In the second part of this blog, I continue the discussion around the underrepresentation of the working classes in publishing.
In the bold new quest for “inclusivity”, it's intriguing to analyse the apparent eagerness of the UK publishing industry to amplify ethnic and sexual minority voices, while simultaneously neglecting the working class. This paradox prompts us to delve deeper into the dynamics at play and uncover the reasons behind this uneven emphasis. Simply put, working class people just aren’t seen as a sexy commodity. More an occasional vocal nuisance or convenience to fulfil more menial tasks.
Amplifying Minority Voices: A Response to Historical Exclusion
The prioritisation of ethnic and sexual minority voices can be viewed as a response to historical marginalization and the need for better representation which is just. Advocates argue that diverse narratives enrich literature and challenge existing power dynamics. However, ignoring a class of mixed voices from a British culture because of a social standing seems archaic in the 21st Century. Yet, a very high proportion of working class people have made the publishing elite very rich. So why is the representation of the working class voice from the working classes, so very low.
Intersectionality and Visibility
Ethnic and sexual minority authors often bring intersectional perspectives, shedding light on the complexities of identity. This resonates with a readership seeking diverse narratives, which aligns with the industry's desire to cater to a broader audience. Yet the same principals are not applied with a social class that has a rich culture, a vibrant voice and a similar diverse narrative and depth of identity.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Publishing houses recognize the importance of projecting a socially responsible image. Embracing minority voices aligns with corporate initiatives and can enhance brand reputation by showing commitment to diversity and social progress; but the working classes just aren’t sexy. In fact, certain sections of the working class are just deemed ignorant, nationalistic and portrayed as a benefit society, bereft of hope.
The rise in demand for diverse narratives has pushed the industry to prioritize minority voices. Books that explore ethnicity, sexuality, and gender diversity are not only socially relevant but also commercially viable. Yet if we were to look at the sheer numbers of this demographic, the working class far outnumber and are commercially more viable but ignored. Niche is the nouveau rich for the middle and upper classes. A fun toy to soothe the gilded conscience of the wealthy and bored.
Ignored Working-Class Voices: Structural Biases
The underrepresentation of the working class is perpetuated by systemic biases ingrained in the industry. This demographic often lacks the advocacy and cultural momentum that minority movements have achieved. The one great lacking in the working class is the very foundation on which the rich grow richer. The working class is compliant, it “knows its place”, first to war, first to die for King and Country. First to serve, take crap and be grateful. By keeping a social class underfed and thrown the odd tidbit to keep it happy. A good dog is a fed dog is a loyal dog, but don’t let the dog bark.
Cultural Capital and Prestige
Publishing has long associated prestige with certain narratives and voices. The industry may view working-class stories as less "culturally elevated," while embracing minority voices is seen as progressive and intellectually stimulating. This attitude is as obscene as Victorian gentry selling a white Christian god to African natives, if it is not from a genuine place.
Strategies for Balance
To bridge this gap, the publishing industry can consider the following:
- Inclusive Narratives: Extend the scope of diverse representation to include working-class experiences, acknowledging their relevance and significance in not only history but modern Britain.
- Fair Selection Criteria: Evaluate manuscripts based on merit rather than biases. Implementing blind selection processes can help diminish unconscious class-based biases. This flies in the face of so-called positive discrimination and allows a more even playing field.
- Collaborative Efforts: Partner with organizations that promote working-class writers, creating opportunities for their voices to be heard. Representation of working class voices needs to be handled by people from that background. People who initially resonate with the stories being told. Publishing has already done this with minority voices from ethnic communities.
- Industry Awareness: Foster discussions on the need for diverse representation, shedding light on the absence of working-class perspectives. Prejudice exists through media presentation of the working class, often depicting them as loud, brash, drunk, ignorant, illiterate thugs.
- Amplify Intersectionality: Encourage narratives that explore the intersections of class, ethnicity, and sexuality, recognizing that these experiences are multidimensional. These are not just the playgrounds of the minorities, either sexual or by race.
The industry's eagerness to adopt minority voices underscores its potential for change. By expanding this enthusiasm to encompass working-class narratives, publishing can evolve into a truly inclusive platform that reflects the diversity of the society it serves while simultaneously addressing historical imbalances. Caffeine Nights will be that platform to share the voice and stories of the working class with an imprint proud to serve a rich and diverse community of all colours and sexual persuasions.