Hi sweet readers. This post is a lot heavier than my normal fare. I know it’s long and I’m nervous about hitting that “publish” button over there. If I make mistakes, overstatements, or oversights, please realize that I’m trying to sort these complicated questions out in my head. As always, thank you for your thought provoking comments and contributions to my posts.
There has been a lot of chatter within the book blogging community lately about reading diversely and reading books written by people of color (in case you wondered what POC meant). You know I’ve been participating in Aarti’s A More Diverse Universe Event and there has been the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign–of course last week was also Banned Book Week and diverse books always seem to make that banned book list. We may as well extend this conversation to not only books by POC but also LGBQT authors and books as well.
I pride myself on my diverse reading preferences. While I don’t try to hit any percentages of women writers over men or writers of color over white writers, I enjoy what I enjoy and it usually includes a big variety. While lately there has been a big push on diversity and reading diverse books, there have also been moments that have made me uncomfortably aware of my privileged life as a straight, white, middle class, woman. Well, nevermind on that whole woman thing, but that’s another story. The point I want to make with all of that is I don’t always feel comfortable or qualified to talk about race or diversity. But.
We all choose to read diversely (or to not read diversely) for different reasons. I love learning about cultures and religions and thoughts that are not quite like mine and I’m never surprised to find that we all share a common humanity. I have several books with authors whose names I cannot pronounce and I’m always interested to learn about authors that offer something a little different from the normal publishing fare. How else do we expand our mental horizons? Learn and sympathize and and stretch ourselves? By recognizing our differences we come closer together.
But, I’ve stumbled into a couple of different troubling articles and instances lately that have me wondering about diversity. In particular there was a rather lengthy article in the LA Review of Books called “Why am I Brown? South Asian Fiction Pandering to Western Audiences.” I read the article a few days ago and was immediately discouraged. Many of the books that author Jabeen Akhbar references are ones that I’ve read and recommended as sources of diversity. So I’ve been doing it all wrong? Because I’ve been reading books by people of color who are writing a more sanitized version of diversity because it’s what the white publishing houses will publish?
When I mentioned this on twitter someone jokingly told me, “you’re doing your best! Your best sucks!”
I was able to put the article in the back of my mind, but I’m currently listening to Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist and the day after I read the LA Review of Books articles I listened to Gay’s essays on some of the representations of blacks in popular culture–namely in books and movies. She discusses The Help, Django Unchained, Twelve Years a Slave, and Tyler Perry. I haven’t seen Django Unchained, Twelve Years a Slave, or anything by Tyler Perry but I felt like the air had been punched out of me when listening to Gay’s essays–that everything that we’re doing is not enough and that white people are certainly doing it all wrong. I happened to publish my post on Kindred that same day and I then wondered if I even had the right to discuss slavery or a slave’s plight.
And no, this isn’t about me. But I felt so discouraged that Gay didn’t offer any solutions to the so very prevalent white version of black history or that Akhbar doesn’t really give solutions on how we can read more authentically diverse literature either.
But as readers and consumers, how do we know what is authentic? Yes, Kathryn Stockett is a white author writing about black maids–does this make her story about the Civil Rights movement less authentic? (and yes I do recognize how The Help is problematic) To question Akhbar’s article, how do we know which South Asian authors are “pandering to western audiences” and which South Asian authors are writing authentically. And who defines the authenticity? Is an African-American author writing about stories set in Africa less authentic than an African author writing about stories in Africa? For example.
Is it problematic to seek out authors and read books because they are diverse? Actually don’t answer that question because I want to believe with all my heart that the answer is NO–READ DIVERSELY!
And this goes beyond national, racial, and cultural diversity. I watched Bonjour Cass’s twitter stream a few weeks ago as she talked about LGBQT fiction and the lack of coverage. Please please go read all of her recent tweets. What I LOVE about Cass’s tweets about sexuality is that she is opening the discussion. We *should* be talking about these things. As a straight, white, middle class woman I don’t always know how to talk about these things. Why am I so worried about saying the wrong thing? Or offending someone?
Cass says “We need more than just “diverse books.” We need a strong, critical voice to demand more from authors, publishers, and critics/reviewers.” and “How can we ask for better LGBTQ books when we can’t even openly, honestly discuss the ones we already have?”
So how can we do this better? How can we be more aware? How can we read more diversely? How can we decide what is authentic (and yes, this has really really bothered me but I think it raises really important questions)? I’d also love to know how you find diverse books (or how you determine what is diverse).
I don’t have any answers. Just questions. But I want to talk about it. I hate not knowing how or which words to use. Big thanks to Shannon at River City Reading, Becca at I’m Lost in Books, and Jen at The Relentless Reader for hearing me out on twitter and for encouraging me to write about this topic that I feel so unqualified to talk about.
Bites nails. Hits “schedule post.” Waits…