Power trumps representation

Power trumps representation

The best satire of liberal racism I’ve seen was brought to me by Ryan Ken (@Ryan_Ken_Acts), an American comedian who happens to work in diversity and inclusion. His Megxit-inspired one-minute TikTok sketch is captioned “every British news clip right now”. It shows him in a speckled anthracite blazer and red tee, his kind face framed by round specs and a Warhol-esque wig which clashes with his dark skin, but is reminiscent of various figures in UK media. His best zinger is spoken to a would-be Black guest with an eye-roll: “You’re a successful author, you’re on television. If a person like me has to listen to a person like you, is that not progress?”

It is my assertion that, the diaspora over, Black people’s propensity for observational humour is rooted in the reality that to stop observing is to stop surviving, and to stop laughing is to slip into Black pain ad infinitum, a death of sorts. Humour-coping is requisite to navigating the bewildering harm of white supremacy; navigating the realities of an enduring colonial, imperial mentality; navigating office politics; and, yes, navigating publishing.

Watch the sketch. Once the laughter subsides, I want Black people to be spared the indignity of engaging with such obtuse interrogations of our grasp of reality again. I want non-Black people to re-evaluate their own presumption of innocence and interrogate how their theoretical anti-racism differs from the ways in which they alienate, pigeonhole or exploit Blackness in practice.

But enough about what I want. This special issue is about what is, the current book landscape. It is brought to you by BAE (the Black Agents & Editors’ Group), a community and mentoring network I founded in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, during the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Back then, with social distancing in full effect and networking effectively obsolete, nothing felt as urgent as having a space to discuss our shared interests and opinions, as well as the experiences that set us apart.

The Black Issue is about just that: the power of diasporic collaboration and the multitudes of Blackness. It is a celebration of difference without the tokenism, and a commitment to allowing Blackness to define itself. For perhaps the first time in their career, non-Black readers are actively encouraged to regard Blackness with the default nuance and intrinsic humanity afforded whiteness. Encouraged to see Black people in the book world—and the world itself—more richly, truthfully, generously. 

Be apprised: the visibility of this issue is not the problem, but nor is it the solution. Contrary to the preposterous, arriviste claims of the March 2021 governmental “race report”, progress is more than representation; real progress necessitates equal power. As Black people, we can’t fix a system we were neither careless enough to build nor empowered enough to dismantle. Allies, that job is yours. But we can urge you to listen up as we demonstrate, yet again, just how much this trail we’re blazing is worth fighting for.