BOOK THOUGHTS ON THURSDAY | READING ONLY BLACK AUTHORS FOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH – YAY OR NAY?

Book Thoughts On Thursday

The world of books is never boring. Every week (well, most weeks) I’ll discuss a different topic related to books, often inspired by or in response to what’s going on in the online book community (or something I’ve seen another blogger talk about). I call this Book Thoughts on Thursday. Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, or even write your own post on the topic and share the link with me!

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When I was in college we had a “Women’s Room.” This was intended as a safe space for women to retreat to – whether to eat in private (I remember being told that some religious women’s beliefs stopped them eating in public), discuss personal topics (from eating disorders to rape) or to just take a quiet moment for ourselves. It was a place where we felt safe and comfortable.

Inevitably, in one of our Women’s Studies classes, the topic came up and some men in the class asked, “Okay, but why don’t we get a Men’s Room then?” It’s a fairly obvious question, and on the surface, it seems a fair idea. But the teacher’s response really made us stop and think. She pointed out that, because of systemic sexism and our patriarchal society, the entire world is the Men’s Room.

Obviously this is a vast simplification of a variety of very complex issues (not all men fit into patriarchal norms, not every country in the world has the same gender roles we do, etc.), but it was a very interesting point.

This came to mind earlier when I read a Book Riot article entitled “A Defense of Teaching Black Authors During Black History Month (and At All Other Times)” about whether teachers should continue to teach white authors during Black History Month. In it the author discusses whether there is an argument to be made for teaching black authors, but still teaching other more common “classic” authors simultaneously. I think this sentence most sums up the argument for giving minority writers room to breathe:

“There shouldn’t be an issue with teaching Black writers or any other writers from marginalized communities in isolation because we have been isolated from critical thought and theory for far too long.”

There is no doubt that there are brilliant works by writers from all backgrounds and cultures. Including white, western ones. But historically, due to both cultural differences in how stories were told and passed on, literacy rates, and racial bias in terms of measuring the value of writers’ works, it is primarily white authors whose works were published and have therefore been preserved and passed into “classic” status.

As we address the cultural norms and historical context that have robbed us of a huge amount of cultural capital, one of the important (and sometimes difficult) steps is purposely re-focusing our attention on those authors whose works have been neglected, and making space specifically for them. This may mean dedicating time to a specific gender, racial or social group, or it may mean choosing to pass over some of the classics by white (predominantly male) authors in favour of those by minorities. I think the reaction this can evoke, of feeling like we’re cutting something out when we purposely avoid white “classic” male authors, is a powerful measure of just how pervasive this collective voice has been.

My hope is that over time, the voices that have been silenced will become as much a part of our cultural fabric as what we have traditionally seen to be “classic” literature. I hope that we will not always need to correct our biased cultural lens by setting aside time for one or more minorities to shine. But while our cultural landscape is still skewed, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that we make an effort to devote our attention as much to minority writers as we do to acknowledged classics.

I’m curious to know what you guys think – do you feel like we need reminders to read more diversely? If you’re a teacher, would you feel restricted if asked to focus on books by black authors for a month? Are there other perspectives I haven’t considered? Join the discussion in the comments!

12 thoughts on “BOOK THOUGHTS ON THURSDAY | READING ONLY BLACK AUTHORS FOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH – YAY OR NAY?

  1. M.

    Definitely. I think the more diverse the curriculum overall, the better, but if it is heavy on white authors, then I don't think there's anything wrong with taking Black History Month and using it as a time to celebrate black authors!

    Reply
  2. M.

    Definitely. I think the more diverse the curriculum overall, the better, but if it is heavy on white authors, then I don't think there's anything wrong with taking Black History Month and using it as a time to celebrate black authors!

    Reply
  3. M.

    EXACTLY. Like I said above, I'm crappy at reading diversely. I don't actively set about to read white authors, and I do read predominantly female, but I don't go out of my way to read more diversely, either. But I find the more reminders I get – be it in the form of a time period to celebrate a particular cultural representation, reading challenges or just other bloggers talking about their diverse reading experiences, the more likely I am to remember to branch out. Basically, I think every nudge we get in the direction of under-represented authors and experiences, the better! And I'm not worried about white men being neglected. Not even a bit.

