Yesterday I read this article titled “Are you reading too many books by straight white men?” by Martin Daubney on The Telegraph’s website – I think it misses the point a bit. It talks about a feminist writer who has challenged herself and other people to stop reading books by “straight white cisgendered male authors for a year” and then goes onto question “do such outspoken attacks on white men constitute some form of sexism – or even racism?” The answer to that is no – you can’t be racist to a white person because racism is based on those with privilege and power oppressing others – white people have the power so can’t be oppressed. And the same goes with sexism, men have the majority of power so cannot be oppressed.
Yes I believe we should all be free to choose what books we read and many people read the blurb and choose a book based on that, not based on whether the author is a man or a woman, white or black.
But the problem is that publishing, like many media industries, is biased to white people and to men. It’s not by chance as to which books are put on the stands near the door of Waterstones so you see them as soon as you walk into the shop. It’s not luck as to which books are on the tables in the middle of the room, or placed at eye-level on the shelves instead of close to the floor where it’s a bit more awkward and inconvenient for someone browsing to see.
Yes I often pick up books because the cover catches my attention and the blurb sounds interesting and I don’t consider who the author is. But I’m sure if I googled the author on my phone I’d find they were white and/or a man most of the time.
You have to make a bit of effort to read diversely because those diverse authors are not put in front of you. Authors who are a person of colour, authors whose work has been translated from their native language to English, and authors who are a part of the LGBT community, they are very rarely put on the tables in the middle of a bookshop – or if they are, it’s just one diverse author in the sea of white and/or male authors.
I’m not saying that white men can’t write diverse stories with LGBTQIA characters or characters who have a disability – its fiction, we can all make things up and imagine different worlds and different lives. But authors who have a different background to “the norm” can bring a better understanding to those stories and give points of view that we might not have thought of.
This year I want to read more diversely. I want my reading to be split pretty evenly between male authors and female authors (which at the moment I am) and I want to read more from authors of colour (I’m still working on that part). I want to read stories about LGBT characters and characters who don’t look like me and who live in different countries. Reading is a great way to get a better understanding of the world and the people in it I (generally) understand the people who look and act like me, I want to learn more about how other people act.
If some writers or bloggers or social media users want to try and not read any books by white, straight men for a while, even for a year, let them. It’s hardly going to hurt book sales – if anything it may show a growth in other areas in terms of genre and authors background. Let people read what they want to read, but don’t turn those who want to read more diversely into some sort of white, straight man hating monster. Also, reading diversely doesn’t mean you never ever read a book by a white man again, you just read a lot of different books by different people – including white men if you so wish.