When ‘The Book of Forgotten Authors’ was about to go to paperback, my young editor became worried about the lack of BAME authors featured. The book was mainly about postwar paperback writers, and there had been no populist BAME authors working in this field. The ones who wrote in the UK were university educated and therefore aimed at pretty rarified literature, not pulp.
Eventually we included a new BAME section to the book, but only by bending the rules of inclusion. Looking back, it now feels like virtue signalling on the publisher’s part. Yet I’m very glad we did it. My editor and I read the works of possible authors for a couple of months, and finally settled on William Melvin Kelley, also getting his most famous book, ‘A Different Drummer’, republished.
It was a bit of a cheat. ‘A Different Drummer’ is literature and fell outside of my remit. If the plan was to use wokefulness (now there’s an awkward word) as a method of selling books, it didn’t work. What matters is that it prevented an absence and gave some kind of visibility. Better tokenism than nothing, right?
My motto: Include, include, include until no-one sees difference anymore. During the 1940s a woman alone in a pub would have elicited disapproving stares. After the war thousands of women flooded into pubs and no-one noticed. Ubiquity breeds normality. It horrified me that black Americans should have to hold up a sign saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ when it should be obvious and innate in the human condition.
Which brings us to the horror and SF movies of directors like Jordan Peele, uniquely American, drawing on an ignominious past to highlight present fears, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the ‘The Skeleton Key’. ‘Us’, ‘Get Out’, ‘Bad Hair’ (which plays like the lower half of a Larry Cohen double bill from the seventies) and ‘Lovecraft Country’ (good so far) are reversing censorship by targeting the sensitive areas in US culture. They’re also a shot in the arm for moribund Hollywood genre films.
We have a different job to do in the polycultural UK; unpicking the class system. Just because a guy has a mobile phone doesn’t mean he has a place to sleep. Slow change filters through leisure pursuits. Entertainment is changing, and while it doesn’t mean our grandads will watch ‘Drag Race’ it’s ultimately all for the better.
The past was what it was; we learn from it and change. What we shouldn’t do is try to pretend it never happened. With that in mind, I may watch ‘Carry On Cleo’ later.