Call to Action: Scottish Literary Sector

To the Scottish Literary Sector,

At Scottish BAME Writers Network, we are constantly evaluating how effective our programming, opportunities, and partnerships are when it comes to creating a more authentically inclusive, anti-racist, and sustainable environment in the Scottish Literary Sector. We are currently reflecting on our own power structures and problems, and revising our budget to include more Black artists in positions of power within our own network. Black authors, as well as authors of colour in general, are underrepresented and disadvantaged within our sector, and we exist to advocate on behalf of these writers. For our network, inclusion is not a “diversity” subtask or a checkbox; our work does not end when we find a BIPOC writer to sit on one of our panels. This is because our members are Black and POC. 

We are addressing this letter to a “you” separate from Black people and POC in order to challenge whiteness in the sector. However, we ask our fellow non-black people of colour (NBPOC) to also reflect on how we contribute to anti-Blackness and to actively address it within our communities. NBPOC must, too, interrogate our own actions in the ways outlined below.

Since our funded pilot year began, SBWN has received interest from the wider literary sector. Overwhelmingly, the people who contact us are white. Overwhelmingly, their organisations and mastheads are white. If organisations and businesses in the sector had Black and POC input from within, they would rely on organisations like ours less. In a perfect world, Scottish BAME Writers Network wouldn’t exist. Authentic inclusivity means there would be no need for our advocacy, because in all areas of the literary sector, there would be enough Black people and POC in positions of power, in areas of decision-making. 

The majority of the white-run literary organisations that reach out to us, ask us to circulate submission calls for their panels, readings, and publications. We appreciate this and welcome this. We also know that underrepresented writers lack opportunity because of a lack of mentorship, and because systemic barriers at early stages make a career in writing more difficult than for our white peers. We also know that the barriers for Black people and POC are different, and that making room for predominantly NBPOC artists does not address systemic barriers for Black artists. What is the literary sector doing in order to see that the next generations of emerging writers receive enough support and opportunities to create work that will eventually be published? How is the literary sector building these communities, instead of only profiting off their work once they are established?

In light of the recent Black Lives Matter protests and activism responding to George Floyd’s murder, we are putting out this call to action. It is absolutely vital that people in Scotland, in all sectors, keep in mind that anti-Blackness has long existed in this country. We are heartbroken over the deaths of our Black American siblings at the hands of police brutality. We refuse to let individuals in Scotland and the UK believe that the problem persists only across the Atlantic. There is police brutality right here. Daily anti-Blackness, at the hands of white individuals and NBPOC, is experienced right here in Scotland. 

What is the sector doing beyond profiting off the words and artwork of Black and POC artists, or asking us to sit on your panels so that you can check off “diversity” for your events?

* If you are an organisation that has staff that is all white, even if your staff is small, we ask you to consider how you can include Black people and POC on your masthead. 

* If you are a publisher that doesn’t have any Black people and POC reading submitted work, we are telling you it’s vital that you include us in your decision-making to prevent exocticisation or “one story narratives” of our existence. We are not only our traumas.

* If you are running an event, focus group, staff meeting, and so on, avoid putting Black people and POC in the position of being “the only one in the room.” 

* If you are an organisation that has any sum of contingency money, or even if you don’t, we expect you are donating money to Black Lives Matter UK: Or any of the other funds that fight anti-Blackness and support Black art and knowledge. Just a few:

It is up to institutions that have power to make change. We have seen how academic institutions are shallowly decolonised (if decolonised at all). We have seen how major publishing houses in Scotland / the UK have overwhelmingly white catalogues and overwhelmingly white editorial boards. We have experienced racism and barriers – and objectification – perpetuated by inauthentic inclusion in the literary sector.

We are not here to be perceived or viewed or gazed at. We need to be a part of the foundation. And if you cannot find a way for that to happen in your institution, organisation, business, etc. as is, then you need to dismantle and start again.

Scottish BAME Writers Network will be donating £100 to Black Lives Matter UK and £100 to Justice for Sheku Bayoh. This is only the beginning. This donation is outside of the funding we received from Creative Scotland. All our regular funding currently goes toward Black and POC artists, and we will be actively programming and hiring more Black artists from this point forward. Overall, that is £40,200 going directly toward advocating for Black writers and writers of colour in this country through our own labour. 

We are asking how literary organisations here in Scotland will match these numbers.

We want to hear your actionable aims. Share them with us. Tag us @ScotBAMEWriters. If you are a Black person or POC in a position of power in the literary sector, please connect with us. At SBWN, we aim to constantly learn, grow, and implement change, including within our own network.

We are calling the sector to action. We are calling all our partners to action. What are each of us doing to make change?


Scottish BAME Writers Network

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