than the first two, which were only marginally marketed to blacks and deemed too black for whites.

Fast and pray.

PatriciaW

Wonderful post, Dee. You hit on every major issue relative to this topic. Christian publishers might want to read the recent Time article about Pastor Bill Hybel and Saddleback Church, how they actively sought integration (and how things began to slowly creep backward when they stopped). Doing what you do the way you've always done it with the folks you've always done it with, even when there's no conscious malice, is simply not good enough.

Nicole

What a conundrum! Dee, you expressed some high-charged (and I don't blame you) problems here.

I've read a tiny bit of your writing you provided for my Saturday Sample feature quite some time ago, and there's no question you can write and write well. What a neat voice, and, yes, it speaks of "black" cultural elements of expression but by no means does that make any difference to the writing gift or the storyline.

If CBA silently and secretively espouses prejudice: shame on 'em. I truthfully don't know. I do know that marketing books by AA authors only during February is absurd.

I can also say that the marketing for many a new author in CBA lacks "heart" and fails to feature the strengths of either the authors or the books. The black hole of marketing needs an overhaul.

I know there are a lot of us out here who wish the absurdity of racism would diminish and fade away, but it ain't goin' nowhere fast. People like me (a white lady) come up short with answers or suggestions and just feel badly when reading things like your post.

I know Linda Hargrove has worked tirelessly to promote reconciliation and I remember a poll where she asked what "alienated" white people or what kept them from reading black literature (paraphrased description). One poignant response said sometimes the language/circumstance made the white person feel left out of an insider situation. So is it the same for an AA reading the mutlitude of "white" literature? Hard questions.

The whole situation as you described it, Dee, makes me wilt. Good grief. Must we still segregate ourselves? So sad.

Madison Richards

Dee,

Words should be valued if they are well written. Those words don't have a face, and that's the beauty of the written word, in my opinion. In fact, I wish so often that we (as a reading public, regardless of CBA or ABA or any other label) could do away with branding and name recognition and do a blind "taste test" of words - reading without bias, for content and quality alone...

Maybe we have the same dream??

Grace,
Madison

Dera

This was a very well-written commentary. You hit on a lot of topics and concerns I have voiced on my online book group. You made a great parallel and contrast and compare with the secular vs. Christian. But I am not surprised. So much of the "so-called" Christians are inclusive up to a point. The majority of white Christians are ultra conservative and that spills over to race relations. Thank you for a great commentary; I just hope the message gets to those that need to hear it and not just preaching to the choir. :-)

Dee Stewart

Hi, Linda.

Thanks for commenting. I'm surprised I received any comments. Usually I try to reserve these discussions for a literary magazine I write for or conversations with my writer friends, but this morning when I asked God what did He want me to say today here. This is it. I know to many the post will receives deaf ears. Racism is a clever demon. It makes us do and see things as though they were there. Hopefully, it will be my only rant this year, because I also know my one post won't change it all, spark a movement to change I would be humbled.

Patricia, what Saddleback has been doing is a great example of a solution and an understanding that this change has to be consistent. We have lived this way for centuries. We have worshiped this way for centuries. Last year when my family church gained our first white member I was so happy. I hope to live to see a time when at least within the Body of Christ we find value in each of us.

Nicole, thanks for responding. Yeah, this is a touchy subject and I don't expect much response from non-African American authors, because it's not their issue. And as humans if we can't relate we don't empathize. On the other hand, sometimes we relate, but can't find a solution for the cause, so we remain silent.

Books like The Help sheds a light on how people of color were treated in the Civil Rights era, but there are little that depict life now. Civil Rights is still not over, not as long as we're still treated separate, but not equal.

Next time I'll right something funny that'll cheer you guys up. LOL.

Dee Stewart

Madison, aren't we Wonder Twins, so I would assume we have the same dream. :)

Dee Stewart

Hi, Dera. Thanks for commenting.

In my experience --I have many white Christian friends--they are actually moderate. The politics of Mass Media would have us believe otherwise. What I see on my side of the pond is moderates like to feel safe. The Help is a safe good read. I take issue with the book, because of my personal connection to it and I know for a fact that if an AA author wrote the book using the same white protagonist she would have be run out of town. We would have to take on an alias and pretend to be white, in order to get in the door with that book. And some of us have, you know?

