I’m looking at potential reviewers to approach for future works and one thing I have noticed about myself (that I already knew all along):
I prefer to seek out BIPoC reviewers only.
Reason? I want my works to have a fair review, be it positive or negative. I personally do not believe that is really something I can expect from White reviewers, who usually have next to zero background in reading, studying or understanding any diverse literature, let alone Black literature. (Trust me, I’m a Black kid with a degree in English literature from a White university, I’m in the field of library science and I have been around Whiteness in literary settings – if it isn’t obsessing or waxing poetic about Shakespearean or Vonnegut literature, their opinions are pretty pointless).
Any piece of literature in the world is going to have its own themes, ideas, literary styles, concepts, etc. If all you know is of the European diaspora literature … and you were told that only the European diaspora literature is “actual” literature and should be the yardstick of “what is literature?” – especially “what is good/actual literature” – you can’t fairly judge a book that falls outside of the European diaspora. At all.
I have already heard many White readers take a whack at looking at and critiquing literature that’s on the rest of the planet. It’s really, really bad. A lot are not taught much at all the idea of “there are different perspectives on this planet and not everything was made for your personal consumption. You might have to broaden your viewpoints and think a little.” They’re just patted on the head and coddled … and then these folks cry blood when they’re informed even politely, “You read Joe Turner: Come & Gone incorrectly.” Guess how I know?
It takes time, skill and study to learn literature, there’s a reason why it is a degree. Especially if you want to critique it, then it takes more time, study and skill. If all a White reviewer knows about Black literature is “Murdering Black people for existing is wrong apparently (we literally have to be slow-walked about it at adult ages but are somehow not called ‘potentially homicidal sociopaths’)” and “Black people suffer a lot”, then no, please do not touch or review my work. Not all Black created work is Suffera literature. Black works do not and should not exist to primarily slow-walk White people things they should have learned as children nor should it cater to White ideas, opinions or feelings. Problem is, the average White literary reviewer does not get that. They may say they do but, trust me, they don’t. Guess how I know?
I try to be pretty well versed in my literature. I took classes studying Asian literature from various nations (as well as their language classes), Black literature, etc. I had gender study courses, crit race theory courses, literature courses that had diverse picks (when I had BIPoC* professors or White professors that actually knew how to do their jobs). Actually, I received more diverse learning in high school than I did in college. (That’s pathetic. Especially since college costed money, high school didn’t)). I also personally consume diverse media around the world (I know 5+ languages, I might as well use them) very regularly. It’s a life long education course, in a way. Good thing I actually like learning new things and being exposed to new ideas. Even if I don’t understand them, I want to see them anyways. If I have to speak on it, I always frontload the best I can, “My perspective can be very wrong af, I recommend looking for an informed person from that cultural background. I learned a lot but I could always miss something” because it’s true. For example, I can talk about the trans identity from a scholarly and academic perspective, from a well-read perspective – but that doesn’t change the major fact that A ) I’m very much a cis person and B ) I must frontload that I’m cis and that I should center other, way more informed (and actually trans!) people. Yeah, I try to be well read about the trans experience and know trans people but that doesn’t make me a trans person nor does it mean my opinion on the trans experience matters at all. (It doesn’t. I’m cis.)
I want someone who is well versed in Black literature – or just plain not “White is automatically right, we will only allow supportive disagreement if there is any” type of reviewer. I don’t cater my books to the White gaze so I’m not interested in getting a bad review because a White reviewer goes “I didn’t understand anything that was happening in the book. I don’t know how to sympathize for a Black character ever and I only like to read about ones that are graphically suffering from state violence and goads my White guilt. And what is a satin wrap?” or “I took one (1) class of Black literature (I hardly paid attention in and debated with the teacher every chance I got) therefore, I am very well qualified to say this book has [name every incorrect theme evaaaar]. I read ‘1619 Project’, I know about the Negro condition – I mean the whatever-they-call-themselves-now-Is-it-Black(?) people condition.” And these are people with degrees loftier than mine. But always makes me wonder “what Cracker Jack box did you get your degree out of?” Back in college, it really super showed me that “college” definitely does not mean “smart”. I knew it prior but it was definitely nailed down by the time my university experience was over.
