A Response to Responses

gounelleI almost didn’t write a Monday Musings post today. I thought that I didn’t have anything of interest to talk about. And then I went through and read people’s responses to this week’s Book Blogger Hop question.

I found myself getting angry.

This anger wasn’t directed at specific people—though I did find I had a difficult time leaving comments, and opted not to leave comments in many cases—but instead at what was absent from the conversation as a whole. Privilege.

I used a dirty word, didn’t I? Here. Let me say it again.

Privilege.

I hope you haven’t stopped reading because here’s the thing: I am a black queer American and I have privilege. I am well- (and some would say over-) educated. And I’ve managed to become this well educated without taking out student loans. All of my limbs work the way they’re supposed to, and while I have some anxiety issues, I also am surrounded by people who are supportive (I imagine this is in part because I’m married to a psychologist and many of our friends are also psychologists). These are not all of my points of privilege, but hopefully that gives you some idea.

I say all of that so no one hears me say that I don’t have privilege, because that’s not true in the slightest.

What I am saying, though, is one’s ability to just read preferred genres and not go out of the way to find diversity is a point of privilege. It’s important, in conversations like these, to acknowledge that the things we say come from a place of privilege. I use “we” on purpose. So don’t get it twisted, I include myself in this conversation.

Lately, I’ve tended toward reading books with either the black American experience represented, or the LGBTQ+ experience represented. That I don’t have to work very hard to find these books because I’m privileged enough to have a librarian who will order things for me, or a partner who is really into Octavia Butler, or access to a large digital collection, or the money to buy books, is part of this conversation.

Stay with me, I have two points to make.

First point addresses the comments I saw about not wanting to put in the effort to find/read books that are written by diverse peoples or contain diverse characters.

Let me put it to you this way. You are free to make choices. And while I’m not passing judgment, I’d like to share with you what it would look like for me as a reader to say the same thing. I’ll use the majority of my education as an example. As a student, from grades 6-12, I remember reading one book that featured a protagonist who wasn’t part of the majority culture. Whose values am I being taught, as a teenager?

Not only that, but if I wanted to read something with a protagonist that mirrored my experience, I had to put in the effort. I had to go research. I had to go talk to people to find out (because this was before blogging was even a thing). And that was just to see myself represented.  Not having to think about these things, not having to put forth the effort to find oneself represented in these texts? Privilege.

I actually appreciated the person who said they didn’t read diversely because they didn’t want to rather than hemming and hawing around the question. I know exactly where they stand.

Second point. Let me give it to you in an anecdote.

For three years, I taught a master’s level course on the theory and pedagogy behind using young adult literature in the classroom. When developing my syllabus, I drew from the syllabi of the professor who taught it before me. Each week required students to read a different book that provided space for the teaching of a number of different standards. Because I wanted my students’ reading to be representative of who they are and who their students were/would be, one of the texts I included the second and third years I taught the class was I Am J by Cris Beam, which follows a trans boy as he comes out.

A student of mine, after she read the book, posted about how, before reading, she didn’t want to read a book about a trans kid. But as she read, she noticed that while his experiences were different from hers, there were aspects of his life that she could identify with. And she made a point to comment on it.

I say all that to say this: reading books with diverse characters isn’t just about reading books with diverse characters. It’s about finding the similarities in human experience through the differences in human experience. I have problems when people say they can see themselves reflected in the Oankali, but they can’t find any point of connection with someone who is brown, or someone who has a mental illness, etc.

The mirror’s great, but we’ve got to look out the window now and then. Doors are even better.

Other things I’ve mused about on Mondays…

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8 thoughts on “A Response to Responses

  1. I have privilege too. My skin color is VERY represented in literature. But, like you said, as a teen the other aspects of my identity just weren’t there. I didn’t read a book where it was acceptable to be anything but hetero until I was 19. I didn’t see anyone with anxiety or bipolar disorder until after I turned 30. The only aspect I was able to read about was my Jewish heritage via Anne Frank’s Diary and The Endless Steppe.

    I also can relate to so many of the characters who don’t share marginalizations with me because they are human. In The Hate U Give, I related to Starr’s love of basketball and her need to code-switch. In The Star-Touched Queen, I related to Maya’s yearning for knowledge and difficulty trusting people. It shows me that even when people are so very different, there’s usually a way they can be related to.

    Also, thank you for writing this so much more eloquently than I could. Reading some of the responses to people hurt. I did like when people just said they didn’t want to though because, like you said, at least I know where they stand. Happy reading! 📖💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know what else to say but thank you for your vulnerability and bravery. I knew this was a discussion within the community, but had not felt the need to weigh in. Maybe it’s because I’m a lot more in touch with both my personal privileges AND the ways in which I am marginalized because of my identities that I felt the need to say something this time. Thank you for making the space for that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is a good one that’s relatively underhyped for the topic. It’s also rare to have the pov be that of a Jew during that time period. I think my family gave it to me because my reading assignments were always vanilla. 😕

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “It’s about finding the similarities in human experience through the differences in human experience.” Yes! Isn’t that the beauty of reading: sharing experiences that are different from our own, exploring new realms and points of view, and just overall learning from the characters?? Beautifully and honestly written post. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I wrote a song about this topic a few years ago and my favorite line from it is “I read to fight my ignorance.” It’s like saying I know that I have ignorant spots, and I’m actively trying to change that. It makes me sad that sometimes other people don’t feel the need to do the same.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a great post!

    I get really annoyed when people are like, ‘but I have to put effort in to read these books!’ Because while, yes, that’s true, it’s not impossible (certainly not as impossible as it would’ve been when I was a teen.)

    If I can find diverse books (no matter how few) in a small, semi-rural library, in South Wales, then it’s not impossible. That said, I def have more sympathy for those who don’t have a local library *or* the money to buy books (but you often – not always, but often – find that those are the people who *do* put the effort in. Strange that.)

    Liked by 1 person

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