My colleague and friend, Laura, has been thoughtfully contributing to an interesting dialogue that looks at the intersection of literature and diversity (her latest blog posting makes reference to it). The discussion stemmed from another blog posting by Trish which debated if there is a responsibility for book reviewers to read diversely.
I wrote a blog posting about the whole thing last October. I never published it because it made for a very messy, incoherent article … and while any kind of dialogue on diversity is usually messy – I didn’t want it to be incoherent… so I will try to focus my thoughts.
This topic interests me for a number of reasons. I worked at an anti-racism organization. I am a writer. I have brown skin. I am female. I write speculative fiction. It all adds up to an interesting pot pie of perspectives.
At first, I read the comments on Trish’s blog posting without trying to get too engaged … having worked in anti-oppression, I know when people are slogging through difficult questions. And I certainly don’t know the answers. But I know some truths and they are that progress is only made with
a) meaningful, authentic dialogue
b)an honest look at oneself and the contexts we live in
c) the ability to be vulnerable.
So, let me revisit the most “hot topic” questions that emerged from this blog posting. Here are my thoughts on diversity and book reviews … I invite further insight, discussion and dialogue from others!!
How do reviewers (or anyone) decide what is authentic diversity in literature?
How about we change the question - is it anyone’s responsibility to read a book and decide if it’s authentic? Not really. I think the heart of what people really want to know is – how can I (as a person who reviews/recommends/reads books) not contribute to stereotypes already out there?
Most of the time when we think of racism or sexism, we think of individual acts committed by people, but we really need to be aware of the “powerful ideas” out there. These ideas propagate discrimination more than we know. They are like bedbugs. Difficult to identify and hard to get rid of.
Does what we read “feed” powerful incorrect, simplified ideas already out there?
Are the characters/situations in a book about an identity (that you don’t know about) fit with what you already expect/know?
People – like characters – are complex, layered, conflicted, and difficult to predict. If the person of another “identity” in your book is like this – then start a dialogue … ask someone else who is reading the book what they think. Maybe ask someone who shares that identity?
Then, no matter what the book says or portrays – there is real learning going on.
Politics and Book Reviews Don’t Mix – Or Do They?
Many comments from readers of the blog popped up the tune of: “well, we can’t please everyone and we are doing our best” or “I don’t read to be political”.
In my experience, it’s hard to hear that if one group of people (i.e. female authors in science fiction) are not favored, there is an unspoken implication that another group has an advantage.
Please, please, please – if you can (and it takes years …if you want, you can start/continue your journey by reading Tim Wise for hard hitting stuff on this) … challenge yourself to acknowledge that in the game of life, there is privilege. The dreaded P word. Privilege is about getting a “pass” somewhere because we’re born into it. For example, my grandmother is a landowner back home, my parents had a post-secondary education – and as a result, I had easier access to education – and a good job – too. That’s where I have privilege.
No one should blame anyone for having privilege. But you should know in what domains you have it, and be an ally to those who don’t.
But whether or not you want to please others or be political — your choices either reinforce or challenge the status quo.
And, if someone chooses to challenge the status quo and be an ally to writers who are diverse – power to them! They are aware of where they can exert influence and that contributes to change.
And the most important topic – how can we read more diversely?
I found some amazing responses in the comments of this blog … my contribution?
Make your choices consciously. Search out small publishing houses whose mission includes seeking to publish more diverse voices. They exist!! Be an ally – join organizations that support diverse writers and publishers. The network will astound you. Make personal choices to read diverse authors. Laura’s latest book review is a beautiful example of that.
As one commenter said – it does make a difference. It is a complex issue but don’t be fooled by the complexity. You CAN do something about it. Remember – individual actions can help dismantle the system of discrimination
This is my little piece of mortar that attempts to build a foundation for a better world …