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Reading in Colour

January 19, 2010

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I was planning on doing a review post today. But there’s this issue, that I’ve been trying to write about all month, and I just can’t seem to find the right way to approach it. I’ve gone through four drafts, and none of them have satisfied me. But, here I am, trying again.
I live in a white-washed society. And as a white person, I benefit from that.

You know, I’ve heard about privilege, the -isms, and all of that since I began college. I’m sure many of you have as well. If not, you need to go read this article: “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy Mackintosh. Go on; I’ll wait. It shouldn’t take you long to read, and I think it’ll really help our discussion here. Because I do want a discussion.

A couple weeks ago, this whole privilege thing, and how easy it is to be oblivious to it when you’re the beneficiary, really struck home for me. I was hanging out with my best friend here. He’s a great guy, and he’s also a straight white guy from an upper middle class Christian family who’s pretty tall and not overweight, so he’s got just about every privilege there is. ;) I was trying to explain to him why I am a committed feminist, and why feminism still matters in our world today. I don’t want to make this a post about feminism, so don’t comment on this bit, but when I said: “I want to look at our Senate and see 50 women senators. I want over 200 women sitting in our House of Representatives. Because until then, I don’t feel like my government is made of my people,” (Or something to that effect.) he replied “Well then, run for office.” And I wanted to scream, because I was trying to get through to him that he doesn’t have to run for office, he can live his life however he chooses, comfortable in the knowledge that our government has a ton of people who are the same gender as him. Basically, I wanted to smack him over the head with his knapsack.

Back to race. Just in case you didn’t go read that article, or if you haven’t read it in awhile, here’s the part I’d like to focus on:

In my class and place, I did not see myself as a racist because I was taught to recognize racism only in individual acts of meanness by members of my group, never in invisible systems conferring unsought racial dominance on my group from birth. Disapproving of the system won’t be enough to change them. …To redesign social systems we need first to acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions.

Yep, I jumped over a bit of it. But you get the gist, right? So let’s talk about one of those unseen dimensions, the one that’s relevent to book blogging. Let’s talk about how many white authors we read vs. how many authors of colour. Do you know? Have you paid any attention at all to what ethnicity the authors you read are? Because if not, and if you live in one of these white-washed societies, I’d be willing to bet you’re reading almost all white authors.

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Almost six months ago, back in August, I suddenly realised that 80% of the fiction I read was by white people. I didn’t put it that way at the time, though…no, I said that 20% of the fiction I read was by people of colour. The latter makes it sound better, doesn’t it? But I made a decision: for the rest of the year, I wanted to read an equal amount of white/POC fiction and make sure that 25% of my nonfiction was written by authors of colour. Then I had a panic attack…what had I just committed myself to?! Would I have to read books that I didn’t really love just to hit my ratio? I only knew a handful of non-white American authors, so where should I even begin trying to look for them?! I was afraid it was going to be awful.

Then I went into full-on research mode (and y’all know how I love putting book lists together)…and at the end of the year, counting since I had made that promise, I had read equal amounts of white and non-white authors from the US and from the rest of the world. On the nonfiction side, one-third of my reads were by POC authors, which surpassed my expectations (and let me tell you, when I first began researching, it seemed like only white nonfiction writers were published). Yep, I had to try harder, especially at the beginning. I had to be more conscious of the books I was choosing to read (although now it’s become a habit). And I definitely didn’t love every POC book I read. But then, I don’t love every white author I try either. And here’s the thing…after several months of changing my reading, I’ve barely scratched the surface of all of the wonderful POC literature out there.

In fact, I fully intend to read this way for the rest of my life. And yes, I do plan to keep track, and to hold myself to that firm ratio. At least, until it becomes second nature (a few years ago, I did the same thing when I noticed I had read almost all male authors that year…now, at least half the books I read are by women, and I don’t have to pay attention to it). I’m willing to sacrifice a little of my reading spontaneity and whims (although really, not that much) in order to make sure that I’m aware of more viewpoints. It’s important to me in principle, and just as importantly, it has improved my reading tremendously! It’s funny what being aware of something does though…because in the last few months, the white washing of the publishing industry seems so much more obvious. Oh, and the white washing of the book blogosphere.

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There, I said it. Because that’s really what all of this is working up to, and why I’ve yet to find a tactful way to talk about this. I want to see more discussions of books by people of colour here in the blogosphere. I just conducted a highly unscientific ‘poll,’ by scrolling through my Google Reader and counting the first twenty reviews that popped up. Only two of those reviews were books by people of colour. Two! It reminds me of one of those privileges Mackintosh lists:

22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

And you might be thinking, “Well, it’s not my fault that my favourite authors happen to be white. It’s not like I purposely avoid non-white authors…I just don’t hear of many books by them that I want to read.” Because that’s how I felt at this time last year. And it’s a huge problem that POC authors have more trouble getting published than white ones. But don’t let that problem become a smokescreen, a reason for to say “Well, if there were POC books published in my favourite genre, I’d read them. But there aren’t, and I’m not a publisher, so whatcha going to do?” Because seriously guys, I promise you that there are books out there, written by POC authors, that you will love. You just haven’t heard of them, because, well, our society is white-washed.

I’m not saying that we should all stop reading and reviewing books by white people. What I am saying is that we should all start reading and reviewing books by non-white people. Because the more POC books we read and review, the more aware we’ll be of all of those wonderful authors out there that no one’s talking about. And if you say, “Oh well, I don’t believe in positive discrimination. I believe everyone should be treated equally,” then I’d encourage you to go read that knapsack article one more time.

Here’s the thing. I feel awkward even bringing this up…I don’t like drama and controversy in blogland. I prefer to talk about books, and the ones that are amazing, and the ones that really sucked, and the authors I’d invite to a fantasy spin-the-bottle game (ok, maybe that last one has never actually come up). But if there’s one thing the last few months have taught me, it’s that reading is an inherently political act. Even if you’re not consciously paying attention to the ethnicity of the authors you’re reading, that’s still a choice. A choice to support the “invisible systems”, which reward people for being white and penalise them for being any other colour. And even though it feels somewhat odd for me, as a white girl, to initiate this discussion, as if I’m stepping on other people’s toes, I remember another privilege Mackintosh pointed out:

30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn’t a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me credibility for either position more than a person of color will have.

I’m not trying to make you defensive. But here’s what I’m asking. Examine your reading choices, from an ethnic point of view. Are you comfortable with what you see? If not, change something. Commit, preferably publicly, to reading X number of POC books. Or X percentage. Or be sure to review the ones that you do read. Or do a post about it to spread awareness. Or start requesting that your library buy specific POC books (my library allows patrons four requests a month, and I’ve been using them on POC and GLBT books to try to round out their collection). Or ask your favourite bookstore why their endcap displays feature so many white authors. Just do something!

I’m home sick almost all of the time, and since I’m too sick to work and thus have no income, I can’t buy the books by POC authors that I’ve liked it. But changing my reading, making purchasing suggestions to my library, reviewing non-white authors on my blog…these are the small steps I can take to show that I’m not ok with my society’s marginalisation of non-white people. And I think that’s a statement all of my readers would agree with.

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Now, on to the fun part! I’m going to recommend a few books, in different genres and flavours, so that if you want to read a POC author and don’t know where to start, you’ll have at least a few ideas. :) But seriously, feel free to comment and/or e-mail me if you’d like me to give you a personal recommendation (keeping in mind I’m nowhere near an expert…I don’t want people to think I’m cocky or something). Or check out some of my reading lists for challenges (all accessible via the Current Challenges page)…I make a conscious effort when I’m putting them together to add in ethnic diversity wherever possible. And to stop pimping my own blog for a moment, Color Online is a great YA resource (as well as more general community discussions), there’s the I Read in Color Webring hosted by BrownGirl Bookspeak, White Readers Meet Black Authors, and I’m sure many other resources out there that I haven’t discovered yet (although feel free to share any you think are helpful!). Now seriously, let’s talk about the books! Oh, and honestly, most of my US POC reading last year was African American authors, so there’s going to be a dearth of Hispanic, Asian American, and Native American recommendations on this list. I’m sorry about that; this year, I’m focused on evening that out a bit more. Oh, and I haven’t linked to my reviews of these books (because that would take forever), but you can always look something up in my review directories if you’re curious. All of the books I’m suggesting here are ones that I’ve read and loved!

If you’re a fan of graphic novels, try anything by Shaun Tan, Incognegro by Mat Johnson & Warren Pleece, Bayou, Volume One by Jeremy Love, or Skim by Mariko & Jillian Tamaki.

If you can’t get enough thrillers, reach for Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie. If you’re more the mystery type of person, try more village cozy style of Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartery or the more hard-boiled A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn.

Or maybe you’re more interested in neo-gothic stuff? I loved White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi.

If you’re a fan of classic literature, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, and Naguib Mahfouz‘s Cairo trilogy are must reads. Or for those modern classics, be sure to include Toni Morrison and James Baldwin on your TBR list. They’re famous for a reason!

More of a historical fiction person? Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill, The Farming of the Bones by Edwidge Danticat, The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea, or The Book of Night Women by Marlon James might just fit the bill.

Itching for something contemporary, with a lyrical flavour to it? Why not try Song for Night by Chris Abani, Hardboiled & Hard Luck by Banana Yoshimoto or Where We Once Belonged by Sia Figiel?

Or maybe you just want a modern, strong woman as a book’s main character? Give a look to A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam or The New Moon’s Arms by Nalo Hopkinson.

Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King
proves that magical realism works outside of Latin Amerca!

I know that I have a thing for books set in the American South. Sugar by Bernice McFadden is one of the best I’ve ever read!

If you’re a fan of YA, you have to read Jacqueline Woodson. Lucy the Giant by Sherri Smith and A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott are both marvelous as well.

Perhaps you enjoy coming-of-age stories that feel more like adult literature? You can’t go wrong with Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid or Bless Me Ultimate by Rudolpho Anaya.

Looking for a challenge? A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth will make you feel like an endurance runner while My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk will push you to try out mental gymnastics.

If you’re a short story fan, be sure to give Hunger by Lan Samantha Chang a shot.

Don’t worry-I’ve got some suggestions for non-fiction readers as well. :)

Do you love travelogues? Serve the People by Jen Lin Liu is a marvelous one.

Atul Gawande writes some of the most amazing essays I’ve ever read: you can’t go wrong with either of his collections: Complicated or Better.

Notes from the Hyena’s Belly by Nega Mezlekia is the kind of memoir that makes me love the genre.

And if you enjoy reading books about books as much as me, try out A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel.

I’m going to stop there, but I hope that I’ve inspired you to try out some new authors! And after over 2,000 words, I’m turning the floor over to you. What do you think about ethnically-aware reading? Do you have any favourite POC authors you think everyone should read? Do you think there’s plenty of diversity in book blogging, and I’m just not looking in the right places? Whatever your reaction to this post, I hope you share it.

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173 Comments leave one →
  1. successivecaprices permalink
    January 19, 2010 5:00 am

    Hi Eva,

    As a white girl, I am very wary of “giving gold stars” for things we-the-privileged should be doing anyway, but I really liked this post and appreciate the resources and recommendations. I suspect that you might enjoy a browse through the archives of the Writers of Color 50 Book Challenge, found here: http://community.livejournal.com/50books_poc.

    Best,
    SC

    • January 19, 2010 8:38 pm

      Thanks for the link! And I’m glad you enjoyed the post. :)

  2. January 19, 2010 5:03 am

    Wow! Eva that is quite some post and you have obviously taken ages writing it. I am not sure quite how to respond to it or if I can intellegently enough. I am from a fairly though not too ‘white priveledged background’ as you put it my family were from working class routes and never forgot them (as we are northerners) I guess now we are seen as middle class. I have gone off at a tangent. I live now in a very mixed area as London is mixed anyway but where I live in Tooting I am actually the minority as it is a huge Indian community, we have fruit markets everywhere and when I first moved in during the summer in 2008 I felt like i was on holiday in another country. It was moving here that opened me up to reading much more fiction based in India or written by Indian authors.

    In genreal though I like to think I read a good mixture of authors. I tried looking at last eyars books to work out a ratio and then realised I dont always note the ethnicity of the authors I read, I just like to read good books and the authors colour doesnt really tend to affect their writing.

