There's a problem when an industry lacks diversity: “None of these agents look like me,” she said, “and they don’t represent anyone that looks like me.” ... “What if they don’t get what I’m doing?” While it's possible for people to reach understanding across cultural lines, it is much easier for people to understand each other when they share a lot of common ground. Lack of diversity among gatekeepers (agents and editors) therefore undermines access and representation.
Now here are two quotes from advantaged people in the industry: "I think the change is going to have to come from within those who are affected,” and Another agent, when asked why less than 1% of her submissions were from people of color, captured what seems to be the publishing industry’s general attitude in just 10 words: “This seems like a question for an author to answer.” Both of those are right. In order to work, social change must incorporate the views and needs of the people affected; top-down solutions tend to be offensive and ineffective.
However, that doesn't mean everyone else can just abdicate all responsibility. You have to look for the part of the problem that lies within YOUR reach. In this case, it means engaging a conversation about unmet needs. The industry should be asking, "If people of color don't read or buy books, why not?" (They have less access to education, fewer books starring characters like them, less disposable income, etc.) And then ask, "What would help fix that?" If a question is for authors to answer, then agents and editors should in fact be asking authors that question, and listening to the answers.
And here it is in the essay: The question industry professionals need to ask themselves is: “How can I use my position to help create a literary world that is diverse, equitable, and doesn’t just represent the same segment of society it always has since its inception? What concrete actions can I take to make actual change and move beyond the tired conversation we’ve been having for decades?”
Of course, there are many issues in publishing, as in society. Most people will pick one or two favorites to focus on. Maybe they want to deal with sexism or classism rather than racism. Maybe they want to focus on books that will hook people who rarely read. Everybody doesn't have to deal with every problem, but every problem should have somebody working on it.
Me, I'm weird as usual; I'm the one waving a broom and shouting, "Fight ALL the oppressions!" What am I doing? Sure, I write characters from all different cultures, because I'm a mix. But I also promote projects by a wide range of creators. Word of mouth advertising is really, really important. I may not have a lot of money but I make one hell of a barker.
This is an area where crowdfunding can help. You can support creative people of color. You can ask for ethnic characters or plot structures. You can look for projects to fund a book for distribution. Yes, there's a filter, but we don't have to go through that bottleneck anymore. We can go somewhere else. The market is a lot more diverse than the dinosaurs believe. They're standing in the breach? Fine. Let them have it. Go somewhere else, go where there are people, and get their attention. There are niches with almost no representation and therefore minimal competition. Go fill them. People are starving for stories about characters similar to themselves. Feed a cat, gain a cat.