While I do plan to have my works in front of major review publications, such as Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal, I don’t expect much of the world out of them. I personally put more weight behind BIPoC reviewers and suggesters because the reviews seem more thorough and well, understanding of the work, even if the work didn’t receive a glowing review. It’s not that I think my works are more likely to get a positive review from a BIPoC reviewer, just a fairer review. Which is all I want. Fair review from a hopefully knowledgeable reviewer.
It would be nice to hope that I get a knowledgeable White reviewer (a lot of the reviewers of the major publications are indeed White. I think they would rather drink poison than actually diversify outside of blatant tokenization) but from my experiences, I don’t count on it. I’ve seen snide reviews, demoralizing reviews, all sorts of reviews that were supposed to be professional but basically went “This is why we think only White people should write everything, including PoC stories. No one (White) can understand this sh*t.” This thinking is even taught in college! It would be nice to get a BIPoC reviewer in a major publication (who is hopefully not the self-hating, “It would be nice to be White” type, which is commonly sought out in academic, STEM and literature circles), at least I can hope that my work would get some kind of a fair shake. At minimum, I don’t have to think, “They hated it because they had to read two words of Spanish or Chinese and no one was beaten or murdered by a cop so they saw no value in the work.”
If anyone thinks I’m being too negative or separatist, imagine what it might feel like to know your creative endeavors can be dismissed as nonsense simply because of someone else’s unchecked bias. Not because your work sucks. Not because you didn’t put in enough effort. Simply because they were taught, “When you see this, automatically consider it ‘bad’. If they’re not White, they can’t write” since pre-school to university – and then shoved into decision-making jobs and/or taste-making decisions. I have to navigate that, which is not fun. I’m simply trying to duck that unchecked and coddled bias as much as possible. I’m reacting to that behavior, in other words. I bet if that behavior disappeared overnight, so would my apt avoidance. Again, all I want is a fair shot.
Besides, since my primary audience is BIPoC (and QPoC**, by extension), shouldn’t they be the ones I go to first? They’re the readers who will best understand – and hopefully enjoy – the work, it makes sense to me. If some random White kid can’t understand Dreamer (which would baffle me a little, it isn’t James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, geez), that would be 100% not my problem. I didn’t get slow walked or coddled when I didn’t understand Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, no one. I was just declared “predictably stupid” until I picked it up. And that was when I was a child. I got the same treatment in college. So, yeah, at least I’m not calling the kid “predictably stupid” (and then blocking them out of life changing job opportunities, resources, etc), I’m just saying their difficulty of understanding is 100% not my problem. They’re free to, y’know, learn with all the kid-glove level of resources available. If they can enjoy it, even if they don’t understand it, then that’s marvelous! It’s the least I can ask for as an author. Like I said, BIPoC and QPoC are my primary audience – thus the audience I care most about and make my works for – but not my only audience. I look at media not made for me all the time but I don’t treat that media as if it should cater to me or thus be considered “poor quality/pointless”.
Then there’s the fact I grew up with, well, street writers. People who wrote and sold books on street corners out of their backpacks or from small wire stalls. Sometimes they sold at literary events (occasionally, when not scoffed at) and they still managed to get some success. No, they were not highlighted by big name review publications (who would also probably rather drink poison than read it because “not (our) literature”) but they were extremely popular with actual readers. That means I had the chance to see that it isn’t impossible to build a reader-base without the boosts of bigger publications.
Because guess what? Just because my works will be submitted to these bigger review publications, that doesn’t mean they’ll be read or reviewed. These big publications admittedly get a lot of books, tens of thousands of them, so that means they won’t review every single one. And given what kind of books I usually see featured, I don’t hold much breath. Even when standing in a cranberry bog of books, they still figure out how to cherry pick.
Thus, it is better I look for more accessible reviewers who at least I don’t have to worry will give me a bad review because they had to read a story about someone with a “hood” name or some other ridiculous, pointless reason. That way, I have my bases covered. If my works are not ever touched by the bigger review pubs, that’s fine. I mainly am going the “big publication route” to show bookstores and libraries that my works exists to put in their bookstores and libraries, but I can do that with other ways that are more laborious but still fairly successful.
I just want my work reviewed by someone who hopefully knows what they’re talking about.
*BIPoC: Black, Indigenous, People of Color (PoC can also be used just fine)
*QPoC: Queer People of Color