    I like my reading to be diverse but at the same time don’t like to plan it. Being from a minority group myself though this post made me look at how many LGBT books I read as a member of that community and its not good, I dont read many. But then I know gay authors, quite a few, and they wouldnt want someone reading their book just ecause they are gay or its a gay read, they want them to read it because its a good book.

    Diversity is a tricky issue. In the UK we now have specific diverse job websites for minorities as they want a ‘colourful work force’ which is actually not diverse because its cutting off others and in a way is dicrimination to those not in a minority. In fact people in the minorities find it patronising, we want to be accepted but just like everyone else why segregate to ‘be diverse’. You should be hired because your good bot because your boss wants more coloured/gay/disabled staff. Its a PC mine field.

    Great post because there is gonna be some great debate. I think I will have to check out some of the books on your list as I am good on african, indian, chinese and japanese authors but am sure am missing some gems. Plus regardless of the colour of the authors I know they will be great reads as you recommend them.

    • January 19, 2010 5:50 am

      I feel the need to point out that being minority does not always mean you’re disadvantaged. In many parts of Asia (and I’m sure other parts of the world and communities), the whites as minority are treated better than other races.

      Eva, I applaud you for bringing up issue that is hard to talked about. I’m a disadvantaged minority all my life. I’m Asian female studying white-male dominant field and working in white-male dominant workplace. I was born in a country where my race was only 5% of 200 millions people and racial tension was rampant. Often I really don’t feel like fighting, or even bringing it up. I just want to blend and don’t stand out like a sore thumb. And in some ways that probably reflects my book choice too.

      Books-wise I’m naturally more pulled towards POCs. But I’ve been trying to read more Western (white) books, so I can be “in the loop”. Like you have stated, most prominent authors are white, and even the book blogosphere is majority white.

    • January 19, 2010 8:45 pm

      Simon, thanks so much for such a long and thoughtful comment!

      My family is working class as well, and I definitely wasn’t arguing that all white people are rich. More that, if you’re white working class, you have more privileges than non-white working class people.

      And that’s so neat you live in a big Indian area; I’m moving back to San Antonio this year, which is a pretty big city that has a very substantial Latin@ population, so I understand how that can feel.

      >>But then I know gay authors, quite a few, and they wouldnt want someone reading their book just ecause they are gay or its a gay read, they want them to read it because its a good book.

      I completely understand that. And I won’t read a book just because it’s written by a POC (or gay) author…it also has to sound appealing to me, and if it’s not working for me, I don’t feel any more guilty about abandoning it than I would a white author. But, at least in the case of POC authors (I’m not nearly as aware of LGBT stuff, especially since I think it’s a slightly different kind of issue…after all, most author names/pictures will reveal their ethnicity, if that makes sense…not that I’m trying to downplay the problems LGBT people face), I sometimes have to put in some extra effort into finding those awesome-sounding books, simply because marketing/publishing/blogging talks much more about white authors. However, when I review a book, I don’t mention the author’s ethnicity/orientation. I just say why I loved it!

      Affirmative action is such a complex and tricky issue, I can’t imagine trying to fit all of my thoughts on it into this comment. ;)

  3. January 19, 2010 5:23 am

    I haven’t had a good read like this in a blog post for awhile now till I saw this post. I should be guilty since you just made me realize I’ve only been reading white authors lately. But I don’t feel that way because I was first a reader of nonwhite authors and it just so happens that I’m reading bookseller authors at the moment. I understand how you feel even if I have an opposite background than you do. I came to this country many years ago to learn the new language and I find it very interesting to learn a new culture in the eyes and thoughts of diversed Americans. One thing we have in common is the open-mindedness we all should have. And you inspired me and have touched my heart in a good way.

    • January 19, 2010 8:46 pm

      Hi Natalie! Thank you for your thoughts. :) I don’t think you should feel guilty; as long as your reading works for you, and as long as you’re aware of the issues, then you’re good! I just wanted to perhaps make people think about it if they never had before. And open-mindedness is always a good thing!

  4. January 19, 2010 5:29 am

    By the way by bookseller I forgot to mention by J.D. Rob and Debbie Macomber.

  5. January 19, 2010 5:41 am

    Thank you, Eva.

    • January 19, 2010 8:46 pm

      Thank you for being the inspiration for my whole reading promise to begin with!

  6. January 19, 2010 6:42 am

    I honestly don’t pay any attention to the author of books, but to the content and characters. I’ve been trying to increase my author-awareness, but to be honest I would rather diversify my reading by content than by author. It’s like you mention Shaun Tan – I had no idea he would be considered a poc. I knew he was from Australia. I don’t even know what the guy looks like.

    Speaking of awareness, though – next month our GLBT challenge involves poc – I wondered if you might be willing to write a guest post on the subject, published on the GLBT blog?

    • January 19, 2010 8:49 pm

      Hmmm…I don’t see as much of a divide between diverse content and diverse authors as you do. And while I don’t think that authors should only write characters who share their ethnicity, I am a bit hesitant about reading books about non-white people by white authors. I don’t think it’s bad, but I don’t think it gives me the same picture as reading POC authors writing POC characters. Same with GLBT stuff! Sure I’ll write a guest post, but I’m white and straight, lol, so I’m not sure how much I could write about it! E-mail me what you had in mind. :)

      • January 19, 2010 9:26 pm

        I don’t know that I agree that a white person can’t write about non-white people accurately. I mean, do you think the same is true in reverse, that black people can only write accurately about black people and hispanic people can only write about hispanic people and so on? That seems so limited and divisive. I think it has more to do with what is familiar to an individual. Pearl Buck grew up in China and wrote about Chinese culture in an intimate and familiar way, even though she was white. I trust her to talk about the Chinese people because she spent most of her life with them. Personally, I have a hard time writing about white people because I grew up surrounded by black and hispanic people. I don’t understand white culture at all.

        I’ll email you about the post.

      • January 19, 2010 10:16 pm

        I NEVER said authors can only write about their ethnicity/gender/orientation/etc.! I completely agree that it’s limited and divisive. I said it made me hesitant. ;) To take your example of Pearl Buck, I think she’s writes wonderfully about China as well. But at the same time, if I only read her views of China, and never read a book about China by a Chinese author, I’d still feel limited. So even if I read lots of books with POC characters by white authors, I wouldn’t feel as if then I could ignore all POC authors. Does that make sense?

  7. January 19, 2010 7:34 am

    Great post and I must say I found it more interesting than the posts elsewhere that are simply angry about the whitewashing of covers (though the beautiful white girl on the cover when it doesn’t match the character drives me CRAZY!). You have really put a lot of thought into this important issue.

    I do think about the authors and characters I read about, but choose what to read next by what I want, not who wrote it.

    When I purchase books for my school library I tend to find it is easier to get African-American books and more difficult to find books written by and about Latinos. My school is about 47% Latino so that is the group that tends to be on my brain. But, I try to go for a diverse purchasing pattern (including international) so that our students have a range of options.

    Again, thanks for the post, I found a few more blogs to follow and a little task for myself!

    • January 19, 2010 8:51 pm

      >>I do think about the authors and characters I read about, but choose what to read next by what I want, not who wrote it.

      That’s how I choose what to read next to. But when I’m making my pool of books to choose from, I make sure that I have great-sounding books by more than just white authors. You know?

      My library (here in CO) has more African-American writers than Latin@ too. But in TX, it’s the opposite!

  8. January 19, 2010 8:01 am

    This is a wonderful post especially because you combined it with a list of suggested books. This is so important because in communities like mine, which is almost exclusively white or Latino, it is very hard to find books involving other “colors” in either bookstores or libraries, and so even the browsing option is foreclosed. I would also note that Doret on the blog of The Happy Nappy Bookseller has compiled very extensive lists of books featuring POC for children, middle grade, and YA readers.

    Thanks for the great post, Eva!

    • January 19, 2010 8:52 pm

      I don’t know how I forgot Doret! She’s definitely a great YA POC resource-thanks for reminding me. :)

  9. January 19, 2010 8:06 am

    Eva, this was an excellent post. I read the “White Privilege” article years ago, as part of some diversity awareness efforts at work. It was very powerful and has influenced my thinking and actions in the workplace and my community. But I never thought about how it affects my reading choices … * whack on side of head *

    I actively read literature in translation from all around the world, with a similar aim as the POC reading you describe. And I just read and reviewed The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, which addresses lesbian relationships in a wonderfully candid, “normal” way that I found refreshing. But I have not been actively seeking out POCs, and you’ve given me some great food for thought.

    Thanks!

    • January 19, 2010 8:53 pm

      Isn’t Sarah Waters wonderful?!

      I actively read international literature too, which is why I didn’t have to work nearly as hard to make sure I was reading 50% international POC authors as I had to on the domestic side of things. :)

  10. January 19, 2010 8:09 am

    What a wonderful post, Eva. I have to admit that I don’t pay enough attention. And I need to do better. We went to the bookstore last night…I bought five books with my gift cards. Turns out three were by POC. But I didn’t realize that until you made me look. As tempting as it is for me to think that maybe that means I do okay without even trying, I know that isn’t really true. I’m guessing that that ratio is truly a fluke. And I need to make an effort to know better what I am buying and reading.

    • January 19, 2010 8:54 pm

      Thanks Debi! :) I wonder if that ratio’s a fluke-you always seem such an aware reader.

  11. January 19, 2010 8:19 am

    Eva, This was a fantastic post, but like Amanda I have no idea about the background of most of the authors I read. I had no idea that Shaun Tan, Lawrence Hill or many of the other authors you mentioned were POC. I do like to have a diversity in my reading, but like Amanda I do this through content, rather than looking at the author. I try to read a large number of books in translation and ones based in different countries around the world. I think that by doing this I acheive a fair mix. I think learning about different cultures is very important, whatever colour they happen to be.

    • January 19, 2010 8:57 pm

      I already explained my views on content in my reply to Amanda, so I’ll just direct you up there. ;)

      I agree that reading about different cultures is very important, and focusing translation is a wonderful way to do that (although there are so many authors from former British colonies who write in English to begin with!). I’ve been reading books from a variety of European countries this month, and I don’t think that they’re less diverse because they’re all white. ;) I actively seek out POC authors to try to correct some of the inequality I see in the system, and that’s what I wanted to write about here, but it’s not the only way I diversify my reading!

  12. January 19, 2010 8:39 am

    Great post, Eva. Like a couple of others above, I also rarely investigate authors before I read a book. I have so many books and such a huge wishlist that I rarely have to go investigating to find something to read. This year I have been making a definite effort to read books by people from other cultures and people of color, though, because I realize that it’s extremely important. I read that article a while ago from one of my friends who is an Australian-born Chinese and she often speaks out against discrimination. It totally surprised me and really made me think in ways I hadn’t previously considered.

    Since I really started caring after I mostly stopped buying books, I have few by POC on my TBR pile, but I’m definitely using the library to its fullest extent these days.

    • January 19, 2010 8:58 pm

      Thanks for the comment Meghan! Like you, my bookshelf doesn’t really reflect my more balanced reading, because I’m not buying books either. That frustrates me a bit, but what you can do?!

  13. January 19, 2010 8:48 am

    THANK YOU. I really love you for posting this. It’s so well-written and so honest and so, well, awesome. I agree, to a certain extent, with what Amanda and Jackie said, that content is equally important as author race in terms of being more culturally aware. It is just as important, in my opinion, for white authors to include POC in their books, not because they think it is the right thing to do, but because it’s natural. We need more authors like Justine Larbalestier, unafraid to populate her books with people who do not look like her. But it doesn’t end there: reading books by POC is just as important. It is a perspective you could not get otherwise. I too have decided to make a conscious effort this year to read more and more books by POC, until like you said, it is not something I am trying to do, but rather something that comes naturally to me.

    I decided to count my numbers: 74% of the books I read were by a white person. That’s, honestly, a lot higher than I thought it was. It means that I have a responsibility to myself to make more of an effort to do this. Thanks for this post, it’s sort of like a call to arms, and I love that.

    • January 19, 2010 8:59 pm

      Thanks so much Lu! I loved your comment, and of course I love how we’re in agreement, hehe.

  14. January 19, 2010 9:16 am

    Thank you, Eva. I was just thinking yesterday of mixing up my Women Unbound reading to include POC; for this is what I want to challenge myself with – to read more viewpoints that I don’t even know I do not know.