I remember in college I asked my white roommate if she could apply for an apartment in Buckhead for me. I had been there before and the leasing agent was cold to me. My girlfriend goes in, uses my name, my social, my payroll check,not my ID, she tells them she left hers at home or something, and got my apartment for me. They never knew I lived there, because my rent was automatic deposit and the maintenance guys were black, so why did they do that to me? Don't know, but thank God for my friend...lol. We know how to get around things, but true freedom means you don't have to hide who you are, especially to tell a good story.

mike duran

Dee, I have no stake in the Christian publishing debate, other than being a Christian. Personally, I do not gravitate towards authors, musicians, actors, or filmmakers based on their race. If an album or book or movie looks good, I don't care about the artist's skin color. Never have. So these kinds of discussions kind of alienate me, as I think they do many.

One problem, as I see it, is in quantifying racial demographics. In other words, how many blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics, Filipinos, etc., etc., are in any mix. Are Asians adequately represented in the CBA? Hispanics? What about mixed races? And then what about the disproportionate ratio of women to men? There are way, way more women than men publishing in the CBA. Does that matter? My point is, the minute we start counting gender, skin color, or ethnicity, we begin to narrow the field. What percentage of AA authors should the CBA have? What percentage of editors and publishing staff? Then include other ethnicities. But where do we stop? The CBA is already a "narrow" genre. By specifying race we only constrict ourselves further and compound our frustration.

By marketing an author as an African American we immediately limit their scope and take them out of the mainstream. In the long run, I think it's better to simply emphasize story over skin color. Any editor worth their salt shouldn't care about an author's race. And if they do, they ain't worth tolerating.

Blessings, Dee!

Christine Pembleton

I loved every word, and learned a great deal. What goes unsaid, goes unanswered. So, now, I look forward to the responses from those who participate in these practices.

Tiffany

@ Mike Duran - Unfortunately, African American authors will rarely know what members of other cultures think about their books, because these books are SOLELY marketed to African Americans. Bookstores and publishers ghettoize our Christian Fiction by placing it on the shelves next to Erotica, Street, and other fiction written by African Americans. I recently went into the Borders near my home looking for my books and took pictures of the segregated Christian Fiction section. There was NOT ONE African American author there.

Here's a good one....how about the fact that these AA Christian Fiction authors at the major publishing houses don't have the benefit of Kingdom minded editors. The editor who edited my last release was also responsible for the Video Vixen books. What does one have to do with the other? This is not to say that these editors are not equipped to handle the job, however, the Non-African American Christian Fiction authors at my publisher have their own imprint with separate editorial staffs. Separate and unequal anyone?

Interestingly enough, books by my Latino and Asian counterparts strangely find their way into the mainstream. Are African Americans really so unique in our cultural makeup that our literature is not relatable? Or is it that the majority consumer, does not want to think of African Americans in terms of scholars and historians? Are we able to only exist in the arts that the "mainstream" finds acceptable? I am allowed to be a singer, but rarely an opera singer; I am allowed to be a musician, but rarely a classical musician; I am allowed to dance, but rarely as a prima ballerina; I am allowed to write, but rarely something of note.

This is the dilemma African American entrepreneurs had when creating companies like BET, the Black Ms. America Paegent, the Black Oscars, etc. Then, after years of being in existence, and proving their profitability, the "mainstream" producers, television station owners, etc. all of a sudden became "enlightened" and even blasted the African Americans for creating their own accolades and venues of expression. Now, Tyler Perry can be on TBS, even though his content has barely changed since he stepped onto the scene? More enlightened? I think not.

Okay...this is already too long. I need my own blog. But I'm afraid that nothing will change until there is an African American owned publishing house with distribution to rival the major New York houses. Not a Black acquisitions editor, publicity team, etc. Black ownership.

How I wish it weren't true.

Nicole

Not in any way trying to be political here or controversial, but being, again, a white lady, a Christian, an "ultra-Conservative", skin color is not an issue with me. Our individual ethnic persuasions have no bearing whatsoever on our God-given abilities or our desires to pursue what God has for any of us. What being "ultra-Conservative" has to do with race relations is beyond my understanding.

Sherryle Kiser Jackson

This shed a disheartening truth. It was powerfully said, and I wish the powers that be in Christian Publishing wake up to the barriers they place of the written ministry

Rhonda McKnight

Fist bump, Dee!

Let me know if I can repost to my blog. Be encouraged.

Dee Stewart

@Rhonda Thanks. You can repost. I'm humbled and thankful for you. Fist bump.

