Pointless Discrimination – Christopher Nuttall
I’m going to start with a question and I would like you to consider it carefully before answering.
Is discrimination ever a good thing?
I suspect that most people will say, in a kneejerk response, no. And they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. Irrational discrimination is always wrong. But there is also such a thing as rational discrimination.
Consider the following example. You’re the manager of a mid-sized swimming pool. You have to hire someone to serve as a ladies changing room supervisor and you have a choice of four candidates; a straight man, a gay man, a straight woman and a lesbian. They are equal in every way, save for their gender and sexual orientation. Which one do you pick?
Unless you want to be arrested, sued or simply lose customers, you’ll go for the straight woman. She’s the only rational candidate for the post.
Ok, maybe that’s too strong an example. What about this? You’re the boss of a small computer company, faced with a choice between two candidates. One is a middle-aged white man with 20 years of experience, the other is a newly-graduated black woman with high marks, but no actual experience? Which one do you pick?
You go for the man, of course. You’re a small company. You can’t afford the time to train up a newcomer, no matter how much promise she shows. A person with 20 years of experience will probably be far more useful than a newcomer. He’s the only rational candidate for the post.
Here’s a third example. You’re the manager of a greasy fast food eatery. You have five male candidates, two of whom happen to be black, for a beginner-level opening in flipping burgers, pouring shakes and asking if anyone wants fries with their meal. Again, there’s nothing else separating them from the other three. Which one do you pick?
Any of them, of course. Skin colour has no bearing on their ability to do the job. Choosing a candidate purely because he’s white or black is an irrational choice.
My point is this. If you happen to be searching for someone to do a job, you look for the ability to do the job. Sometimes, those abilities are inherent; the straight woman of the first example has an edge because of how she was born. At other times, those abilities will grow and develop; the graduate of the second example, assuming she stays in the field, will eventually have 20 years of experience of her own.
(At this point, of course, we run into an issue I had when I was job hunting myself. You need experience to get a job – and the only way to get experience is to get a job. Why not offer the young graduate a chance? To which the manager might reply “we’re here to run a company, not offer chances. Why should we take a loss – and we will – just because someone who knows nothing about running a company feels we should?”)
Ok, you may ask. What is the point of this?
There’s an argument going on (it flares up from time to time) that suggests we should choose our reading based on the author’s skin colour, gender, sexuality, nationality, etc. You’ve probably seen quite a few articles insisting that straight white authors are horrible people who are forcing people of colour out of the marketplace …
To which I reply; hogwash!
Be honest with me here. How many of you actually know the skin colour of your favourite authors? More to the point, how many of you actually care?
I don’t, not really. I’ve met a few authors, seen Facebook pictures of others, but I can’t say I know what the vast majority of my favourites look like. All that matters to me is how they perform on relevant issues – and, where writing is concerned, it’s the ability to tell a good story in the genres I enjoy. Nothing else is important.
The only kind of ‘diversity’ that matters in the writing world is the sub-division of ‘literature’ into genres. A science-fiction writer is very different from a romance writer. Someone who is a fan of one genre may not be a fan of others. That does not mean that a writer who writes romance is a lousy writer, merely someone who has failed to capture a science-fiction fan.
The number of readers who make up the writing world is vast. Even JK Rowling hasn’t managed to sell a book to everyone, let alone win total approval for her books. There isn’t a book in existence that doesn’t have both a devoted fan and someone who wouldn’t lower themselves to use it for toilet paper. A writer doesn’t have to sell a book to even 1% of the total reading population to make a good living – and smart writers accept, right from the start, that not everyone likes their work.
I do not believe that gender, sexuality, sex colour or religion makes any real difference to the writing world. The only thing that matters is that they are good writers.
The suggestion that the publishing industry should be more ‘diverse’ is both harmful and pointless. It is harmful because it suggests, very strongly, that ‘non-white-male’ authors cannot get published without assistance. It is pointless because non-genre diversity simply doesn’t matter to writing. A ‘non-white-male’ author who gets published through any form of so-called positive discrimination, as opposed to writing skill, is in for a nasty shock when the book starts receiving independent reviews. As I’ve said before, the definition of success is success. Awards don’t matter, plaudits don’t matter … all that matters is satisfied customers.
Is the publishing industry reluctant to publish books by ‘non-white-male’ authors? I don’t think that’s actually true, but the recent changes in the industry render it pointless. There’s nothing stopping each and every ‘non-white-male’ author publishing their own books on Amazon Kindle or any other self-publishing platform, nor is there anything stopping them from changing their pen-name to ‘John Smith’ and not including a photograph. If they genuinely believe it’s a problem, they could hide their sex, race or religion. They would be judged by nothing apart from their writing.
Or, of course, they could hold competitions that only ‘non-white-male’ authors are allowed to enter, thus cutting down the number of entrants and making it dependent on factors that have nothing to do with writing …
… Which isn’t a real victory. But anyone who wants to host one of those contests has anything, but the interests of the writing world at heart.