    • January 19, 2010 8:59 pm

      I included lots of POC ideas in my Women Unbound list if you need some inspiration. ;)

  15. January 19, 2010 9:40 am

    I think with reading, you pick books that reflect your experience – your worldview, your hopes, dreams, fears, etc. People tend to write about their experience of the world too, ergo as a white middle class female the majority of my reading is about white middle class females and written by white middle class females. I can’t help who I am, and I can’t help what I am naturally interested in. I enjoy reading books about other cultures too, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of the time I gravitate towards the same sort of books that appeal to me because they reflect my view and experience of the world.

    I don’t know if choosing books just because of the colour of the author’s skin would be something I would feel comfortable doing. When it comes down to it, what’s the difference between favouring and disadvantaging someone just because of the colour of their skin? Both are treating someone differently because of their race, and regardless of whether it’s with good or bad intent, aren’t both as equally bad as each other?

    This is such a charged and difficult issue that it’s nigh on impossible for me to express how I feel about it in a simple reply to a blog post. I just think sometimes in trying to be well meaning, we can actually be detrimental to race relations – positive discrimination is great in some aspects but it’s also horribly patronising in others. How would I feel if someone gave me a job just because I was white? How would I feel if I couldn’t get a job I wanted because I was white? I think I would feel equally outraged in both situations. There are no easy answers.

    Great post and very thought provoking – I’m just not sure if I agree with you I’m afraid. It might be a cultural thing though – the US and the UK’s attitudes towards race and the experiences of ethnic minorities (or people of colour) are really quite different I think.

    • January 19, 2010 9:04 pm

      >>I think with reading, you pick books that reflect your experience – your worldview, your hopes, dreams, fears, etc.

      It’s interesting; I tend to do the opposite! I love to travel and escape from myself with reading. :)

      >>I don’t know if choosing books just because of the colour of the author’s skin would be something I would feel comfortable doing. When it comes down to it, what’s the difference between favouring and disadvantaging someone just because of the colour of their skin?

      I see it as, POC authors are at a disadvantage due to the ‘invisible systems of racism’ in my society. So by actively seeking to read them, by favouring them, I’m just levelling things out. But I still only read books that I’m interested in!

      >>positive discrimination is great in some aspects but it’s also horribly patronising in others.

      Did you read that knapsack article? Because that’s completely brought up. But if I switch from looking at race (where I’m white and thus privileged) to looking at gender (where I’m a woman and thus unprivileged), it makes it easier for me to process.

      I’m not saying everyone has to agree with me, and I”m glad that you took the time to write such a thoughtful comment. :)

      • January 20, 2010 5:10 am

        Thanks for your intelligent and well thought through replies, Eva.

        I did read the knapsack article, and while I agree with most of it, I do think there is a cultural divide here – Britain doesn’t have an endemic problem with racism in the way the US does. So I think my reaction to your post and the article are going to be coloured by that.

        I have never thought, and will never think, that positive discrimination is the answer to racism. It’s like painkillers; you’re just addressing the symptoms and not the cause. The fact that there is a need for positive discrimination says that there is negative discrimination going on. We need to tackle the reasons behind negative discrimination and work to change the entrenched social structures that uphold that negative way of thinking rather than sticking a band-aid by the name of positive discrimination over it and fooling ourselves that it will make it all ok. Me reading loads of books I don’t particularly enjoy by writers not of the same colour of my skin isn’t going to make these writers’ lives any easier, or fairer. All it’s going to do is patronise them and continue to uphold the attitude that white people are better than them – because I, in my position of white supremacist, am deigning to read their books. Do you see what I mean? I just find the whole idea of positive discrimination horribly patronising. Just as I would never want to be given a job or for someone to read my book because I was a woman, I wouldn’t want either of those situations to be true because of the colour of my skin. Many of my non white friends agree – in fact, a black friend of mine once said in response to a poster advertising a positive discrimination policy in the police force – ‘that’s the most offensive thing I’ve ever seen.’ I would have to say that I agree 100% with her. As well intentioned as positive discrimination is, I still find it abhorrent. People should be appreciated, read, hired, befriended, whatever, because of who they are, not because of the colour of their skin. And as that is not the case in the world today, we need to work to change that – but the attitude that non white people need to be given a ‘leg up’ by white people is an inherently racist attitude in itself and CONTINUES to uphold white supremacy. That’s why I just can’t get behind positive discrimination. But at the same time I can see that positive discrimination is needed as a short term measure in order to get ethnic minorities into positions where they can influence and change society – but then, if attitudes haven’t changed, will that work anyway? I just don’t know.

        As I said before – there are no easy answers! If there were we would have figured it all out by now.

  16. January 19, 2010 9:50 am

    Also, just had the thought that the book industry in the UK and the US must be quite different as I must say that I have never noticed in book shops a lack of non white authors. A lot of our bestsellers tend to be by non white authors and ones from different cultures, etc – there has been a real saturation of the market by authors from the Middle East and India recently, for example. So I have never really considered authors who weren’t white to have a disadvantage in the publishing industry, though, of course, in the US this may be a completely different story.

    • January 19, 2010 9:06 pm

      I think with the whole Commonwealth thing, that does make a difference! I don’t know enough about the UK publishing industry to speak about it intelligently, but here in the US the vast majority of best-sellers are by white authors.

      • January 20, 2010 11:41 am

        Rachel said:
        “Britain doesn’t have an endemic problem with racism in the way the US does. ”

        Wow, I’m sorry but I absolutely think the UK has an endemic problem with racism. I think a lot of Europe does and I don’t think Europe opens itself up as much to deal with it as America does. There were so many race riots in the UK in the 80s against Indians and Pakistanis. English soccer fans are known worldwide for being racist thugs. An immigrant to the US is more likely to succeed than one to the UK is.

        America has problems, yes, but I think it’s a bit blind to say that they are “endemic” and that the UK’s are not. I have never felt so discriminated against in the US as I felt in Europe, where I can’t count the number of times I was stopped for security, multiple times, at the same airport, and then even on the airplane.

        American bookstores also sell books by authors with different ethnicities. And, as so many publishers are international now, I don’t think it’s necessarily a case of the US book industry being a completely different story. Books that succeed in the UK tend to succeed in the US and vice versa. But what KINDS of books by ethnic authors are succeeding? Ones about immigrant experiences? Ones about exotic cultures? Those, to me, are somewhat belittling and imply that one must shout out about race to be interesting enough to make a profit.

        I am sorry for the strong nature of this response, but that sentence just really angered me.

      • January 21, 2010 5:27 am

        I have to agree with Aarti here. I think the problem of discrimination and racism is just as big in Europe as it is in the US and I’ve lived in the UK, Sweden and the US. I think the difference is that it isn’t discussed to the same extent in Europe. Here we are far more concerned that people become British or Swedish whereas in the US celebrating your heritage and having a different heritage is much more important.

        I think it has gotten better in the UK in the last few years but it is still very much present. Just look at the amount of POC who are in positions of power. There is still very much a biased to the white male. And in Europe you often also have to add in class.

      • January 21, 2010 6:09 am

        Aarti – I’m sorry that I angered you – I didn’t mean to offend at all. In fact, I’m upset that I did anger you.

        What I meant by my comment about endemic racism is that racism in the form of slavery and segregation has been such a big part of the history of the United States and its repercussions are still being felt today by black people dealing with that history of being constantly considered inferior – not just in attitude, but by law, as well. We have never in the UK had a set of actual laws that prevented people of all skin colours having equal rights. We have never practised segregation. We don’t have ghettos. Do you see what I mean? Yes, as a white country we will always have racism towards people of other skin colours – and to some extent, endemic racism exists in all predominantly white countries, largely unconsciously, I think – but we have never deliberately shut other races out from fully participating in our society in the way the US did in the past. That’s why I see our countries’ attitudes towards racism as very different. Racism is much more of an ‘issue’ in America because the wounds of segregation are still raw – it’s only been…what…60 years since segregation was overturned? That’s in living memory. With a legacy like that, racism can’t help being more of a sensitive topic in the US than it is in the UK.

        I didn’t mean to imply that Britons aren’t racist – there are plenty who are, and you cite perfectly valid examples – and I’m not saying Britain has got it all right and we’re better than the US and living in some sort of Benetton advert fantasy world where we all get along perfectly – not at ALL. I’m sorry if that’s how it came across. We have a lot of issues with racism – we have a Fascist party trying to gain power, we have a lot of hatred towards Muslims going on, and, as I said below, a lot of people have issues with Polish immigrants, so it’s not even just about skin colour. I suppose I just view the US as more endemically racist because of your history of slavery and segregation. I’m not saying that it makes America or Americans bad – most Americans alive today abhor both of those things, just as most, if not all, Germans abhor the holocaust – I’m just saying that having racism be SUCH an issue in your recent history has got to have more of an impact on a society’s attitudes and sensitivities towards race than in a country that doesn’t. But I could be completely wrong. And I don’t want to offend any Americans – I want to make it clear that I do not think all Americans are racist and I certainly don’t think the UK is perfect. I never meant to imply that in the first place and I’m sorry that you got that from my previous comment.

        Also – I don’t think it’s true that an immigrant to the UK will have less chances of succeeding than in the US – I’d say they’d probably have about an equal chance of making it in either country! We have no more barriers to success for immigrants than the US does.

      • January 21, 2010 9:47 am

        Thank you, Zee- exactly.

        Rachel, thank you too for your explanation. That makes me feel a lot better. But I still think the UK DOES have the same sort of thing. I suppose you didn’t have slavery in England or Scotland or Wales itself, but you certainly had them in England’s West Indies holdings.

        To be quite frank, maybe you didn’t have what you call endemic racism (i.e., laws against integration) because, instead of letting people into your country, you just went into THEIRS and made them feel like second-class citizens in their own homes. The English did that in North America, in Africa, in Australia and in India. Even closer, in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. That’s why so many brilliant Indian authors write in English now- not in Hindi or Bengali or Telugu or Tamil. I mean, even the Welsh language and Scots are spoken far less now than they used to be because of the English systematically trying to obliterate those languages and cultures. So I would say that while it may not have been “on the books” in law form, so to speak, segregation and racism is very much present in British history.

        I think that America’s slave past and then its Jim Crow laws gave us a leg up in terms of going down the route of civil rights. Yes, we had the laws on the books, but that at least gave people something to fight AGAINST. It’s easier to fight against something that tangibly exists, and be able to vote on the issue and call it out and discuss it. That is what prompted the Civil Rights movement. I don’t think anything of the like has ever happened in Europe for the reason you state- it’s never TECHNICALLY been against the law to integrate, so there is no cause to rally around. Not sure if that makes sense.

  17. January 19, 2010 10:03 am

    Great post, Eva! Truly. Several years ago I was in a constant habit of recording where my reading came from. That included nationality/ethnicity of authors. Back then almost half my reading came from people of color, and while I’ve let it slip in the last few years, it’s something I’ve longed to go back to. I enjoyed the diversity of perspectives and even moreso, the diversity of subjects and genres I got from that experience. Thanks for throwing down the gauntlet!

    • January 19, 2010 9:07 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post Andi! I’ve noticed that the more diversely I read, the more I crave it. It’s like a positive self-fulfilling prophecy! lol

  18. January 19, 2010 10:07 am

    I thought it was interesting that you brought up the issue of “positive discrimination” because if I’m being honest, that was the idea that popped into my head! I know that I don’t automatically or preferentially seek out books by white authors – to me, that seems like a foolish way to choose one’s books. But, the thought of purposefully NOT seeking out white authors seems equally unpalatable to me. I do honestly feel that when we start selecting books because of the color of an authors skin, and for that reason alone, I think it belittles the work in question. Great literature should be great regardless of class, color, or creed… I pick the books I do because I like the writing, or because they tackle issues and questions, or tell stories that I’m interested in reading. When I picked up books by Toni Morrison, Victor LaValle, and Yukio Mishima last year, at no point did I think “I had better read this because this is a person who’s skin color is different from mine and the majority of the authors I read.” I did so because the writing was fantastic and the storytelling blew me away. There is no inherent reason why a white person would write a better book than someone of color, but conversely, there’s no reason why a POC would write a better book either. And at the end of the day, I’m looking to read the best literature that I can find and I’m not really concerned with who wrote it. I don’t judge people in my day-to-day life based on skin color, I do so based on actions and character; why should I have a different standard when it comes to my books?