@Sherryle Thanks for commenting. I owe you a note about The Manual. We need to pray and fast on this issue and continue to not close the door on this secret shame.

@Nicole. Thanks for your comment. I personally don't know an ultra-conservative outside of myself. My ob still can't believe that I'm a mom. lol. I'm such a prude. lol. I agree good storytelling breaks down all barriers. good stories should speak to the round-the-way-girl and an "a white, ultraconservative woman" who always has nice things to say about my posts. ;) I got you.

Dee Stewart

@Christine Thanks so much. However, I caught some diction issues that I am updating now. LOL. And I left out a quote from NYT buttressing my point about the Help's choice for a main character. So I guess I won't add that in. LOL.

Dee Stewart

@Tiffany Thanks for your response. You are I believe the only AA Christian author at Grand Central, so I'm very honored that you chimed in.

You are correct. Typically Asian, Latina & Middle Eastern writers are shelved with the other books. If you read Elle or any major woman's mag those authors aren't featured in special issues, but a part of it's normal rotation. However, for us, our books are rarely featured as top picks. I am a huge champion of Ngozi Chimamandi Adichie, Carleen Brice, Sharon Ewell Foster, Deberry & Grant, whose stories find there way into mainstream media. Carleen's book turned movie will air next month on Lifetime. However, February is black history month. Again...placement and cultural distance.

If we're talking separate, but equal it would have to be a publishing house owned by an African American, managed by majority African-American across all departments except one in each department, the same distribution, endowment, annual revenue, imprints for non-AA authors, limited marketing budget for those imprints, which includes not paying for bookstore chain shelf space to support them.

Dee Stewart

@Mike Thanks so much for commenting, you busy man.

Let me answer a few questions for you that may help you understand this situation:

"One problem, as I see it, is in quantifying racial demographics. In other words, how many blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics, Filipinos, etc., etc., are in any mix. Are Asians adequately represented in the CBA? Hispanics?"

There is data to quantify the mix of Christian readers in a bookstore. I chat with bookstore managers every month about their numbers. I base my top ten lists on them.

No, they are not. However, the Asian and Latina writers that are supported under CBA aren't marginalized to one month to feature. Independent editors aren't hired to edit their books. There books are not marketed to bookstore sales reps as multicultural to be house in the AA section. In fact there are no Latino or Asian sections period in bookstores or Walmart or Target. As I said before this issue isn't confined to CBA. Mainstream publishers do the same thing. However, shouldn't the CBA be different? Should they not be separating us by race?

"And then what about the disproportionate ratio of women to men? There are way, way more women than men publishing in the CBA. Does that matter?"

Yes, it does. But not for this discussion. Statistically there are more women fiction buyers than men in America. Men and women both have shelf space inside bookstores. I write for Romantic Times Reviews. Readers love it when male authors are featured.

I've never heard an editor snicker about the male voice. I've heard it spoken about the African-American one...within Christian publishing. Big, huge, difference.

"My point is, the minute we start counting gender, skin color, or ethnicity, we begin to narrow the field."

I agree very much with this statement. So why are we counted? Because we are. If a line has more than three AA authors on it, there is a subliminal message that that line is "edgy." I receive press releases from publicists for publishing houses like that and they all have the word "edgy" in them. When let's be real, edgy might as well mean "black." I'm sure the publishing house doesn't want that stigma, as the authors.

"What percentage of AA authors should the CBA have?"

That question puts me off, because it isn't the point of this post. Any publisher CBA or ABA should house the authors they believe will fit the publishing house's mission and appear to be what they believe readers will want to purchase. Publishing houses--CBA included-- purpose is to sell books. Therefore, percentage shouldn't matter. Well written, compelling pageturners with a national platform should. I still don't like that question or what it implies. I could be wrong in what I think it implies.

"What percentage of editors and publishing staff? Then include other ethnicities."

There are no AA editors in CBA outside of Moody's Lift Every Voice imprint and Harrison Houses' defunct Walk Worthy Press. An imprint again buttressing my point. Although Rhonda McKnight is an independent editor, who services mostly ABA published Christian novelists. She responding on this post earlier. There are a handful,Sha-shana Chricton and Janelle Agyeman to name a small few. Most of their clientele is also ABA authors. Again. My point. To my knowledge no white author has sought representation from AA agents and independent editors.

God has blessed me that I have equal part white and black clients for my services, but I'm in marketing and PR, so...

