NOTE: The National Book Critics Circle formed a working committee, led by Hope Wabuke, to draft a statement in support of The Black Lives Matter movement and to identify tangible steps the NBCC could take to support writers and critics of color. Below is our statement as finalized Wednesday, June 10th. Hope Wabuke’s work was essential in the creation and drafting of this statement and the NBCC salutes her work and recognizes her devotion to the organization.
In the course of our committee’s discussion with the rest of the board, a Board Member responded to the statement with an email that many of us saw as racist. Before a planned vote on the statement today, details from the board’s internal discussion were released on social media, and some Board Members have announced their resignation. We are in deep, thoughtful discussions about the future of the organization and are committed to making deep structural changes.
–Members of the NBCC working committee
We, the board of the National Book Critics Circle, believe that Black Lives Matter.
As critics who help shape our contemporary cultural and intellectual conversation, we have a responsibility to stand publicly against racism and white supremacy—and to do this not just now, but always. We stand with, and affirmatively support, the work of Black Lives Matter and other grassroots organizations to end white supremacy. We stand against all forms of systemic racism — the recent killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police; Ahmaud Arbery’s death at the hands of white vigilantes; and the violence against black people in America, seen and unseen, that has taken place on our shores since 1619.
Literature is a vital art form that is the product of the publishing business, a business that is 84% percent white. As the 2019 survey from Lee & Low shows, just 5% of publishing staff in our entire industry is black and just 4% of staffed reviewers are black. By far the majority of books that are published are by white authors for white readers to buy from white bookstore owners. This is a system of white supremacy and institutional racism.
White gatekeeping stifles black voices at every level of our industry, and we, as the industry’s major organization of critical thought, must welcome and offer sustained support to black book critics—as well as to indigenous critics and critics of color. While 30 percent of the 2019 NBCC awards winners and finalists were BIPOC, up from 22% in 2008, we can and must do better. As of this morning, our 24-member board was 75% white, and we must be conscious to work against racial bias. We admit our culpability in this system of erasure of BIPOC voices in the cultural and intellectual conversation.
And yet, despite the barriers of institutional racism both in the world and in publishing, words cannot express the earth-shaking immensity with which the black cultural and intellectual imagination has shaped American arts, letters, and culture.
In light of our current moment, we stand with those who are working for a better America—whether it be in the streets, at a laptop, or in a flight of imagination—that may yet illuminate our world. As cultural critics, we commit to a concrete plan to stand against racism, and seek to be more transparent, more inclusive and better citizens in an effort to dismantle white supremacy wherever we find it, beginning in our own house. This is our concrete action plan to do this
– We will establish a Diversity and Inclusion Committee headed by a NBCC board member as Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion at our next board meeting in June. This committee will address purposeful diversity measures—including how to increase the diversity among our membership, how to make the NBCC a safer and more inclusive safe for black, indigenous, and critics of color, and examining white gatekeeping in our own prize processes.
– We understand that we must acknowledge and unpack how unconscious bias and other forces shape our reading. We pledge to institute a yearly diversity conversation and training for all voting board members and make this a yearly process for all new and returning board members. We hope that working to make the board an inclusive space will also increase greater diversity of our board.
– We will establish a Social Justice Initiative through the Diversity & Inclusion Committee with the goal of exploring how best to create immediate and ongoing support of people, communities and organizations that are affected by police violence and systemic racism, centering black and brown voices, headed by NBCC board member Ismail Muhammad.
– We will deepen and better support our Emerging Critics mentorship program, and ensure that it becomes a tool to mentor and support BIPOC critics and those from other marginalized communities.
– We will conduct a survey of NBCC members to compile and release information about our membership’s demographics in our newsletter, and work with NBCC board member Richard Santos, Vice President of Membership, to diversify our membership, as well as to ensure accessibility to BIPOC critics and those from marginalized communities.
Listening & Follow Through
Most importantly, we would like to hear from our membership and our literary community as to how best to center and amplify black and brown critical voices. In turn, we commit to listening to BIPOC voices and centering black and brown voices in this process of change.
We will be emailing our survey to all of our members, and posting the survey on our website for our community to access. If you have questions or suggestions on the above, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please join us in adopting these principles of anti-racism.
The NBCC Principles of Anti-Racism
1. We denounce police brutality, both in the everyday and in its efforts to quell voices of protest.
2. We support all those who seek to assemble free from fear and harm, to speak out against oppression and for freedom of expression.
3. We commit to the anti-racist work of making transparent change within our own organization in ways that will center and amplify BIPOC critics.
4. We commit to improving access and resources for critics and aspiring critics from BIPOC communities.
5. We urge editors and critics to join us in pledging to make real change to amplify BIPOC writers and thinkers: in who gets reviewed, in who does the reviewing, and in which books we make part of the conversation
6. And we affirm most strongly: Black Lives Matter.
Sincerely, the Board of the National Book Critics Circle