He won't take you far.
Write about a black character and your book will be shoved in the AA section of bookstores and suffer a horrible death.
You can be mad.
You can be disgusted.
But what you cannot do is call this a lie.
We live in a society that has come a great way since the 1950s. African Americans can sit anywhere on the bus, apply for any job they so desire (though, they might not be considered equally), and can speak without scorn or prejudice.
The United States has a black President.
A black woman is one of the richest people in the world.
Yet segregation still undermines these achievements.
When was the last time you saw a novel written by an African American or a work that featured a black MC as the lead on the NYT children's Bestseller list?
Perhaps no one is writing about them, you might say. But how very wrong you are.
One particular case involves a friend of mine who lives in the Upper East Side. We used to talk about our WIPS during Math in Middle School. His was a bold and unique idea called Release the Beast that featured a gritty black boy as the MC.
"I think people will like it - it's different and has a kick ass hero that looks like me!"
This was before he or I understood the industry the way we do - before ten year old boys became adults.
Fast forward twelve years later and his black lead is a white guy. Now, it is perfectly normal for an artist to switch his muse, but not for this reason, and I quote: "There really aren't any Black Authors of note who write for kids, and none on the "list". But beyond this, is the fact that black books die a slow death in the AA section of bookstores. Sure, I can write about one -- a great one -- but the reality is, it will get nowhere, and I want my book to go places -- It's just as good as any other."
He is selling out -- and this will hurt and offend a lot of people -- but can you blame him for wanting the best possible success rate for his work? Is he so wrong to seek riches and fame (and a spot on the list) like all authors out there?
The truth is, and it is a hard reality: books with black MCs don't sell as well as those with white ones. Regardless if written for kids or adults.
Our society has curbed racial segregation in almost every notable nook and cranny, but it is still prevalent in publishing.
Here is a short snippet from an article in the Huffingtonpost on this matter:
Publisher's Weekly's article "African-American Books in Today's Marketplace" makes clear that the "just Bess" attitude lives large in the American publishing industry. The article mimics the industry's tendency to believe that a) black writers write only for black audiences b) only black audiences could show interest in books by black authors, and c) books by black authors and/or with a black principal is inherently a "black book," and thus strangled in the market by the above limitations.
So folks will watch colored people on television and vote a black man as president, but they won't read about them?
African American culture is everywhere and there is no denying it. Perhaps this is their way of preserving the last "white profession"? Maybe, just maybe, they're insinuating that, despite great strides, most white people are racist?
When a man has to change his lead's skin color because it is the only way his work will sell, there is a problem both internally and externally - with said author and the industry.
However, reading is such a personal experience, because it is an engagement of the mind and soul. We often envisage ourselves as the characters we read about; that's kinda hard when the person looks nothing like us, but, then again, an animal is far from human as it is possible to be, yet they sell...
Why not the story of a little black boy?
Well, one very plausible cause consists of four words: Write what you know.
It is a tendency of any author to personify their experiences in their writing. It is often what makes it truly unique. Only in this case, who would've ever thought writing what you know, the oldest literary aphorism, could undermine an entire race?