    Of course, I think the endgame you speak of is admirable and beneficial to us all. It would be great if minority writers were made more accessible to us all, just in terms of knowing that they exist and what’s available to us. But I think the book blogosphere ebbs and flows and while we talk about POC we could easily talk about genre fiction (why don’t more people read and review more romance novels or sci-fi?)… in fact I think we have. But I think ultimately what we want to do, or at least what I want to do, is to celebrate great books without boundaries. I think it’s great for us to recognize what our biases are, but I don’t know that it makes me a better reader or a better person if I pick up a book simply because it was written by a Nicaraguan, or worse simply because it wasn’t North American in its origins.

    • January 19, 2010 9:12 pm

      >>But, the thought of purposefully NOT seeking out white authors seems equally unpalatable to me.

      But that’s not what I do. I add POC authors into the mix, I don’t take white ones away. ;)

      >>I do honestly feel that when we start selecting books because of the color of an authors skin, and for that reason alone, I think it belittles the work in question.

      I think if I reviewed a book more positively because it was written by a non-white person, that would be belittling. But seeking out books that sound wonderful, but that aren’t given publicity due to my society’s preference for white authors, just doesn’t seem belittling to me.

      >>There is no inherent reason why a white person would write a better book than someone of color, but conversely, there’s no reason why a POC would write a better book either.

      I agree. But since the colour of an author’s skin doesn’t affect their writing skill, it also shouldn’t affect the number of people who hear about their book. But it does. So I’m trying to balance that out.

      >>I don’t judge people in my day-to-day life based on skin color, I do so based on actions and character; why should I have a different standard when it comes to my books?

      As I mentioned earlier, I don’t judge books differently based on their authors’ ethnicity. I think that’s a seperate issue, though.

      >>while we talk about POC we could easily talk about genre fiction

      Ohhh…see, I think there’s a big difference between genres and diversity. Because if my society is inherently racist, and I take steps to counteract that by reading POC authors, that’s just so different from broadening my genre horizons.

    • callista83 permalink
      January 24, 2010 11:32 am

      What a well written comment! Wow! You make some good points.

  19. January 19, 2010 10:27 am

    Fantastic post, I’ve dedicated my blog to this subject and I was still able to discover new reads from your recommendations

    • January 19, 2010 9:12 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! I’ll be checking out your blog too. :)

  20. January 19, 2010 10:31 am

    Well said Eva. I mentioned last night on Twitter that I want to add more diversity to my reading this year–maybe I should confess why. The cover controversy brought me to the latest diversity roll call and when I looked at my booklist (first-time reads) from last year I didn’t see any books written by a non-white author. I was downright ashamed of myself. I did re-read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass last year (such a great book!), but geez I really need to pay more attention to what (and who) I’m reading. I’m glad to say my next review will be of a book written by a POC (Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez–an excellent book!), and hopefully there will be many more to come. Thanks to you and others like you who remind us to step out of our white “comfort zone” and pay more attention to the wonderful non-white writers out there.

    • January 19, 2010 9:14 pm

      Wench was one of the 2 POC books that appeared in my Google Reader. :) I think it’s going to get a lot of buzz, so I’m glad to hear it’s worth it!

  21. January 19, 2010 10:36 am

    That essay by Mackintosh blew my mind the first time I read it in college. It’s so true, and something it’s easy not to think about. I go back and forth between wanting to do what you suggest and agreeing with Steph’s comment that a book should stand as great on it’s own, regardless of the race of the author. It’s a complicated issue, and I appreciate you writing this post, Eva!

    • January 19, 2010 9:15 pm

      As I said to Steph, I think there’s a difference between making sure to seek out books by POC authors and judging them differently! That’s why when I review a book, I don’t mention the author’s ethnicity. :)

  22. January 19, 2010 10:48 am

    Intriguing thoughts and well-expressed. I do feel like I need to go back and see how many books I’ve read by POC and women. Thanks for writing about it.

  23. January 19, 2010 10:52 am

    Very interesting and well thought out post, Eva; I admire you for writing it.

    I am white and I am privileged; I know this and I know it is for many of the reasons given in the (great) article.

    However, as Rachel so eloquently points out, in the UK our experience of race is quite different. As Simon states, moving to London is a bit of a culture-shock because it is far more multi-cultural than our home cities. As Simon, Jackie and Amanda all say, I enjoy reading good books no matter who writes them. I do try to be diverse in my reading and read works in translation but mainly because I enjoy learning about different cultures and not because I set myself a goal; to attain diversity through quota-making seems disingenuous to me.

    As I am a curious soul I looked at my reading for January so far and see that 22% of my reading is by a POC and 33% is literature in translation. However, this is where I become uncomfortable consciously considering the race of the writers I read because it occurs to me that I know that Marjane Satrapi is Iranian-French but does that mean she’s a POC? So I google her and think that her skin is darker than mine but that wouldn’t be hard as I am incredibly pale. I find it distressing to be examining the colour of someone’s skin so that I can feel good about myself and what I am reading; this is the difficulty I have with this topic. The colour of a writer’s skin has no interest to me as long as I enjoy what they write. However, I do read more books written by women so obviously sex matters …

    To say your post is thought-provoking is understating it.

    • January 19, 2010 9:21 pm

      I’m really glad you UK-ers are chiming in as well, since I have an obviously American point of view. :)

      >>to attain diversity through quota-making seems disingenuous to me.

      For me, it’s about establishing a habit. In 2006, 80% of the books I read were written by male authors. I wanted to change that, so for a couple years I actively paid attention, and now I automatically read 50/50. I’m a number person anyway, so that’s just the best way for me to train myself!

      >>I find it distressing to be examining the colour of someone’s skin so that I can feel good about myself and what I am reading; this is the difficulty I have with this topic.

      I agree that it’s a difficult issue. For example, when I look at pictures of, say, Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Isabel Allende, they look as white as me. And since I’ve taken some Latin American studies classes, I know that the elite of their countries are often white. So do I count them as POC or not? I don’t think there are easy answers (although, I do count them as POC, if you’re curious), but for me ‘poc’ is a shorthand term rather than something to be taken literally. I consider an author to be a person of colour if his/her ancestry is not European. Because that’s who dominates the publishing market that I see. Thus, I’m less concerned with the actual shade of their skin, if that makes sense.

  24. January 19, 2010 11:14 am

    I’ll just echo the thoughts that this was nicely said. And of course you did it in a way that managed to add to my TBR list :) I was already planning on working on expanding my reading more this year and after all of the conversations that I’ve read it has me want to work on it even more. Great post!

  25. January 19, 2010 11:30 am

    This was a wonderful and thought-provoking post, Eva. When I was in grad school, I was much more aware of reading POC authors, so much so that by the time I left school–although I still read POC authors–it felt good to read whatever appealed to me and not have to think about my choices in political terms. I continued to read a lot of literary journals that published POC authors, but for entertainment I tended to pick authors like Lorrie Moore, Amy Hempl, Richard Russo, etc., or “classics.” It’s only been in the last year or so that I started reading more genre fiction, but I admit that blogging has also made me aware still how very narrow my reading world is, even as it expands. I thought about this not in terms of reading POC, but definitely in terms of reading more non-Western lit in general, which naturally widens the POC scope. Outside of genre fiction, we Westerners (Americans especially) often tend to be a bit navel-gazing. I look forward to adding more of these books to my TBR based on your reviews–I added White is for Witching just last week.

    • January 19, 2010 9:22 pm

      That makes sense! I agree-POC issues are not the only ones in the US publishing market. ;)

  26. January 19, 2010 11:34 am

    Great post Eva, you very nicely articulated what is bothering you personally and how you want to change it. It takes courage and knowing what you want, which you do. And i appreciate this post of your for that.
    However, I am actually as a white person sometimes very very tired of being put in a box and generalized as a person of privilege. I have never been privileged in my life, very far from it. I grew up poor, in a communist country, had to watch my grandparents and my parents and now myself struggle every day of our lives, especially financially but not only. Despite having earned my Master’s degree in English Literature with a GPA of 3.6, the only job I was ever ‘privileged’ to hold in this country was a platform assistant in a bank. Why? Because I went to college and earned my degree in Poland and not in US and this somehow makes it worse. I am to this day being made fun of because of my accent and some people have no problem making me feel like I’m outright stupid because I don’t sound like everyone else. Forgive me for my rant. I simply have so much anger in me for having to wear this label of ‘a white person’ as if it’s some kind of stigma. Being white doesn’t make me privileged. Being different however in any way, shape or form from what is universally accepted in an environment I happen to live is a great burden.
    And I have looked at my reading choice and my most favorite authors of all time (some of them life-changing almost) are Nigerian Chinua Achebe, Indian Salman Rushdie, another Nigerian Ben Okri. My political idol, a person I amire deeply and whose book should be read by everyone is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (a black person). His book is My Grandfather’s Son.
    So anyway, once again, great post, glad you wrote it and I’m glad I read it, and I hope that what I’ve written is not taken the wrong way. I simply think that for the very few really privileged people in this world, we all have ‘our crosses’ to bear in one way or another and as I don’t like to judge others, I myself don’t want to be judged on the basis of my ‘whiteness’.

    • January 19, 2010 4:57 pm

      Lilly, I think I’ve seen some of your posts around about the immigrant thing. I don’t mean disrespect at all, but I think you might read this article to see that different stigmas are equally hurtful but are not the same thing. It’s long, so I point out #3 to illustrate my point of just as important, but not the same.

      I know it is hard to move continents and be belittled because you speak differently than other people and not being paid according to your value. But that is an entirely different subject than the one at hand, I feel.

      http://whatever.scalzi.com/2009/03/12/mary-ann-mohanraj-gets-you-up-to-speed-part-i/

      • January 19, 2010 7:09 pm

        I know what you mean Aarti and I also know you don’t mean to be disrespectful at all. What I meant is that race or the color of your skin are not the only factors in how a person is disadvantaged in this world. I am just one tiny example among millions. All I simply mean I don’t want to be called privileged when I know I am not.

        As far as choosing to read books written by black people (or Latino, or Asian, or Indian), simply because I am white and I owe it to them or it’s my social responsibility somehow whether I like what they write or not is not to my liking at all. As many people here have already stated, I will read what I want to and what I like based on the quality of writing.

        It’s all a difficult subject and I know that there will always be disagreements even though like many I hope there will one day be true equality.

      • January 19, 2010 9:25 pm

        Aarti, you put that so well.

    • January 19, 2010 7:40 pm

      One more thing and then I swear I will shut up :)

      I know it’s not really about the books we should or should not be reading but I doubt that a white man standing on the corner of the street, begging for money, homeless, smelling of urine and feces because he had the bad luck of being struck with schizophrenia (there are hundreds of thousands of cases like that in United States only) would ever see himself as privileged because he’s male and he’s white.

      • January 19, 2010 9:27 pm

        >>As far as choosing to read books written by black people (or Latino, or Asian, or Indian), simply because I am white and I owe it to them or it’s my social responsibility somehow whether I like what they write or not is not to my liking at all. As many people here have already stated, I will read what I want to and what I like based on the quality of writing.

        I don’t think that’s what I was talking about in my post. What I was saying is that, there are wonderful, high-quality POC books that don’t get as much attention as they would if their authors are white.

        And as far as your schrizophrenia example goes, I think I’ve already explained the fallacy. But a white homeless man with schrizophrenia is better off than a non-white homeless man with schrizophrenia. And they’re both better off than a non-white homeless woman with schrizophrenia.

    • January 19, 2010 9:24 pm

      Lilly, you might not like my answer. But you are inherently privileged from your white skin. Privilege doesn’t mean that because you’re white, your life is perfect. What it does mean is that, compared to someone in your exact situation with darker skin, you’re at an advantage.

      I’m sorry that you’ve experienced so many difficulties as a refugee. But I think you’ve hit the nail on the head:
      “Being different however in any way, shape or form from what is universally accepted in an environment I happen to live is a great burden.”

      You’re right, and one of those universally accepted norms is to be white.

      • January 19, 2010 9:31 pm

        Not always. I have to disagree, because I was the white minority for the first 20 years of my life and I actually got picked on, beat up, shunned, and treated like crap from teachers, peers, and the general culture because I was the white girl. It really bothers me when people assume that because of my skin color, I automatically have a privilege. Only people who have never had anything else would say that. And saying it is every bit as racist and prejudiced.

