The book trade has been throwing its support behind the Black Lives Matter movement, speaking out across social media and making donations to relevant organisations, following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed by police in the US.
Hachette UK c.e.o. David Shelley said Floyd's death illustrated “a more urgent need than ever for us to stand together and educate ourselves, become better allies and offer financial support where we can”, as the publisher revealed donations of £10,000 to The United Families and Friends Campaign, a coalition of families and friends of those that have died in the custody of police and prison officers, as well as £10,000 to The Inclusive Indies Fund, which is helping diversity-led independent publishers weather the coronavirus crisis.
“All of us at Hachette have been watching events unfold after the murder of George Floyd, the most recent victim in a series of horrific incidents, with increasing shock, sadness and anger,” said Shelley. “Nobody should ever have to fear for their safety because of the colour of their skin, but they still do. It’s difficult to imagine what the Black community must be feeling and with atrocities like this still happening, there is a more urgent need than ever for us to stand together and educate ourselves, become better allies and offer financial support where we can.
“These events highlight the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement and, closer to home, they underpin the vital work of THRIVE, Hachette’s network for BAME employees, Changing The Story, our strategy to make the company more inclusive at all levels, and Dialogue Books, our imprint focused on illuminating voices often excluded from the mainstream. We want people to feel seen, heard, understood and supported by everyone at Hachette, particularly at a time when terrible things are happening in the world around them.
“We wanted to do something tangible to help support and further the work of organisations working towards a more inclusive culture. So today we have made a donation of £10,000 to The United Families and Friends Campaign and £10,000 to The Inclusive Indies Fund.
“Finally, books are among the most potent agents of change in the world. The work of Layla F Saad and her book Me and White Supremacy helped me learn a lot about the institutional racism of the world we live in, to realise a lot about my own biases and false assumptions, and helped to open my eyes to the extra barriers people of colour face.”
The publishing house also reached out to all black employees via THRIVE, Hachette’s network fro BAME employees, to express solidarity and signpost some of the services available through its Employee Assistance Programme, such as emotional support from qualified counsellors.
Penguin Random House UK aligned itself with the Black Lives Matter movement also in a statement expressing solidarity for racial justice.
"We stand in solidarity with everyone fighting for racial justice around the world, and with our colleagues and authors who are experiencing profound grief and pain right now," a spokesperson for PRH UK said, in a statement also being posted to its social media accounts.
"We all have work to do, to educate ourselves and to agitate for change. At Penguin we make books for everyone, because a book can change anyone. That means making sure that Penguin gives voice to those who, for too long, have gone unheard. We will continue to work to make sure we’re living up to that promise.
"We hope that our books can go some small way to help us learn, challenge our thinking and inspire us all to action. #BlackLivesMatter."
PRH is developing a piece for its website on how to support the black books community plus a reading list of some of the books its staff are reading to educate themselves about the context of racial injustice. It has extended its WriteNow deadline (originally 31st May) to Wednesday to accommodate those who may have wanted to submit this weekend but were unable to: for example, if they were protesting or didn’t feel in the right mind to do so.
Meanwhile Unbound has released a statement saying that it “stands with the peaceful protests in the US, the UK and beyond”. It said: “Police racism and brutality must end.” It suggested readers check out recommended organisations, such as Campaign Zero, as well as highlighting titles such as Robin DiAngelo's book White Fragility, Good Talk by Mira Jacob and So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. The publisher likewise called on readers to “support as many black authors and publishers as you can”.
Among literary agencies speaking out, Aitken Alexander said, "we stand in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter. We’ve put together a list of anti-racist reading, including authors we represent and those we don’t. Please feel free to make suggestions. We are committed to amplifying the voices of Black writers everywhere." Rachel Mills Literary posted: "Today we use our voice to say, we stand with our authors who have had to fight for their voices to be recognised. We see the challenges they have and continue to face for the same rights so many take forgranted. We stand with you and support you. And to all those who may not have the same platform but share the same truth, we are here and we are listening. #BlackLivesMatter."
It is not yet possible to see if sales of titles discussing race are spiking as a result of the protests, as various recommended reading lists enter into circulation to help white people educate themselves especially, but Southsea-based bookshop Pigeon Books said it has been getting “a lot of orders in the last few days” for Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and Me and White Supremacy. While recommending further books including Akala’s Natives, Brit (ish) by Afua Hirsch and How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram Kend, it said that for each of these books sold it will be donating £1 to the Minnesota Freedom Fund.
Reni Eddo-Lodge, the author of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, is also pledging money to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which provides funds to protestors who have been arrested and need bail, saying she didn’t want to profit “every time a black person’s death goes viral”.
She wrote on Twitter: “Because of the past week's horrible and tragic events, I've noticed a marked uptick in people recommending my book. I'm asking everyone who buys a copy to please match however much you bought it with a donation to the @MNFreedomFund.
“Better yet, borrow a copy from a friend/your local library and donate what you would have spent to @MNFreedomFund. This book financially transformed my life and I really don't like the idea of personally profiting every time a video of a black person's death goes viral.”
“I will be making a donation to @MNFreedomFund today,” she said, ahead of a screenshot for a $1,000 donation, “and will do so again when I receive my royalty payment for this quarter".
“If you're going to buy a copy, please order from your local independent bookshop (let's keep them going during this pandemic) and also donate to your local and national racial justice organisations, if you can spare the funds. Thanks everyone.”
Donating to the cause as well, author Nikesh Shukla recommended When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrice Khan-Cullors, one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, and he said he would love to see more people in the UK book world tweet their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Dialogue Books publisher Sharmaine Lovegrove thanked allies who joined the protests worldwide, however she noted on the same platform: "To those who just woke up to generations of brutal & systemic racism against black people realising there’s an issue; to those that are virtual signalling you have a shit ton of work to do. I look forward to your growth and positive action for change beyond social media posts."
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