"But where do we stop? The CBA is already a "narrow" genre. By specifying race we only constrict ourselves further and compound our frustration...Any editor worth their salt shouldn't care about an author's race. And if they do, they ain't worth tolerating."

Blessings, Mike! I'm with you 100% ABA can do their thing, but should publishing houses built to honor God work in the same way? We shouldn't be counting agents, editors, authors...nothing. We should be different. We should be better. We should be the example

Nicole

Amen!

pam perry

You got it. This is sooooooo true. People better recognize!

dee stewart

Thanks, Pam. I need to talk with you, dear.

Ellis

Good morning Dee:

My experience as a CBA start up retailer is that the same modeling practices used in the secular world holds true in Christian retailing. I originally wanted to open a Christian retail franchise in an inner city community in New Jersey. However, none of the major chains entertained my interest. I later found out that their business models are largely based on middle to high-income suburban areas. Since there is a positive correlation with ‘inner city’ to ‘African American’, I often use these terms interchangeably. This is not to say that there are no African Americans in Mid-high income brackets, but to say that there is still a disproportionately high number in the low-middle income brackets. This is how retailers typically create their merchandising strategies – not marketing as black or white or whatever, but who has the highest perceived spending power.

Studies show that he inner city is largely mid-understood in terms of spending power and as a result, there is little supply to meet the African American demand. I have since developed a business model that will work well in urban communities and cater to African Americans in addition to the masses. There have been many challenges in convincing investors, since for most people it is easier to stick with status quo. We are about to begin the first phase of the venture, which is to relaunch our website to build consumer support and cash flow. The second phase is to open begin to actual stores on Atlanta, GA, Newark, NJ, Washington DC, Chicago IL, and Detroit MI. The goal of this is not to create a separate segregated retailing entity, but to create something where I and people who look like me have the opportunity to purchase products that cater to our needs, desires, and fosters our growth in Christ.

I say all of his to say that wherever there is a lack or need, there is an opportunity. Many times we look at situations and shake our heads, but maybe this is God’s way of showing us open doors for us to walk through. Stay tuned for the relaunch at TBBbookstore.com and Ellis_still@wordpress.com . Have a great day!!!

Ellis

J. Mark Bertrand

You got me thinking, Dee. It seems like one of the tensions here is the one between niche marketing and targeting the mainstream. Your concern about books not finding a wider audience because they're shelved as "AA fiction" is the same concern CBA authors in general have about their books being lost in the "inspirational" ghetto, instead of shelved wherever their genre might dictate. Do you play up the inspirational element to try and hook that demographic a little better, or downplay it to reach a wider audience? In publishing, it seems like the marketing folks take the first option. The more easily something can be categorized, the easier it is to explain, and the easier it is for consumers with a specialized interest in the category to find it. Even if this sacrifices non-specialist consumers (who may never know the book exists), the thinking must be that it's safer to pitch to the "base."

Most writers, though, (myself included) seem to take the opposite view. We want our books to be more widely circulated, to be pitched to the broader audience, perhaps because we're hoping for a big success rather than a statistical break-even. The marketing folk give that wide circulation only to books they really believe in, commercially speaking. That recurring CBA question seems to apply here: "Who am I writing for?" Writers want to speak to the world, and publishers (who're taking the financial risk) want to sell to the choir, the most reliable market. Everybody talks about crossing over, but nobody has a formula that works.

Obviously, you have wider concerns than this, but I'm guessing that whatever the downside is, the original impetus behind that "AA fiction" shelf was beneficial. No one was serving the community, so someone stepped in to fill the vacuum. Same as with CBA fiction. As time passes and things mature, the label becomes counter-productive and needs to change, expand, or even die.

dee stewart

Hi, Ellis,

I remember TBBB. Glad yall are coming back. See you in Atlanta. Hit me up.

a

another reason this is is because publishers are confortable with blacks being in a certain genre, the struggle, humor, etc, but REAL stories about REAL people do not sell, because most of mainstream american feels that our stories are not THEIR stories, when infact they are. It is still a result of slavery, white people feel confortable reading about blacks written by whites but the other way aaround is a not so. It is a fact, and a result of white guilt sorry, not meant to be divisive, but Bible said be sure your sin will find you out(numbers) somewheres.

Dee Stewart

A, i do believe the publishing industry, mainstream in particular, produces content that satisfies society at large. however, literature, historically has been a tool--a catalyst--to bring about societal change. that is my issue with christian publishing. if we are the light to the world, then the literature we support should do just that.

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