        Trust me, despite my skin color, I know what it’s like to be discriminated against and to be a minority. It really bothers me when people automatically assume that can’t be true because I’m white.

      • January 20, 2010 4:17 am

        I’m going to jump in here, because I would have to disagree too. I respect your opinion Eva, and I understand where you’re coming from, but I think there’s a lot more to racism than skin colour, and dismissing Lilly’s experience as not as bad as someone else’s just because she isn’t black or asian or whatever is really quite unfair.

        When you say ‘white privilege’ what you REALLY mean is ‘white, American/English privilege’, let’s be honest about this. In the UK, ever since Poland joined the EU, we’ve had a massive influx of Polish immigrants coming to London to find work. Not a problem as far as I’m concerned – they’re perfectly entitled to. However, they receive a lot of racist hatred from bigoted members of society who think of them as uneducated scroungers who are taking their jobs and benefits, etc, etc, etc. They get shouted at and abused in the streets and in the press. They have to take low paying manual labour jobs. They are certainly not benefiting from ‘white privilege’. They may be white, but they’re not English – so they will not get the privileges that white, English people take for granted. They will always be the ‘other’ – they will always be ‘different’, and so there will always, as long as they stay in this country that isn’t their native home, be on the receiving end of discrimination.

        I can tell you this – if a qualified black English person and an equally qualified white Polish person applied for a job in the UK, the black English person would get the job over the white Polish person. There’s no ‘white privilege’ there.

        As I’ve said, and as others have said before though, the UK is a very different society. The US has a huge racially motivated underclass whereas ours is more about poverty and wealth, and you’ll find just as many white people, if not more, living in poverty and suffering from disadvantage here than you would ‘people of colour’.

      • January 20, 2010 4:33 am

        Woah. I never said Lilly’s experience wasn’t as bad as someone else because she’s white. I think it’s ridiculous to even use comparison terms for things like that. However, I don’t think that because she’s had bad experiences as an immigrant, that invalidates white privilege. Did you read the article that Aarti linked to? I think it says it better than me.

        >>I can tell you this – if a qualified black English person and an equally qualified white Polish person applied for a job in the UK, the black English person would get the job over the white Polish person. There’s no ‘white privilege’ there.

        You’re comparing apples and oranges there. This is a case of one person being a citizen and one person not. So it’s not really relevant to what my post is about.

        >>When you say ‘white privilege’ what you REALLY mean is ‘white, American/English privilege’, let’s be honest about this.

        That’s not what I mean. First of all, I haven’t tried to talk about English privilege, since I haven’t lived in England since I was 13, and I’ve always been an American, so I don’t have that experience. Second of all, white privilege doesn’t mean that white people are automatically wealthy with great lives. It’s more subtle than that. It means that Lilly can turn on the TV and see people that look like her. She can flip through a fashion magazine, and see people that look like her described as beautiful. This isn’t about economics.

        >>The US has a huge racially motivated underclass whereas ours is more about poverty and wealth, and you’ll find just as many white people, if not more, living in poverty and suffering from disadvantage here than you would ‘people of colour’.

        I think I’ve already addressed this, but I’m not talking about economic issues. And there are plenty of poor, socially disadvantaged white people in the States. But I don’t think that’s relevant to a discussion of the whitewashed publishing industry. I don’t seek out books by POC authors to keep them from poverty. See what I mean?

      • January 20, 2010 2:25 pm

        Rachel, it surprises me that you say the UK does not have an “endemic” racist problem when you just listed in your comment horrifying ways in which Polish people are discriminated against. That sounds horrible.

        But the Polish person can settle in England and, within a generation or two, blend in pretty completely with the English (except perhaps for the last name, but that can also be changed if necessary). The black Englishman can settle into English culture. But in a few generations, his descendants will still be black.

  27. January 19, 2010 12:02 pm

    i took an english in college called “The Politics of Beauty” and the first essay we read was the one on white privilege. the class focused a lot on the effects of white culture and how being blue eyed and blonde and white has become this accepted mode of beauty to aspire to and how that affects women of color. we read essays written by women, along with novels. we read an interesting article by bell hooks about hair and her decision to go natural along with all the trials of black women trying to tame their hair to be beautiful and to fit in. we read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, articles by Amy Tan and The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. this class introduced me to some great authors that i continued to read long after i finished the class.

    but you are right. there isn’t enough exposure. thinking about that class reminds me of some great authors i haven’t read in a while. many of the books i have been reading for a while now are books i get excited about from reviews i read on book blogs. i wasn’t noticing or paying attention to ethnicity or gender or anything like that. so i think you do have a valid point. if the majority of books people are talking about in blogland are by white people, then it propagates itself. in writing this you have me remembering all the great authors i read while growing up and in college. i think there was much more diversity in my reading back then than there is now and that gives me pause.

    thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    • January 19, 2010 2:25 pm

      i went back and looked at my list of books read for 2009 and 20% were POC. it may be misleading because it is about 25 books written by four different authors.

    • January 19, 2010 9:28 pm

      That sounds like a fascinating class! I know Chris Rock is doing a documentary about ‘black hair,’ and I really want to see it. I’ve never heard of Maxine Hong Kingston, but she’s on my TBR list now! :)

  28. January 19, 2010 12:05 pm

    Eva, thank you for having the courage to write about this issue. I have read the knapsack article before but had not thought about it much in relation to my reading. Like a few other commenters mentioned, I do not usually pay attention to the race or ethnicity of the authors I read; I choose books because because the content appeals to me. I looked back at the books I read last year and had no idea what some of the authors looked like. Not surprisingly, though, all of them turned out to be white, and the number of books I read by POC was quite small.

    On the one hand, as some other commenters said, I am resistent to paying attention to the ethnicity of authors and selecting books on that basis. On the other hand, there is an inherent bias in claiming to be race-agnostic in my reading. Since the majority of the books on the shelves at the library and reviewed in the blogosphere are by white authors, if I simply choose randomly at the library or go based on great reviews, my reading is likely to be almost all white. And thus the problem will continue to perpetuate itself. I have also realized that if I don’t pay attention to the race of the authors I read that one, I assume they are white, and two, I am likely to be right about that.

    I think an important point that is often missed is that in fighting against sexism or racism, we are fighting the status quo, and thus we have to make an effort to become more aware. If we do nothing or try to be agnostic about it, that is essentially the same as accepting the biased status quo.

    I think that Rachel is right in her comment that we tend to pick books that reflect and reinforce our own life experiences – and thus I do tend towards white, female, middle-class authors and books about that experience. I think that will continue to be my “comfort” reading and that is ok. However, I don’t read only for comfort and I would like to make an effort to expand my horizons. We live in a multi-cultural world and I do not want to lock myself up in my own little white middle-class universe and ignore the rest of the world.

    I intend to think more about this and I may post about it myself. I will definitely be adding some of your recommendations to my to-read list.

    • January 19, 2010 9:29 pm

      >>I think an important point that is often missed is that in fighting against sexism or racism, we are fighting the status quo, and thus we have to make an effort to become more aware. If we do nothing or try to be agnostic about it, that is essentially the same as accepting the biased status quo.

      You put that so well! :) I hope that you write a post with your own thoughts.

  29. January 19, 2010 12:13 pm

    Thank you for providing and intelligent conversation that deals with this issue. Thank you for not censoring comments and having the ‘balls’ to stand up. I have just put you in my reader.

    As for me I pick up a book based on the synopsis not the author cover or the characters color. Last night I was in a rage due to the idiocy of some book bloggers. I went to my shelves and started pouring through what I read in the last year. I read a LOT of Latino authors and characters. Love in the Time of Cholera is one of my lifetime faves. I had in the past year not read a black author or character. Not by omission just because I never found a synopsis that made me want to read. This year I am going to actively look for synopsis with POC involved. I am sure I can find loads of books to share with my readers.

    Again thanks!

    • January 19, 2010 9:30 pm

      Thanks for visiting Pam, and for the kind words. I’ll be curious to see which POC books sound interesting to you. :)

  30. January 19, 2010 12:16 pm

    Great post, Eva. It leaves me with a lot to think about. This topic has obviously been really hot on blogosphere lately!

    Like Amanda and Jackie, I don’t really look into the color of the person who writes a book. I am making a concerted effort this year to read out of my comfort zone in terms of genre, subject matter, etc. I also think it’s good to read books from other cultures (white or not- as long as they’re different). In general, I think diversity is good in all forms of reading, not just in color of skin.

    I think what a lot of people may not see is that when you live in a diverse country but all your reading is by one type of person- that means that your bookstore or whoever recommends your books to you is not accurately reflecting the culture surrounding you. As an Indian living in America who reads a lot of European historical fiction and a lot of epic fantasy, I know that my reading is very Caucasian-heavy. I quite frankly know of very few non-Caucasians who write epic fantasy. But maybe they’re out there and I just don’t have access to them. Because the bookstores and the libraries and the blogs don’t really read and review and recommend them.

    Another thing is that it seems for MANY authors of color, they are published a lot more when their books are ABOUT being people of color. This annoys me. I am over reading about the Indian immigrant experience. I went through it myself- I don’t need to read about it. I also don’t really want to read about the Latino immigrants or Asian immigrants or, quite frankly, ANY immigrants any more. Or about the “culture clash” between east and west. It’s been done, it’s been done well, and it’s time to publish something new.

    I wish publishers WOULD support more non-white non-fiction, or non-white fantasy authors, or non-white anything authors, really. I wish that people of color didn’t have to always differentiate themselves by writing so SPECIFICALLY about being people of color that it seems they already pigeonhole themselves (and, probably, their sales, which just leads to more of a vicious cycle) just by their story being written in a way that is more likely to be published.

    • January 19, 2010 9:33 pm

      >>In general, I think diversity is good in all forms of reading, not just in color of skin.

      I completely agree. :) But my post was sooo long already, I decided to keep it more concentrated.

      >>I think what a lot of people may not see is that when you live in a diverse country but all your reading is by one type of person- that means that your bookstore or whoever recommends your books to you is not accurately reflecting the culture surrounding you.

      That’s so true. (And I can’t help you on the epic fantasy front, since it’s not a genre I read in. It is uber-white from what I remember when I did read it though!)

      >>Another thing is that it seems for MANY authors of color, they are published a lot more when their books are ABOUT being people of color. This annoys me.

      I completely agree, and Susan raised this issue too. One of my fears when I committed to that type of reading was that I’d be stuck reading ‘race issue’ books. But I’ve actually found lots of great books by POC authors in which race is incidental. So they do exist-I wish publishers would go for more of them though!

  31. January 19, 2010 12:20 pm

    Honestly, I never really notice if the authors of the books I read are of color or white people. I don’t really pay attention to if they are male or female, either. I’m just interested in the subject, in what’s between the pages (this is probably why I don’t have much interest in reading author interviews, either). Perhaps I should remedy that? I am glad you gave a list of suggestions, some of the titles look very interesting to me!

    • January 19, 2010 9:35 pm

      I think it’s up to you whether you should start paying attention. :)

  32. Nancy permalink
    January 19, 2010 1:16 pm

    Hi, I’m normally a lurker on your blog, but I just want to delurk to say that this is a wonderful post, and you are my hero. I am a POC, an avid reader, and politically conscious, but even I have trouble balancing out my reading ratios. Sometimes I get discouraged, thinking if I can’t do it, how can I expect others to? So to see other people doing it, and doing it successfully, gives me hope!

    • Nancy permalink
      January 19, 2010 1:44 pm

      Oh, and one more thing: I like this post because it reminds me that reading can be a subversive act, that it has power, that it can…well, change the world. ♥

      • January 19, 2010 9:34 pm

        Thanks so much for your comment Nancy. :)

  33. January 19, 2010 1:18 pm

    This is a really great post, Eva. I love that you blog about issues like this that need to be said.

    To be honest, I don’t really look at the author I’m reading when it comes to race. Race has never been a huge issue for me. Where I live in the UK, we’re a very multicultural society. My town is probably 60% white, 30% Indian/Pakistani, 10% Black. We don’t have a problem with racist attacks in this area (I grew up and live in an industrial working class town) because everyone’s lives are pretty messed up anyway.

    Probably because of how ‘rough’ and ‘low’ in society’s scale this town is, I’ve always wanted to travel the world and explore new countries and cultures.

    As a result, the conscious decision I make is to read books by international authors. African authors. Indian authors. Australian authors. New Zealand authors. Samoan authors. Egyptian authors. Japanese authors.

