Elias Wondimu on Racial Inequality in Publishing

Elias Wondimu is the CEO and President of TSEHAI Corp. Since the 2011 closure of Howard University Press, TSEHAI is the only African or African-American publisher housed in an American or European university. In this unique position, Wondimu plays a crucial role in filling the global knowledge gap on Ethiopia and Africa. (LA Review of Books)

LA Review of Books

By Elias Wondimu

Racial Inequality in Publishing and #BlackPublishingPower

Amistad Books’ Black Publishing Power Initiative encourages everyone to purchase two books written by Black authors during the week of June 13 through June 20, 2020. This is a good start, but it is only a start.

The social media initiative of #BlackPublishingPower responds to centuries of patent inequality in the publishing industry. The call to amplify Black voices through institutions that have historically suppressed them follows a three-week period of Black Lives Matter protests, both nationwide and international, in response to the murder of George Floyd. And it has already led to a record-setting accomplishment in the publishing world; all top 10 books on The New York Times’s nonfiction bestseller list were related to the subject of antiracist activism. The issue of racial inequality is not new, and neither is the call to allyship. Yet the degree to which people are responding to that call, at least online, is unprecedented and overwhelming.

Whether you are new to the work of antiracism or not, it is imperative to understand the imbalance of power White writers and publishers have created and sustained in the history of knowledge creation, and why buying two books by Black authors is not all we should be doing to combat it. The racial injustices that we are still fighting today reach back to the establishment of the days of Gutenberg, when knowledge production began on a mass scale in Europe.

The number of books written about Africa and its inhabitants increased along with the total number of books being printed, but the “experts” in the subject remained White European males with an agenda. When we talk about Blackness and the continent of Africa, our perceptions and beliefs are rooted in texts that promoted the subjugation of Black people for economic purposes. The ability to exploit and enslave populations of African people was carefully devised and upheld by the same voices that crafted false narratives in order to devalue the lives of African and non-White people.

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