#DVPit took place last week. If you aren't familiar, this was a twitter pitch event specifically for diverse authors and/or diverse projects. I want to be very clear that I support the idea behind things like #DVPit, and some other attempts, namely to increase diversity & representation in publishing as an industry and in the literature that is published.
What I struggle with is how this being done. Specifically, forcing people to publicly label themselves. It's as if now, if you don't proclaim which diverse group(s) you may fit into, you can't possibly be diverse. This ignores the many reasons someone may choose not to identify, to "pass" if they can. And online? Most of us can, if we so choose.
Imagine, for instance, someone living in San Francisco who has no problem identifying along the LGBTQA+ spectrum—e.g. in a public Twitter pitch event. Now compare that person with someone from a homophobic, "conservative" small town, who may have many reasons for not coming out so publicly (or at all). The person who has the opportunity to safely label themselves now has the (comparative, in this specific sense) advantage of standing out due to their diversity, even though the two people are in reality equally diverse. The one who isn't "out" now has to choose: pass up this and related opportunities in the writing world, or endanger many other opportunities in their real life. Like it or not, plenty of hateful, discriminating people are still in positions of power.
There are more visceral reasons for my hesitation as well. Remember the last time* Jews were required to wear yellow stars? Forced to publicly identify with a specific group, making them easy to spot and then easy to target. Easy to label as "other" and then easy to hate. Remember what happened then? (It's called the Holocaust, in case I'm not being clear.)
- *The practice of requiring Jews and sometimes other groups to publicly distinguish themselves from the "mainstream" is hundreds of years old.
Of course, the goal is different—but is the result? Participating in something like #DVPit, or having to brand yourself with your type of diversity once published to help with sales, means publicly labeling yourself in a way not so different from those yellow stars. And did you catch the part where brand could mean marketing but also burning an identifying symbol into the flesh?
Maybe we're starting with the idea of being proud of identity, but ultimately, we're still providing lists of labels that are publicly accessible. Labels that will be impossible to remove. Lists of members of groups that are still targeted, all over the world. In attempting to support diverse people, specifically in this case writers, we're forcing them to put themselves in danger (or miss out), because it isn't only the people who support diversity who will have access to these lists, these labels. These now multicolored stars.
The internet being what it is, anyone will be able to see these people self-identifying, branding themselves. Far too many of those people will only care in terms of being able to target those who do. It's unfair and privileged of those who aren't in danger—whether themselves diverse but in more accepting local communities, or simply not diverse—to pressure or even require others to label themselves, or else feel stripped of their identity. And it's terrifying.
Many writers won't even admit to writing romance in their real lives—because people still get fired from their day jobs for doing so. How about the potential fallout of identifying as disabled? Or trans in a non-accepting community? Etc. Those brands will definitely be great for helping them do things like earn a living, even if we discount being targeted for hate crimes.
Yes, there's the option of using pseudonyms, but nowadays those are a thin shield at best. There is, however, a perceived gap between writing about diverse characters and being diverse yourself. That's why people attempting to improve representation want writers to identify as "own voices." It's also a level of protection for those who, for many reasons including their safety, need to "pass" in their day-to-day lives—protection that endeavors like #DVPit are, albeit unintentionally, stripping away.
It took me years to even casually mention being Jewish online. I still don't mention it often, as many of you know. I also qualify as "diverse" in at least 3 more ways, according to DVPit's guidelines, but I won't say what those are right now. Partially because I am more than any one aspect of my identity, but partially because I don't feel safe slapping labels like that one on myself. Of opening myself up to all the malice that might come my way if the wrong person were to come across that information. Imagine a hateful person coming across a list of gay people, of Muslim people, of immigrants, of disabled people (etc.)—knowing exactly where to find them, exactly how to target them. How to eradicate them in the name of "righteousness" or whatever other horrifying agenda.
Maybe this hasn't been brought up with the people championing events such as #DVPit. So here I am, pointing it out. Forcing people to self-identify is no different than telling them to proudly wear those yellow stars. The goal may be knowing where to offer the carrot, but it will almost inevitably mean those same people being beaten with sticks.
So please. Don't make us wear stars, whatever color they may be.