    I want to embrace everyone’s culture and learn about how people live. That’s why I want to absorb as much literature and information as possible.

    I know your post was more about race, but I thought I’d mention that as it seemed somewhat relevant too.

    I 100% agree with you though. We should be looking more at the authors we’re reading – especially when they’re in the minority (I mean, statistics show that it’s that much harder for a woman to get taken seriously and published than a man. I can’t imagine trying to be a woman of colour and trying to get published). As voracious readers we have a responsibility to those writers.

    • January 19, 2010 1:35 pm

      but do we have a duty? or do we only have only a duty to read because if we start selecting books on the basis of an ideal then we begin to be very selective in our choices

      but of course we are selective in our choices anyway so there is no easy answer.

      ahhh!

    • January 19, 2010 9:38 pm

      >> I’ve always wanted to travel the world and explore new countries and cultures. As a result, the conscious decision I make is to read books by international authors. African authors. Indian authors. Australian authors. New Zealand authors. Samoan authors. Egyptian authors. Japanese authors.

      I look at my reading the same way! :) And I definitely think it’s relevent.

      I *love* your concluding paragraph. You put it so well. :)

  34. January 19, 2010 1:31 pm

    colour to denote race annoys me, it’s such a complex and vast thing plus what does “people of colour” mean white skin is not white but peach or beige or different variations of those colours

    I’m half Iraqi but I don’t concentrate on trying to read more books by Iraqis. I just don’t feel like be forced or guilt-tripped (I’m not referring to your post here) into “diversifying” my reading material.

    I respect what you’re trying to do, and it is a noble cause because I’m all for new stories to read. I will look at those books, not because they’re by “people of colour” but because the stories interest me.

    • January 19, 2010 9:45 pm

      >>colour to denote race annoys me, it’s such a complex and vast thing plus what does “people of colour” mean white skin is not white but peach or beige or different variations of those colours

      I think that’s semantics, honestly. POC is shorthand for me for ‘people of non-European descent who have been historically screwed over’…I don’t mean it literally.

      I’m glad you don’t think my post was guilt-tripping you. ;) I haven’t diversified my reading out of guilt; I’ve done it out of a) a sense of justice and b) it makes my reading even better.

  35. January 19, 2010 1:59 pm

    You give me much food for thought. I’ve really never thought of reading as a political act or seriously considered the ethnic backgrounds of the authors I read. I did set out to expand my reading genres this year and mix in some graphic novels, SciFi, etc. I like the idea of being open to new things and more aware of my reading choices but I probably won’t be particularly strident about it. I did get White is for Witching after your recommendation so I guess I am already on my way to expanding my horizons! Thanks for a thought-provoking post and for opening the debate.

    • January 19, 2010 9:45 pm

      Thanks for your comment Kathleen!

      • January 19, 2010 10:55 pm

        I just have to say that I am thrilled by all the people who are getting excited about White is For Witching based on your review. That’s so cool.
        P.S. When I read that last year, I had no idea that she was black until I turned the last page and saw her picture.

  36. January 19, 2010 2:14 pm

    Great, thought-provoking post, Eva! I definitely want to expand my reading choices in many ways, including reading books by people from different cultures and ethnicities than my own. Because it is a systemic issue, I can’t trust that I’ll just ‘run across’ these authors in my browsing of book reviews, so I will need to be more deliberate on that front. I’ll think on it more so I can decide what shape that deliberate effort will take.

    • January 19, 2010 9:45 pm

      Thanks Christy-I’m glad that you agree with me! :)

  37. adevotedreader permalink
    January 19, 2010 2:36 pm

    It’s an interesting idea Eva, but I’m not comfortable on selecting a book on the basis of its author’s ethnicity rather than the book itself. Particulary when the poc term is so vague. A lot of the authors you mentioned are as different from each other as they are from any white person- eg Orhan Pamuk is a middle class seculur Turk, Vikram Seth an Indian and Shaun Tan an Asian background Australian- and have not necessarily suffered individually because of their ethnicity. I think it’s a bit patronising to lump them all in one disadvantaged group and read them on those grounds.
    .

    • January 19, 2010 9:48 pm

      So many things for me to talk about! lol

      >>A lot of the authors you mentioned are as different from each other as they are from any white person

      Lots of white people are different from each other too. I try to read diversely among white people, so why wouldn’t I read diversely among non-white people?

      >>have not necessarily suffered individually because of their ethnicity.

      My American society has systemic racism, which is a part of the publishing industry. Therefore, I seek out POC authors not to make their individual lives better, but to make a stand against that system.

      >>I’m not comfortable on selecting a book on the basis of its author’s ethnicity rather than the book itself.

      I only read books that sound good to me on their own merits. But I do seek out non-white authors, simply because they don’t receive as much publicity.

      >>lump them all in one disadvantaged group and read them on those grounds.

      I don’t think I lumped the authors I recommended together. But that’s just me! :)

  38. January 19, 2010 2:38 pm

    Do you follow the Three Percent Blog? I think that it’s the best resource for literature in translation and news from the world of literary translation.

    Unfortunately, only about 3% of all books published in the United States are works in translation. That is why we have chosen the name Three Percent for this site. And that 3% figure includes all books in translation—in terms of literary fiction and poetry, the number is actually closer to 0.7%. While that figure obviously represents more books than any one person could read in a year, it’s hardly an impressive number.

    Taken from the 3% blog.

    • January 19, 2010 9:49 pm

      No I don’t-but I’ll certainly add it my reader! Thanks for telling me about it. :)

  39. January 19, 2010 3:10 pm

    You’ve gotten so many good comments on this post, that when I finished reading the comments, I had to go back and re-read your post!

    I think it’s always a little different depending on where you are. Reading the article you linked at the beginning of this post, I was definitely drawn to #34: “I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.”. I was brought up ethnic Chinese in a Malay-dominant country, and whenever anything racial exploded, I didn’t know what to do. Saying that there is racial discrimination against the ethnic Chinese put me in a spot. But I guess that’s where the similarities end. Because I feel, if I were ethnic Malay, I’d be put in a spot if I spoke about racial discrimination against the Malays. Because in Malaysia, I’m afraid, it sort of works both ways.

    With regards to reading. I usually don’t even know if a writer is POC or not, unless the book I read carries a photo of the author, specifically states that the author is African-American/Asian/Hispanic/etc, or if the name is very very obviously not white. (I’m very VERY bad with author names. As an example: I thought Toni Morrison was white, and I thought Tolkien was female.. The horrors!!)

    It’s a little … I don’t even know what to say. It’s just a little different coming into the discussion from the other side of the spectrum. Being an Asian in NZ, does concentrating on reading books by POC authors make me like one of those people who will only mix with their own race?

    But anyway, I do think you’ve done a great job with this post. I’ve definitely ‘discovered’ something, or at least by writing it down, it makes it slightly more real.

    And thanks for the list of book recommendations. If I’m ever out of good titles (which at the moment doesn’t look like it’s ever going to happen), I’ll be sure to send you an email, asking for more. =)

    • January 19, 2010 9:54 pm

      I know, the comments have been great, haven’t they?!

      I read a book in college (World on Fire) that looked at ethnic Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, so I know a tiny bit about what you’re discussing. I’m so glad you brought your perspective to the table!

      And I’m AWFUL with Asian author names, lol…I keep thinking I’m reading female Chinese authors, only to find out that they’re male! And then I feel so silly. And I can’t tell ethnicity just from an author’s name, either, unless it’s Latin@ or Asian American. That’s why I use Google Image. ;)

      >>Being an Asian in NZ, does concentrating on reading books by POC authors make me like one of those people who will only mix with their own race?

      Personally, I don’t think it would! But I’ve never been in that situation. :)

  40. January 19, 2010 3:37 pm

    Very thought-provoking post which has brought forward equally thought-provoking comments! I’m not sure how much more I can add to this, but…since my reading tastes are already diverse, I think there is diversity in the authors’ backgrounds as well. However, sometimes, my reading also go through cycles…a couple years ago, when we first moved to PA and lived there for a while (this was pre-blogging), I was reading all I could about early American history, especially the revolutionary-war era. Hence, during that time, I was reading almost nothing but white male authors.

    And, I can relate to the comments about being a minority but yet not seeking books in particular about one’s own minority….I don’t go out looking specifically for books about or by hearing impaired people; there are very few of these books anyway.

    • January 19, 2010 9:55 pm

      I totally understand the cyclical reading!

      >>And, I can relate to the comments about being a minority but yet not seeking books in particular about one’s own minority….I don’t go out looking specifically for books about or by hearing impaired people; there are very few of these books anyway.

      Since my focus is on learning about people whose experiences are different from mine, it makes sense to me too. Although, since I’ve been actively reading more ‘women’s issue’ nonfiction books for the Women Unbound Challenge, I’ve found myself feeling much more empowered and validated.

  41. January 19, 2010 3:55 pm

    Eva, you just rock my world.

    • January 19, 2010 9:56 pm

      Well, you rock mine too! I love the Africa Diaspora Challenge so much. :D

  42. January 19, 2010 4:49 pm

    Great post! This is such a tough subject to open up about for many folks. So glad to see you address it head on!

    Here’s a writer to add to your list, Colson Whitehead. I just finished (and plan to review soon) his latest book, Sag Harbor. Such funny ruminations on race, yet so true!

    • January 19, 2010 9:57 pm

      It is tough, isn’t it? But I’m so happy by all of the wonderful opinions people are sharing. There hasn’t been one troll. :D

      I’ve read Whitehead’s debut novel, The Intuitionist, and didn’t like it. But it was pretty dystopian, so I should probably give him another chance with a non-dystopian novel. I’ll put Sag Harbor on my TBR list!

  43. January 19, 2010 4:50 pm

    I’m sure what I’m about to say will put me in the doghouse but you asked for us to share our opinion.

    First, your friend is right. If you don’t like the make up of congress, the solution is to get involved. I’m not saying run for office; I’m saying find candidates that fit your agenda and get involved in their campaign; women, ‘people of color’, gay… whatever you think is important get behind them. Contribute, work a phone bank. Voicing your dissatisfaction without doing anything is pointless. Get involved and most importantly: Vote.

    Second, equality is not to be found in giving any group a more prominent place simply based on their standing, be it color, social-economic states, or sexual preference. Equality is found in the fact that such things don’t matter. That’s what we should be working toward not the tipping of the scales in the opposite direction.

    cjh

    • January 19, 2010 10:01 pm

      I’m sure you won’t be surprised that I disagree with you. ;) Although I wouldn’t put in the doghouse!

      >>Voicing your dissatisfaction without doing anything is pointless.

      I strongly, strongly disagree here. I think that issues of discrimination are often swept under the rug, and that talking about these issues honestly and openly can help contribute to change. I don’t think discussions, in which people honestly try to share their opinions and look at things from another side, are ever pointless. Later in the discussion, my friend and I talked about ‘rape culture.’ He’d never heard that term before, and once I explained it, he thanked me for it and said he wished we (as a society) talked about that stuff more.

      >>equality is not to be found in giving any group a more prominent place simply based on their standing, be it color, social-economic states, or sexual preference. Equality is found in the fact that such things don’t matter. That’s what we should be working toward not the tipping of the scales in the opposite direction.

      I think that IS what I’m working for. But we don’t live in an equal society right now. So giving POC authors some extra focus, putting more effort into searching out those books that sound amazing, isn’t giving them more advantage than white authors. It’s my attempt to even things up.

  44. January 19, 2010 4:54 pm

    Oh, and a request which may be impossible for you to do simply based on the time and effort involved (that’s my way of saying I’ll understand if you can’t do it…)

    Your recommendations would’ve been more meaningful for me if you’d included at least a line or two about what the books are about. Simply saying it’s a mystery doesn’t do much toward raising an interest.

    cjh

    • January 19, 2010 10:01 pm

      My recommendations were more to show that there are books out there by POC authors for every reader! If you’d like to know more about a certain book, you can check out my review index. ;)

      • January 20, 2010 12:53 am

        Well, of course I can do that.

        If I’d thought of it.

        Thanks and thanks for keeping me out of the doghouse.

        And I’ll add one more comment – I understand what you’re trying to do and discussion is always, always a good thing but eventually you have to do more than simply discuss a subject, especially if it concerns a wrong you want to right.

