In June, best-selling author James Patterson sparked a controversy by declaring that white male writers—especially older white males—face discrimination in the publishing world. He’s not the only one to have suggested this, either.
As an unpublished older white male myself, it might be thought that I’d be sympathetic to this argument. I’m not. It’s oblivious, self-pitying and unsupported by the facts. I refuse to have anything to do with it.
Sure, it’s hard to get published as a debut fiction writer. There are many factors at play in the publishing industry that are to blame: the written word’s declining share of the consumer’s entertainment dollar, consolidation in the publishing industry, financial pressures on publishers that encourage pursuit of the tried-and-true “sure thing”. Discrimination against white men, however, is not one of them.
Part of the problem is the increasing prevalence of a viewpoint that insists on seeing any lowering of barriers to marginalized groups, any leveling of what has traditionally been a steeply slanted playing field, however small, as “discrimination” against the dominant group. This idea has permeated American society, so it should be no surprise to see it making its ugly presence felt in the writing community. I, for one, am pleased to see increasing diversity among published authors. My life as a reader has been made incalculably richer because of my exposure to Toni Morrison and Colson Whitehead, Viet Thanh Nguyen and Min Jin Lee, Tommy Orange and Louise Erdrich, Jhumpa Lahiri and Mohsin Hamid, to name only a few.
The other problem is the common mistake of assuming one’s accomplishments are solely the result of one’s own talent and effort, failing (or refusing) to see the enormous role that privilege plays. I am extraordinarily fortunate to be able to devote so much time to an endeavor that gives me as much pleasure as writing does, without fear of putting my own or my family’s well-being at risk if my efforts don’t pay off. Sure, I worked hard at my career for many years to get to this position. I earned every dollar I made by giving my employers and their clients value for their money. But the education that prepared me for that work, my success at being offered good jobs, the health care that kept me going, the safe, comfortable neighborhoods I’ve lived in all were more accessible to me because of my race and gender. I’m in no position to complain. About anything.
I do hope to get published. I know the odds are against me. They’re against every debut writer. But if I don’t get published, you won’t hear me blaming it on the comparatively few marginalized writers who do break into the publishing world. No, I’ll be reading their books and cheering them on.