By Amari D. Pollard
If you base your perception of the publishing industry on series like Sex and the City and Younger, there’s nothing whiter than the offices of publishing houses and magazines. Editors of color are either presented as short footnotes at the end of a scene or they’re just completely nonexistent. Narratives of women navigating the media world have never truly opened themselves up to women of color—but then The Bold Type premiered and gave us Kat Edison.
The newest Freeform series is based on the stories of Cosmopolitan staffers and their editorial journeys under former editor-in-chief Joanna Coles. It’s a refreshing summer hit that gives us three driven twentysomethings pursuing their dreams, and more importantly, it gives audiences the more diverse cast they deserve.
Finally, a series about publishing that has a woman of color, Aisha Dee, as one of its stars—and she’s biracial, which makes her intersectional as hell! Kat may very well check off the stereotypical box of a “strong, independent black woman”—which, if we’re being honest, is probably the best stereotype you can have as an African-American female—but she’s also a complex character trying to understand her sexuality and how coming from wealth filters her view of the world.
Around her you have other diverse characters, including Lauren (Emily Chang), Alex (Matt Ward), and Jane (Katie Stevens, who many may not know is of Portuguese descent). The show’s varied cast allows it to naturally address issues of identity and culture, the lack of proper representation in television and film, and how diverse employment staffs impact companies’ productivity.
A 2015 study found that ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to outperform their national industry medians; and for every 10 percent increase in racial diversity on senior-executive teams, U.S. companies see a 0.8 percent increase in earnings.
We’re increasingly seeing the results of this with publications like Refinery29, Allure, Vox, and Teen Vogue producing more diverse content. These publications are now home to ethnically mixed editorial staffs that are leading the charge in pushing culturally and politically aware subjects. We also see examples of this in The Bold Type when Scarlet magazine does a profile piece on Muslim lesbian photographer Adena El-Amin.
But the outcome of increased diversity isn’t just about numbers; it’s emotional. You can feel the change every time you pick up an issue and a person of color is featured. That wide space in your chest—the one created by Eurocentric cultural and beauty standards telling you you’re not intelligent, pretty, or worthy enough—closes a little.
It’s crucial for shows portraying the media to accurately include staff diversity because people of color are very much present. Not only that, but it’s important for those looking to enter the field to know there is a place for them in publishing. I know I could have used that knowledge growing up.
As a black girl living in white suburbia, I depended on my mother’s Essence subscription for my cultural clarity, and when I developed a desire to become a writer, I thought Essence was where I had to be. It appeared to be one of few magazines where black females could find themselves at the top; and because I didn’t see that in my other go-to magazines such as Glamour and (the old) Teen Vogue, I didn’t think I could ever get there myself.
Then, the summer going into my senior year of college, I interned at Parents through the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) and met with editors responsible for the content I hungrily consumed. I discovered writers and editors of color were everywhere—Cosmopolitan, The New Yorker, People, etc.—but in every setting, we were also just specks scattered throughout the room. There I was, moving through one of my dreams in real time, as I struggled with the feelings of being a part of everything and separated from it at the same time.
Every time I was introduced to an African-American staffer on the official office tour, a mixed shadow of surprise and joy made its way across our faces. It was a look of understanding, that although there weren’t many of us in the workplace, we were there together.
The diversity among the girls of The Bold Type may be considerably higher than what a series like Girls gave us, but the mirror being held up to the publishing industry is still telling us the same thing: more work needs to be done. Yet, in that thirst for faster and deeper progress, there is so much hope.