On Reading Writers of Color
I am white. I am primarily of British, German, and Czech descent. I have light brown (formerly very blond hair), and blue eyes. And there are a LOT of books out there that I could be reading that are about people that look like me and written by people who look like me. These books would be familiar and, most likely, non-threatening. Sometimes I do read these books. That which is familiar is safe. Or so the logic goes.
There are other times, however, when I don’t want to deal with the familiar. It might be that I want to escape from my part of the world. It might be that I want to understand someone else’s perspective on the world. It is always, always because I want to be a citizen of the world and not just my little corner of it. At these times, I have always looked to books. I could read travel guides or history books written by authors who look a lot like me and have a similar background. Instead, I choose to search out fiction written by authors from different places, that speak different languages, and that, frankly, look quite different. Their characters are different from me, too. And that isn’t scary. It’s wonderful.
There are a lot of people who think that these considerations – the color of the author’s skin or the language in which the book was originally written – are not necessary. They say they choose their books without giving things like this a second thought. And I believe them. They are not making a conscious decision to exclude writers of color from their lists. But, in not making a conscious effort to include them, they’re going to be missing out on some phenomenal literature.
Whether intentional or not, books written by white authors get more marketing. They have a bigger media presence. They are displayed more prominently, and they are talked about more frequently. It is not a deliberate act on the part of the establishment. There are people on the inside that are trying to change things. But it’s an old habit, and old habits die hard, especially when it is a habit that belongs to an entire industry. As long as we are content to just buy the books they wave in front of our faces and read the authors that we are told are great without giving any thought to who those authors are, we’re basically saying that it’s okay. We’re fine with primarily reading books written by white authors. We don’t need anything else.
We just aren’t living in a world where it is feasible to be a color-blind reader. We have to help make change happen. If we buy books and we read books by writers of color, it will be noticed. If we can, through our spending habits and borrowing habits, change the demographics on the bestseller and most-checked-out lists, then maybe, just maybe, our kids can be color-blind readers. We can do this for them. But we have to change our habits before “they” will change theirs.
I’m not the first person to make this point. Some of my fellow Rioters (Rebecca and Amanda) made it quite eloquently in the comments that showed up in response to our current poll. I make it here again because the conversation that emerged made me realize that I wasn’t trying as hard as I used to. I’m not happy with myself. I want to do my part.
For those of you who are interested in spreading your reader-wings a bit, I’m going to be doing a series of posts where I recommend three writers of color from each continent and/or major geographical region of the world (inhabited, obviously). The authors I recommend and the specific books that I refer to will all be books that I have read, and I’m going to re-read many of them with an eye toward lessons that can be learned by reading beyond what is familiar, from looking at the world from a whole new perspective. I’ll share my findings with you.
Book Riot is fortunate that we have readers (and contributors) from all over the the world. If you’d like to recommend an author of color (meaning not white, of predominantly European ancestry) from your area, please do so in the comments. I look forward to adding a few new names to my To-Be-Read list.
Note: “We” in this post refers to readers in general, regardless of color.
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