Several literary theorists propose that literature can act as a tool of oppression against the working class. In today’s society it is not only the working class who are fighting to cast of their chains, but women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and those of religious minorities as well. The necessity of change is clear in all aspects of our society, but today we will focus on the publishing industry and literary communities in general. The VIDA count (http://www.vidaweb.org/the-2015-vida-count/ ) is part of a website which compiles data on the amount of diverse people, particularly the amount of women, being published. The numbers show that an overwhelming majority of literature is both published and authored by straight white males. In an interview about VIDA with Erin Belieu she says: “ ‘ It appears that these numbers reveal a problem in that having such a lack of women’ s voices represented within the literary universe isn’t a good thing for our art’ “ (106). While she is certainly correct about a lack of diversity being bad for our art, it is also a barrier to revolution.
Art thrives on what is necessary for revolution: diversity of stories leading to the communion of all oppressed peoples, the circulation of new ideas, and radical changes in society. If our art is mostly created by and for straight white males then we certainly have art that is being stifled but we also see that these are those whom benefit from the quelling of revolution. The suppression of diverse voices is never an accident or a coincidence, it is an implicit system which courses through the body of our nation and infects it with ignorance and intolerance.
In his essay “Diversity is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing“ Daniel Jose Older speaks about the consequences of having a literary industry which is operated by, for, and under the standards of white people, one of these consequences being the perpetuation of this cycle through the creation of a system which actively chooses to ignore stories authored by and about people of color. Older writes: “ The publishing industry, people often say, as if it’s a gigantic revelation, needs to make money and, as such, it responds to The Market – and people don’t buy books about characters of color. This is updated marketing code for ‘ you people don’t read,’ and is used to justify any number of inexcusable problems in literature” (157). Here we see the importance of vernacular. When Older says ” This is updated marketing code for ‘ you people don’t read’ ” (157) he is pointing out the institutionalized racism within the publishing industry and how it is supported through the use of terms which are not in the common vernacular.
This system wasn’t created by the publishing industry; people have been using uncommon vernacular as a way to oppress minority groups since the development of language and society. In 1725 Giambattista Vico began publishing a series of essays which offered an in depth study of the development of language and culture. These were entitled Scienza Nuova or New Science. In the third edition of these essays Vico argues that an easy way for the bourgeois to oppress the working class, or in this case people of color, is by using language that is not the common vernacular. In doing so the bourgeois is able to hide their motives and ambitions from the working class and therefore they are able to distract them from their own economic exploitation and/or oppression. By saying ‘ The market doesn’t want it’ rather than “‘You people don’t read’” The bourgeois in the publishing industry are able to avoid showing their racism and as a result the people of color being oppressed by this industry are led to blame the market rather than their oppressor.
In order to fight this use of encrypted language we must fight back by insisting that they speak plainly as well as insisting that they publish more diverse literature by more diverse authors. We must agitate them in order to call attention to the necessity for change, a change that begins with presenting the bourgeois of the industry with the facts. This begins by following the example of VIDA by collecting data so that we may shove it under their noses and question them. We must force them to point their fingers not at the market but at themselves. If we can prove to them that the market does indeed have a demand for diversity then the only question they have left to answer is:
“Why don’t we do something about it”.