Let me start by saying diversity and literature go hand in hand.
- Diversity is the foundation to learn new perspectives from literature.
- Literature proves the value and necessity of diversity.
We are coming full circle here, people.
Diversity wasn’t really part of my upbringing, though. I grew up in a mostly white community and knew very few people who looked or lived differently than I did. I don’t even remember talking to a person of color until high school. Even then, my school was mostly white kids. On top of that, I barely knew any non-Christians or non-straight people. I definitely didn’t know anyone from the trans community.
That changed a bit when I went to college. I was definitely one of those people, though, who had one or two black friends and thought that made me an ally and not racist. I would even say that out loud. “Oh she’s my black friend.” And I shamefully remember commenting once that one of these women didn’t “act black.” I’m embarrassed now to write that and of my 20-year-old self, and I feel immense guilt.
Thank God for growth, for New York, and for literature.
Moving to New York changed my life for many reasons. One of those is that my eyes opened to not just the diversity around me and the beauty of that, but that my background and my skin color provided me so many advantages in life. Too many to count. And since moving here, I’ve really ramped up how much I read (hence this blog), which has shown me all these perspectives and experiences I never knew before.
Through New York culture and my love of literature, I’ve recently come to the realization that I have not been an ally my entire life. I’ve also had many transgressions that I need to learn and grow from to truly become one.
It’s been an ugly but necessary reality check. After the death of George Floyd and the emotional and powerful protests his terrible death inspired, I realized I can no longer deny my actions or privilege or let those of my closest friends and family go unchecked. It’s always been the time to speak out even if I haven’t. Now I should do it louder than ever.
And in speaking out, I must also hold myself accountable. One easy and important way I can do that is through the books I consciously choose. In January, I wrote a post containing my 2020 Big Little Literature goals. I had vowed the year before to read fewer white female authors and failed to achieve that goal, so I set the same one for myself this year: Keep the number of books written by white women under 50%. So how am I doing so far?
As of June 6, I have read 14 books to date. (Not all of the reviews have been posted yet.) Of those, seven have been written by white, straight, cisgender women.
I’ve got some serious work to do and am motivated to improve in the second half of 2020. It’s important to keep finding new perspectives, to learn from them, and to bring awareness about and attention to these authors and their art.
It’s key that I, along with all white people, learn how to be an ally, how our country has been built on racism, and how racism is ingrained in everything that happens here. I can do that by learning new perspectives through literature and by taking advantage of all the great resources online. My first step is Rachel Cargle‘s free 30-day #DoTheWork course. I highly recommend you check it out.
I’ve covered fiction, and I’ve covered online resources. But non-fiction is essential too. I, like so many others in the past week, am buying books on anti-racism and white privilege. I feel hopeful that so many titles are sold out and on backorder. There are countless nonfiction books out there, though; we have to keep looking while we wait.
So what’s on my #tbr list currently? I have two fiction books in the pipeline written by black authors and about black experiences: Three-Fifths by John Vercher and American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson. I have also ordered White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo and narrated by Amy Landon, as well as The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. You’ve probably heard these titles as they’re quite popular. (I also ordered these from Bookshop.org, which allows you to choose from local bookstores. You can find black-owned bookstores on their site too.) In addition, I want to read “The 1619 Project” from The New York Times.
Speaking out means giving recommendations that have helped me, and that starts with this blog. Even though I’ve failed to really achieve diversity in the books I’ve read the past few years, I have come across some extraordinary books by black authors. Here’s my list of recommended reading that provides important perspectives and makes powerful and honest statements:
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Beloved by Toni Morrison
While I did not love this book, I recognize its power, especially in its relation to slavery and racism.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (review coming soon)
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
I also recommend watching Little Fires Everywhere. I of course recommend the book too, but the show touches on race in a powerful way.
This is just the beginning, and I’m hoping I can add more to this list soon.
And if you have recommendations, please send them right my way. I would love to grow and diversify my library and to continue sharing those experiences with others.
Keep learning. Keep fighting. Keep speaking out and sharing. And keep loving our brothers and sisters.