    Reply
  4. M.

    EXACTLY. Like I said above, I'm crappy at reading diversely. I don't actively set about to read white authors, and I do read predominantly female, but I don't go out of my way to read more diversely, either. But I find the more reminders I get – be it in the form of a time period to celebrate a particular cultural representation, reading challenges or just other bloggers talking about their diverse reading experiences, the more likely I am to remember to branch out. Basically, I think every nudge we get in the direction of under-represented authors and experiences, the better! And I'm not worried about white men being neglected. Not even a bit.

    Reply
  5. M.

    I tend to read whatever there's a lot of chatter about, because it's rare for me to trust just one person's opinion on a book if I haven't heard about it anywhere else. But, like you said, the popular books often tend to be skewed away from minorities and diverse experiences. I am guilty of not reading anywhere near as diversely as I should, and I feel like even when there's a reminder, I don't diverge enough from the norm. That said, I think having space set aside in our cultural landscape to remind us collectively is vital. The more times I'm reminded, the more likely I am to get around to reading those books by more diverse authors. It's something nearly all of us can use a reminder of, I think!

    Reply
  6. M.

    I tend to read whatever there's a lot of chatter about, because it's rare for me to trust just one person's opinion on a book if I haven't heard about it anywhere else. But, like you said, the popular books often tend to be skewed away from minorities and diverse experiences. I am guilty of not reading anywhere near as diversely as I should, and I feel like even when there's a reminder, I don't diverge enough from the norm. That said, I think having space set aside in our cultural landscape to remind us collectively is vital. The more times I'm reminded, the more likely I am to get around to reading those books by more diverse authors. It's something nearly all of us can use a reminder of, I think!

    Reply
  7. Julianne (Outlandish Lit)

    Amen! Obviously it's sad that we have to set aside a month for black history because we're so shitty at representing/acknowledging it the rest of the year, but black authors 100% should be celebrated. The more we talk about them and teach them, making diverse authors the norm, the better our understanding of each other will become. Especially because the more we think about race and purchase books consciously, the more change will come about in the publishing industry.

    Reply
  8. Julianne (Outlandish Lit)

    Amen! Obviously it's sad that we have to set aside a month for black history because we're so shitty at representing/acknowledging it the rest of the year, but black authors 100% should be celebrated. The more we talk about them and teach them, making diverse authors the norm, the better our understanding of each other will become. Especially because the more we think about race and purchase books consciously, the more change will come about in the publishing industry.

    Reply
  9. Elizabeth

    As a middle school teacher for 20 years we taught genre units and tried to have a diverse range of writers for each theme. I think reading only black authors in Feb is something to consider depending on the current curriculum.

    Reply
  10. Elizabeth

    As a middle school teacher for 20 years we taught genre units and tried to have a diverse range of writers for each theme. I think reading only black authors in Feb is something to consider depending on the current curriculum.

    Reply
  11. bookishtendencieskatie

    Unfortunately, I actually do think most people (including myself) need reminders to read more diversely. Just take a look at the bestsellers from the past week according to NPR: http://www.npr.org/books/bestsellers/2015/week7/. If people are mostly reading from those kinds of lists… there's not one person of color (from what I can tell) on this list!

    I went and looked at my reading for the year so far… and only 2 of the 20 books I've read so far are by a person of color… and both of them were read in February as part of Black History Month… so I'm guilty of this as well. Something I'm working on…

    Really interesting thoughts! 🙂

    Reply
  12. bookishtendencieskatie

    Unfortunately, I actually do think most people (including myself) need reminders to read more diversely. Just take a look at the bestsellers from the past week according to NPR: http://www.npr.org/books/bestsellers/2015/week7/. If people are mostly reading from those kinds of lists… there's not one person of color (from what I can tell) on this list!

    I went and looked at my reading for the year so far… and only 2 of the 20 books I've read so far are by a person of color… and both of them were read in February as part of Black History Month… so I'm guilty of this as well. Something I'm working on…

    Really interesting thoughts! 🙂

    Reply

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