Brit Bennett Defends Sensitivity Readers in White-Dominated Publishing Industry

'Sensitivity readers are only controversial if you ignore the fact that in this diverse country, it is entirely possible to publish a book that has been selected, read, and edited by only white people.'

Brit Bennett on White Publishing Sensitivity ReadersChantal Anderson for Vogue

Brit Bennett came to the defense of the poor reputation given to a small circuit of book observers called “sensitivity readers.” These special types of readers serve as the arbiters of common mistakes before a manuscript goes to publication, which can range from misrepresented or offensive depictions of minority groups, historical inaccuracies and various other follies that sometimes go undetected.

The Mothers author took to Twitter Wednesday (December 27) to enlighten her followers, and literally every naysayer in between, on the irony of criticism that suggests sensitivity readers are too controversial in the way of fitting diversity standards, especially considering the vast majority of the publishing assembly line is still white-dominated.

“Sensitivity readers are only controversial if you ignore the fact that in this diverse country, it is entirely possible to publish a book that has been selected, read, and edited by only white people,” Bennett began, before turning her attention to the industry’s history of passing books through a predominantly white chain of commandβ€”from the agent down to the booksellers that market a writer’s work.

“The average book will pass through a white agent, a white editor, a white publicist, a white sales team, a white cover artist, and white booksellers,” wrote Bennett. “And this process is considered natural and objective.”

Bennett also attached a pie chart from the Diversity Baseline Survey indicating the racial composition of book publishers, which proves approximately 80 percent of the editorial and departmental decisions will be affected by professionals of white or Caucasian descent.

Asian, Black, Latinx peoples, on the other hand, make up no more than 7 percent of that margin, which only lends further credence to the importance of the input of the sensitivity reader. Bennett argues that without such a filtering process, publishing industry professionals offer little to no racial purview in moments of decision-making that could influence the book and a readers’ experience with it.

Hence why sensitivity readers are necessary, not controversial, and others who feel differently are quite honestly ignorant to this fact. (FYI: My thoughts, not hers.)

Personally, I couldn’t agree more with Bennett.

Sadly, this has remained a common occurrence for many writers of color or those existing in non-heteronormative spaces,Β  both of whom have historically been left out of these conversations.

I always find these audacious complaints of (typically white) writers and publishers rather absurd, many of whom are afraid to be grammatically chin-checked for the blatantly shallow representations of minority and marginalized characters in their books. This is even more astonishing because the same people casting reproaches like these are more or less the interested in input from those who don’t share a common ethnic thread.

What say you, readers: where do you fall on the spectrum of the conversation?

Do you side with Bennett and the value of sensitivity readers?

Paris Close
the authorParis Close
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