        This post, by the way is one step beyond simply discussing it, so it’s a good thing. It brings an issue your passionate about to the attention of others and offers practical solutions – your list of what’s out there. I hope you don’t think I was suggesting you’re one of those who simply whine and do nothing. You’re not and I know that.

        And my final comment is this: Evening things up doesn’t work. Wiping the slate cleaning and starting over would. I know it’s impossible but I’d love to see people get that the past is the past; policies were wrong, the way people were treated was wrong. From here on out, everyone is judge by the same standards.

        I hope that makes sense. And yes, I know it won’t happen.

        cjh

      • January 20, 2010 11:26 pm

        >>Evening things up doesn’t work. Wiping the slate cleaning and starting over would. I know it’s impossible but I’d love to see people get that the past is the past; policies were wrong, the way people were treated was wrong. From here on out, everyone is judge by the same standards.

        I think that’d be marvelous if it could happen. But it can’t. :/ Not to mention, even if we somehow erased everyone’s memories, we can change that some nations are wealthier now because they exploited other nations in the past. You know?

  45. January 19, 2010 5:29 pm

    Interesting post. I can honestly say that I choose books based on content. Meaning, I’ve no idea if they are written by a person of color or not. I live in Southern California and we have quite a mix of ethnicities here and I don’t think twice about it when I pick a book up. Perhaps I should.

    • January 19, 2010 10:02 pm

      Are most of the books you pick up about the white perspective? I’m just curious. :)

      • January 20, 2010 4:16 pm

        Yes. I’d say that most of my reading is about the white perspective.

      • January 20, 2010 11:27 pm

        So I guess that’s my point. :) Since we live in a society that gives preference to white people, not paying any attention to an author’s race results in giving preference to white authors.

  46. January 19, 2010 7:04 pm

    I’ll be the first to admit that my reading is predominantly white and that I’m to blame for it. Insisting that I don’t pay attention to the ethnicity of the author and that I just happen to read more white authors is both true and a cop-out. The industry is largely white, and if I just read scattershot I’m going to read more white authors without trying. Saying that it’s not my fault POC books aren’t as prevalent, though, is like saying it’s not my fault the Twilight books are so popular. I read and reviewed the Twilight books, so I threw some drops in their pool of fame. Abdicating responsibility is to ignore what power the book-buying public has, and what power anyone who talks about anything ever has over the opinions of other people. Dan Brown is popular because people read him and talk about him, not because he’s good. Publishing is a business, and if it’s going to change it’s going to do so in response to the desires of its readership, which is us. If we don’t change our reading habits, we’ll be stuck like this forever.

  47. January 19, 2010 7:15 pm

    A wonderful post, Eva, and some wonderful comments–including those that push back a bit. I think this is a good conversation to have, and there are good points to be made on both sides.

    I’m white and middle class, and most of my close friends are white and middle class, so I don’t get lots of opportunities to hear from people who are different from me. Being able to read about people who are different from me has exposed me to points of view that I may not otherwise get to hear, and as others have suggested. Sometimes I learn to see things in an entirely new way, and sometimes I learn that we’re not all that different. Either way, I think it’s important to hear voices that are different from my own. And although I respect and applaud white authors who choose to write about non-white people and would love to see more of that, getting a white perspective on some multicultural topic is not the same as hearing from people of color. And I LOVE Aarti’s point about wanting to read books by people of color without having them be about cultural clashes. I’m more than my ethnicity, and so are people of color.

    I do mostly read white authors because those are the authors I’m aware of and because so many are brilliant, and like others, I’m not comfortable choosing books based on an author’s ethnicity. Still, I would like to diversify my own reading and have already started keeping track of the countries of origin of the authors I’m reading this year. I might also add ethnicity, just out of interest. I wouldn’t want to hold myself to some sort of ratio, as you have, but I would like to be more conscious and keep myself out of a rut. And if all of us book bloggers are just a teensy bit more conscious, we’ll probably start seeing more books by nonwhite people being reviewed, and maybe, just maybe, publishers will be more open to nonwhite voices and to marketing them more widely.

    • January 19, 2010 10:05 pm

      >>Being able to read about people who are different from me has exposed me to points of view that I may not otherwise get to hear, and as others have suggested. Sometimes I learn to see things in an entirely new way, and sometimes I learn that we’re not all that different.

      You put that so well. :) Really, I loved your whole comment. I certainly wouldn’t put up with reading mediocre books just to hit my ratio, lol. And I’m definitely not giving up my favourite white authors! That’s part of why when I first made the resolution, I put a time limit on it (until the end of the year). If the changes had made my reading suffer, I would have re-evaluated them. But I’ve found the opposite to be true, so I’m happily sticking with them!

  48. January 19, 2010 7:52 pm

    Thanks for posting this – I’ve been disgusted by Bloomsbury’s issues with putting white girls on covers of books about black girls, and one of my resolutions for 2010 is to read more books by people of color. Hooray for reading deliberately! I think we could all stand to stay conscious of the racial make-up of our reading lists.

    By the way – that anecdote about your friend advising you to run for office is maddening. When I used to complain to my ex-boyfriend that women can’t walk alone with the same freedom that men can, he would say “Just take some self-defense classes,” and it made me want to scream because wow is that ever NOT THE POINT.

    • January 19, 2010 10:06 pm

      LOL: I know! Later in that same convo, I explained what ‘rape culture’ was, and I think I really got through to him (because in the past, he’s called me silly for explaining that it’s scary to walk alone down a dark street). It’s so hard to have conversations across such big dividing lines! But they’re worth it in the end. :)

  49. January 19, 2010 9:47 pm

    You’ve switched things up a bit here, and it looks good! I totally agree with you about reading being a political act. I teach World Literature at school, and I love that we rarely read a “white guy” author until we hit “European” literature. It’s a great exploration. I TRY to read a variety at home, but find that my “reading for pleasure” tends to be whatever I can grab and devour as quickly as possible. I have goals to read more variety though. Your post here took me back to grad school days! :)

    • January 19, 2010 10:08 pm

      Thanks! My library was closed for no apparent reason today, so my ‘going to the library’ time became my ‘give the bog a makeover’ time. lol

      I think World Lit would be great fun to teach! And as far as your pleasure reading goes…have you read Jacqueline Woodson? Because she’s an author you can devour quickly, and she’s awesome. :D

  50. January 19, 2010 10:11 pm

    There’s a lot of opportunity for me to ‘read in color’ right on my TBR, so I should get to it…I’m planning to do a lot of African-American reading during February and I believe there’s a book group book slated for March…can’t remember the title, but I’m sure it’s a global read. Also, I want to continue to delve into Korean literature. Thanks for a thoughtful and well-crafted post, Eva.

  51. January 19, 2010 10:15 pm

    Hi Eva,
    I mostly review YA lit. You can read my letter to Bloomsbury here http://blackteensread2.blogspot.com/2010/01/open-letter-to-bloomsbury-kids-usa.html

    I’m exhausted and all I wanted to say is that this post is amazing, you rock and I haven’t read any of your adult recommendations but I will soon as I’m trying to ease into more adult fiction. I love YA so if you ever want to read that, check out my blog (it’s all POC).

    So yup, this post is amazing and it’s so true that the whole not noticing book covers/author ethnicity only means that you most likely only read white books by white authors with white people on the cover. Thank you for this post!

    • January 20, 2010 11:28 pm

      Hi Ari! We’ve e-mailed a few times, but I wanted to reply publicly as well! I’m so impressed with how willing you’ve been to stand up for your beliefs; keep it up. :D

  52. January 19, 2010 10:33 pm

    Hey Eva, I was trying to reply to your reply down there in my comment thread but there is no button for it. All I wanted to say is yes, I understand, and I agree that getting both points of view is good. You know I was just cranky when I wrote it so it came off far more argumentative than I wished. :)

    • January 20, 2010 11:28 pm

      Hi Amanda! Those nested comments get so annoying. And don’t worry about it! ;)

  53. January 20, 2010 12:15 am

    Eva, wow, what a discussion going on here. Not much to add but echoing some of the points of Rachel (Book Snob) that I also tend to read what reflects my own experiences, although in reverse, as I’m a person of colour (Chinese-Filipino) and so tend to gravitate towards international literature and translated works because they speak to me more. However, now that I’m living in Canada, I’ve been consciously reading a lot of books by white people because I want to fill in the gaps in my reading (the great classics, prize winners, etc.) that weren’t available to me before in our town in the Philippines. I do understand what you are trying to convey here, so my above comment isn’t meant to disagree because I agree with so many of your points, especially the clarifications you gave in your replies to the comments.

    I applaud you for writing this post. I do hope that someday, with a greater demand in readership, that people from other cultures are given more opportunities in publishing. Sadly, though, one of the facts that prevent them from producing more literary works isn’t due to the lack of talent nor publishing opportunities, but the lack of leisure in which to indulge in a writer’s life. I am speaking mainly of third world countries, and specifically of the Philippines, where a lot of aspiring writers do not have the convenience of time to devote to their craft, as they have to find other means just to be able to survive to eat three meals a day. But then that is another issue altogether.

    Anyway, just want to recommend, if you haven’t read them yet, the two best classics in Philippine literature: Noli Me Tangere by José Rizal, and its sequel, El Filibusterismo.

    • January 20, 2010 1:23 am

      P.S. Had to comment back to recommend another great Filipino book, although it is by a white anthropologist, but his story is quite authentic as he married a Badjao (a native tribe that thrives by the sea, many living off boats) and lived among them and adapted their ways: The Songs of Salanda by H. Arlo Nimmo. It’s a bit hard to get a hold of, but hope you do.

    • January 20, 2010 11:30 pm

      I think your comment reinforces my post, only in reverse. So I don’t think you’re disagreeing with me. :) I mean, if you feel a need to consciously fill in the ‘white gaps’ of your reading, it makes sense that white readers would want to fill in their ‘poc’ gaps.

      >>Sadly, though, one of the facts that prevent them from producing more literary works isn’t due to the lack of talent nor publishing opportunities, but the lack of leisure in which to indulge in a writer’s life. I am speaking mainly of third world countries, and specifically of the Philippines, where a lot of aspiring writers do not have the convenience of time to devote to their craft, as they have to find other means just to be able to survive to eat three meals a day. But then that is another issue altogether.

      That is SO true. And even though it’s beyond the scope of my post, I love that you brouhgt it up. :)

      And thanks for the recs-I don’t think I’ve read any Philippino books, so I need to fix that soon!

  54. January 20, 2010 1:33 am

    Wonderful post Eva! I read it yesterday, but wanted to give sometime and read it again, and take in what you had written and also read the interesting comments, before giving my comment. I hope you get to read my comment :)

    I think that it is definitely enriching to read books by a diverse set of authors. It broadens our horizon, makes us appreciate new cultures but interestingly, it also makes us realize that some things are the same across the world and are shared by people across cultures and ethnicities. In my own case, I think that I read a diverse set of authors in English or in English translation, though I am not sure whether I maintain a healthy ‘White’ vs ‘POC’ ratio. I pick a book because I like the topic on which it is based on, or the synopsis of the story is good. I never think about the ethnicity of the book that I pick. However, because my mother tongue is Tamil (it is an Indian language), I read a lot of books in Tamil, and if I count Tamil books, I could include all the books in Tamil that I read as books by ‘POC’ authors – that way it is easy for me to maintain the ‘White’ vs ‘POC’ ratio if I really put my mind to it :)

    I enjoyed reading Aarti’s comments, about how it is tiring now to read Indian-origin writers write about the immigration experience – it really is. But I also read somewhere that writers of Indian-origin are encouraged to write about the immigration experience and other topics which are regarded as ‘Indian’ by their publishers and this inherently limits the kinds of books they can write.

    I also enjoyed reading Michelle’s comment : ‘I thought Toni Morrison was white, and I thought Tolkien was female’ :) Isn’t it wonderful that great books transcend human-made barriers and make us forget the ethnicity of their authors? I used to think that Pearl Buck was Chinese, till I learnt that she was actually American!

    I also found lilly’s comments quite thought provoking. Sometimes we tend to have a certain image of ‘White’ and ‘POC’, but as the real-world is so complex it could defy our attempt to define and generalize things. When we say ‘White’ we probably mean ‘whites’ living in Western European and North American countries, while the reality might be that ‘Whites’ who live in Eastern Europe, Russia, Latin America and some African countries (e.g.Zimbabwe, South Africa) might have different experiences and may not fit into the general meaning we give to the term.

