‘We too often mistake discussing diversity for doing anything constructive about it’ … Marlon James. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer
‘We too often mistake discussing diversity for doing anything constructive about it’ … Marlon James. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer

‘It’s not for the black person to be more open-minded. It’s for the white person to be less racist,’ says Booker winner in essay arguing it’s ‘time to stop talking’ about diversity in publishing

Marlon James, the author of the Booker-winning A Brief History of Seven Killings, has said that it’s “time to stop talking” about diversity, arguing that “it’s not for the black person to be more open-minded. It’s for the white person to be less racist.”

In an essay posted on the Literary Hub on Thursday, the Jamaican novelist suggests that “we too often mistake discussing diversity for doing anything constructive about it”, with the same points raised on panels about diversity year after year.

Imagining the outrage that would greet an all-white panel discussion of diversity, James asks: “Why do we need a black person on a panel to talk about inclusion when it’s the white person who needs to figure out how to include?” The fact the books industry is still having diversity panels, he continues, “not only means that we continue to fail, but the false sense of accomplishment in simply having one is deceiving us into thinking that something was tried”.

Writers of colour, he says, are invited to talk on panels, “as if by getting Claudia Rankineto talk about diversity one has accomplished something”.

“You would think our sole purpose as writers at these panels is to broaden the understanding of white people, when we could, you know, talk about writing,” he writes. “It’s not for the black person to be more open-minded. It’s for the white person to be less racist. It’s not for the trans person to prove why she needs to use the female bathroom. It’s for the bigot to stop attacking trans people. The problem with me coming to the table to talk about diversity is the belief that I have some role to play in us accomplishing it, and I don’t.”

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SOURCE: The Guardian