Many literary publications charge writers a small submission fee to help cover expenses. These fees may pose a financial barrier to some writers, so a few publications waive them—if a writer fits a certain profile. Financial hardship doesn’t always factor in. 

One publication waives fees for Black, Asian-American-Pacific-Islander and LGBTQ writers during months that honor them. (I’ll leave queer writers out of this discussion). February, for example, is Black History Month. 

Another offers periods of free submissions to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) writers. At other times, any financially challenged writer may request a waiver. 

I can afford submission fees and don’t begrudge assistance to those who can’t. But why is any literary publication’s fee policy ethnic-based?

By definition, can BIPOC writers not afford the $3 or $5 fee? (Contest submissions may cost more). Fees add up when a writer submits to multiple publications, but are BIPOC writers being pre-judged?

I’ve had Black friends and clients who were very successful. They’d easily cover submission fees. So would my Latino plumber if he wrote fiction. I worked with Chinese-Americans and Indians (South Asian). A recently deceased neighbor—a structural engineer—was born in India. These BIPOC folks needed no financial assistance.

Then again, some (many?) white writers struggle to pay their bills. As I mentioned, a publication will consider their circumstances—at a later date. These writers are met with a figurative asterisk: You enjoy white privilege, so we’ll put you in a second tier of those with challenging finances. 

I’m neither a literalist nor a simpleton, but I take to heart Martin Luther King’s comment in his speech during the 1962 March on Washington: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” 

Conservatives often cite this sentence in their opposition to affirmative action. Frankly, I’m not sure what affirmative action is beyond a broad, rhetorical sense. I do, however, acknowledge there’s legitimate work to be done to lift many minority Americans into the mainstream. Waiving submission fees for all BIPOC authors strikes me as undercutting King’s dream.

That said, does racism still exist? The nation has made strides, but it does. Did literary publications and publishing houses once overlook worthy ethnic authors? They did. But the literary world moved on.

BIPOC authors now are published in great numbers. Many agents and editors make clear that they’re looking for BIPOC authors and BIPOC themes. Some literary publications devote entire issues to BIPOC subject matter.

Still, as to telling tales about ethnic Americans or refugees, a gripping story and quality writing may not be enough. The author’s own ethnicity may have to pass muster. Cultural appropriation has become a cudgel some editors, critics and readers wield with abandon. In this regard, see my take on the fuss over the novel American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

I believe in leveling the playing field. I question how that purpose is served by granting across-the-board fee waivers to BIPOC writers regardless of ability to pay. Any writer’s declaration that a fee is unaffordable should be sufficient.

America will never become color blind as long as long as we find new ways to be color bound.

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  1. JEAN WRIGHT on February 17, 2023 at 11:33 am

    I live in Oakland, The city offers low cost taxi vouchers to residents over a certain age. Income is not questioned, age must be proven. Is this a problem?

    • David Perlstein on February 17, 2023 at 11:46 am

      Jean, interesting question. I believe that seniors who can afford taxis can turn the vouchers down. I find that the assumption that all seniors are struggling economically leads to waste. Many seniors are doing fine. Some of that voucher money could be better used. We can, unfortunately, multiply this waste when we consider such matters as Social Security. Medicare premiums are deducted from monthly payments based on taxable income, not actual (usually investment) income. We may abhor prejudice but be will to pre-judge others.

  2. JEAN WRIGHT on February 17, 2023 at 3:14 pm

    … and perhaps the Black person who has sufficient funds, would also pay the fee waiver…

    • David Perlstein on February 17, 2023 at 3:41 pm

      People who could afford the fee, Jean, would pay or not based on how they feel about the matter. I do note that Oakland’s taxi vouchers are color blind, not color bound.

  3. RONALD EATON on February 17, 2023 at 3:44 pm

    “America will never become color blind as long as long (sic) as we find new ways to be color bound.”

    David, You’re assuming that America would be a better place if we were color-blind. Is that necessarily so? Color, nationality, languge, religion, and family are all ways which people use to bind themselves into communities. We we be better off in there were no Chinese Business Association or NAACP? Should Catholics no longer belong to the Knights of Columbus and Jews stop being Jews, abandoning their concern for Israel? Would not America be a poorer nation without its ethnic and religious voluntary organizations?

    • David Perlstein on February 17, 2023 at 4:21 pm

      You raise a good point, Ron, but I fear you misunderstand my use of the term. (Or I didn’t make it clear.) Being color blind does not mean not noticing other ethnicities or not having ethnic affiliations. I have no intention of stopping my practice of Judaism. Color blindness involves recognizing others’ differences and accepting them. It does not preclude friendships—and deep ones at that. The more perceptive among us will acknowledge “We’re all different just the same” without advocating uniformity.

  4. RONALD EATON on February 17, 2023 at 5:08 pm

    David, I think that the term “color-blind”, as you wish to use it, is imprecise. And I think that its imprecision makes it dangerous. On its face, color-blind means just that: not seeing the differences, considering them bad things. You mean, I think, toleration, acknowledging differences but giving people wide space to believe and practice them. A truly color-blind society would, in my opinion, be a populist authoritarinism with no space for minority thought or practice.

    • David Perlstein on February 17, 2023 at 9:31 pm

      Ron, I don’t like the word “tolerance.” It suggests that “the other” will be left alone but is wrong. As to a color-blind society being a populist authoritarian one, I don’t get it. No one can force people not to notice or dislike differences. Perhaps we need an “open” society. Let’s leave it there.

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