    If I have your permission to ‘stir the pot’ a little, I would like to add one more aspect to your post. I find that today many ‘POC’ writers tend to write for an international audience and so they include elements in their works which they think will appeal to an international audience. If I have to take two examples, writers of Indian origin might write about the immigration experience, or write a novel set in India which covers places like Benares, Jaipur, Pondicherry, Shimla etc. which are part of the Indian-picture among international readers, or about how there are ‘two countries’ in India – that of the poor and that of the rich. Similarly, writers of Chinese origin, might write about the period between 1900-1950 and write about how women were underprivileged in those days, about how footbinding practices were in vogue, about how Shanghai was the Paris of Asia, or they might write about things like the cultural revolution or the Tiananmen protests. Most of these books are written in English (by Indian-origin writers) or in Chinese but translated into English (and so the translation is the one which is first published and not the Chinese version). But there is a rich literary tradition and culture in the local language in both countries in the above example, which enriches the life of the readers of the respective countries, but which, unfortunately, is not available in translation. In the last decade some of the classics from these languages are coming out in translation, which is really a wonderful thing. For example, if I think of Chinese books – most Chinese read the four great epics – ‘The Three Kingdoms’, ‘The Dream of Red Mansions’, ‘Outlaws of the Marsh’ and ‘Journey to the West’, or some of the classics by Lu Xun, but I don’t find many non-Chinese readers who are even aware of these books. One of the interesting books to come from Chinese authors recently was ‘Wolf Totem’ by Jiang Rong – it was a bestseller in Chinese and it also won the inaugural MAN Asian Literary Prize – but I don’t see many readers reading or discussing about it. Most Chinese read Jin Yong’s books (he is also called Louis Cha) most of which can be classified as Kungfu / martial arts novels, but many of his works are not available in translation. Sometime back OUP (Oxford University Press) published the translations of two of them in English called ‘The Book and the Sword’ and ‘The Deer and the Cauldron’, which was a wonderful initiative on their part.

    On Indian literature in Indian languages, the field is so rich that I don’t know where the start :) In some ways, I think I am lucky that I know more than one language so that I don’t need to really worry whether a book is available in translation. A few years back, one of the famous Tamil writers called Sivasankari, thought she will put aside her novel-writing for a while and decided to travel across India and write about Indian writers in each state. She compiled her experiences into a 4-volumed work called ‘Knit India Through Literature’ (one volume each for ‘East’, ‘West’, ‘North’ and ‘South’), which has an introduction to famous writers from each region of India today, and excerpts from their works. It is a wonderful contribution and introduction to Indian literature and if you are interested in Indian literature written in Indian languages, you will enjoy this book. Some of the fascinating works from Indian literature available in English translation include Premchand’s ‘Godhan’ (original in Hindi) and ‘Sevasadan’ (original in Urdu and Hindi), ‘Yayati’ by V.S.Khandekar (original in Marathi), ‘Chemmeen’ by Thakazhi Sivasankaran Pillai (original in Malayalam), ‘The Witness’ by S.L.Bhyrappa (original in Kannada), ‘River of Fire’ (original title ‘Aag ka Dariya’) by Qurratulain Haider (original in Urdu), ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ (‘Son of Ponni’) by Kalki (original in Tamil). If you are interested I can make a bigger list and send it to you.

    If I can add one more comment on a literature of a country I love very much – most discussions of Russian literature focus on 19th century Russian literature – the age of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and the other greats. Most discussions on 20th century Russian literature focus on some of the the writers who were regarded as ‘dissidents’ – Alexander Solzhenitzyn, Boris Pasternak, Mikhail Bulgakov. But there is a rich source of 20th century Russian literature which is not ‘dissident’ literature – some of the names I can think of are Alexei Tolstoy (his two-volumed novel on the life of Peter the Great is wonderful), Alexandra Marinina (she writes mystery novels like Agatha Christie), Sergei Dovlatov, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Vasilly Shukshin, Alexander Kuprin and others (I am still discovering these writers!). Among today’s writers there is Boris Akunin (who writes novels which are set during the Tsarist era). I wish sometimes that some of these writers are translated into English to reach a bigger audience who can appreciate their works.

    I am sorry for the length of the comment – I couldn’t resist writing so much!

    Thanks for posting about this interesting issue and stirring up discussion on the subject and making readers like me think about it.

    • January 20, 2010 11:36 pm

      >>When we say ‘White’ we probably mean ‘whites’ living in Western European and North American countries, while the reality might be that ‘Whites’ who live in Eastern Europe, Russia, Latin America and some African countries (e.g.Zimbabwe, South Africa) might have different experiences and may not fit into the general meaning we give to the term.

      I read white authors from all over the place! It’s interesting you brought up South Africa…in my sub-saharan African reading in general, I find it much easier to get ahold of white African authors than POC ones.

      >>. I find that today many ‘POC’ writers tend to write for an international audience and so they include elements in their works which they think will appeal to an international audience.

      I think that’s so true. There are so many issues wrapped up in this that is’ fascinating to think of them all. I loved the example you gave of Chinese books (I am aware of the epics! Although I haven’t read them). I’d love to see a whole post about that, because there are definitely issues that arise with translated works too. I definitely think you’re lucky for reading more than one language!

      As far as Russian lit goes, I’ve read some contemporary Russian authors (inc. Akunin), but I tend to focus more on 19th century lit because I prefer it! One thing I find fascinating is that since here in the States we tend to prefer novels to poems, all the great Russian poets get a kind of second class treatment.

      And thanks for all of the books that you recommended. :)

  55. January 20, 2010 5:37 am

    Eva, I can’t figure out how to comment under your reply to my post about Lilly’s situation, so sorry it’s all the way down here where it’s going to make it a bit out of context!

    I didn’t mean to offend and clearly I have misunderstood your definition of ‘white privilege’. For me, white privilege is as tied into economics as it is everything else – white people are entitled to a better education, better employment, better representation, etc, because white people are the leaders in all of those areas of society. I don’t see white privilege as just a cultural thing, as in seeing yourself represented in a magazine or on a TV soap. It’s far more widespread than that. By and large, white westerners have every privilege going and everyone else has to scrabble to keep up – that’s what I see as ‘white privilege’ and that’s why I see it as a very White, Euro/American issue, and why I took umbrage at your reply to Lilly, because when considering white privilege as a wider issue and more than just white characters in books and faces in magazines, it’s actually much more about your nationality than you might think.

    When it comes to your definition of white privilege though, as in the right to be represented, to have simple things like make up to suit your skin tone, I 100% agree; every white person has an advantage over others with different skin colours, because the world is dominated by Western culture and values, and the majority of the Western world has a white skin. That is wrong, and should be fought against. I totally agree with you. However, when white people who aren’t from the major European players or America try and enter those countries, they will find themselves at a disadvantage because they are not from the major, wealthy, westernised countries, and so they will not benefit from all of the implications of the term ‘white privilege’ – so I don’t think you can blanket every white person with the term ‘privileged’. I don’t think it is a case of apples and oranges – simplifying racism to just being about skin colour dismisses the experiences of many people who have been abused because of their race – and the definition of race is as much about culture, language and country of origin as it is about the colour of your skin. Does that make better sense?

    • January 20, 2010 11:39 pm

      >>By and large, white westerners have every privilege going and everyone else has to scrabble to keep up – that’s what I see as ‘white privilege’ and that’s why I see it as a very White, Euro/American issue, and why I took umbrage at your reply to Lilly, because when considering white privilege as a wider issue and more than just white characters in books and faces in magazines, it’s actually much more about your nationality than you might think.

      I don’t think I have space to get into this. But since I majored in Russian in college, and studied abroad there, I am aware of the non-Western European white culture. ;)

      >>I don’t think it is a case of apples and oranges

      I meant your specific example, comparing a POC citizen to a white non-citizen.

      I see where you’re coming from, but I think you’re making the issue too large to talk about here. So I’m going to go back to focusing on POC authors!

  56. January 20, 2010 5:43 am

    What a wonderful post. Thanks Eva. You’ve actually already inspired me to read more POC books and I’ve used a lot of your previous book lists as inspiration. While reading this post, I had to go check my stats for 2009 and found last year I was reading about 10% POC. And that’s really not acceptable to me anymore.

    I’m mixed race (white and Native American split equally) and my children are also (white/Native American on my side and Indian from their fathers) so for myself, and my children I’d like to do more to support more POC reading.

    • January 20, 2010 11:39 pm

      Thanks for your comment Michelle! I’m so happy my book lists have inspired you. :D

  57. January 20, 2010 6:44 am

    Very interesting post. I love that you feel the need to diversify your reading. Truthfully, I have never actually paid any attention to the authors of the books I read. What I mean, is it just doesn’t register with me whether the author is male or female; white or not. I pick books based on the reading material, most of the time.

    I think it’s a very noble thing that you want to be actively seeking out books of POC. I really do. But “positive discrimination” aside, isn’t it just that? Discrimination? Choosing to only read books by POC seems as discriminating as choosing NOT to read books by POC. I may be white, but I am hardly priviledged. I grew up extremely poor. Went to a private college on scholarship and a lot of work. Still working 2 jobs just to make. And I’m hardly racist: my best friends are a gay, black man and a lesbian couple.

    I don’t mind specifically picking books for challenges. I think it’s a great way to diversify a person’s reading. But to make a conscious effort to go out of the way to pick books by authors that fit a certain mold just strikes a chord with me.

    I certainly hope this comment doesn’t come back to haunt me. The one thing you post did was make me probably be more aware of the author’s of the books I read. I don’t know how much I will change my way of choosing books, but will definitely join in challenges to widen my reading.

    Thanks for making me think!!

    • January 20, 2010 11:44 pm

      Hi Stephanie! Now, we’re friends, so you know that I’m not trying to offend you. ;) Keep that in mind as I reply to you, lol.

      >>, I have never actually paid any attention to the authors of the books I read.

      The thing is, if you don’t pay attention, then you’re going to read white authors. Because our society prefers white people.

      >>I may be white, but I am hardly priviledged. I grew up extremely poor.

      This isn’t an economics thing. Trust me-my dad comes from a family of coal miners in Pennsylvania and my mom’s family are construction workers living outside Buffalo. I’m not saying that white people are automatically well off. But when you turn on the TV, you see all sorts of people who have the same skin colour. That’s a privilege. Does that make sense?

      >>Choosing to only read books by POC seems as discriminating as choosing NOT to read books by POC.

      First of all, I’m not reading *only* POC authors. I’m reading half and half. ;) Second of all, I’m trying to level the playing field, and counteract a bit of the racism my society throws at POC authors. So no, I don’t see that as the same thing at all.

      >>And I’m hardly racist

      Did you read the knapsack article? That first quote I have in my post, where she talks about seeing racism as something an individual does vs. something a society does really struck home for me. I don’t think you’re racist in your thoughts. But you live in a racist society, one that prefers white people. So if you don’t take active steps to counteract that, or be aware of it, you’re supporting it. Whitewashing isn’t an individual problem, it’s a systemic one.

      • January 21, 2010 12:27 am

        Eva –

        I know we are friends and I certainly hope that you don’t think I ever meant any disrespect or offense. I applaud you for your willingness to step up for what you believe.

        Like I said, I may be naive to believe that I am not doing anything discriminating by NOT paying attention to an author’s heritage or race or religion or whatever. I honestly don’t make that a factor in my reading. I look for books that sound good to me. From the number of book recommendations from your blog alone, my PoC may be higher than normal.

        And I certainly didn’t mean to attack your reading habits! I will probably be more attentive going forward. Will it actually change what I decide to read?? Who knows??

        I also realize it’s not an economic issue. But you know what? *I* personally, regardless of what you say, don’t feel like I have benefited from “white priviledge”. My father, a union blue-collar worker, was turned down from a job that he had the highest scores on BECAUSE he was a white man. More than once. Back in the day when quotas and affirmative action were the big thing. To me, that is just stupid and it belittles everyone in the process. I hate that things can not be taken at face value. The best person for the job will be hired or the best book will be published regardless of who writes it or what they look like. To be honest, I don’t know enough about the publishing industry to comment on the whitewashing.

        I love reading challenges where you get to pick books based on certain parameters, whether it be PoC authors, or Fantasy Reads, or World Culture challenges. My only concern is that pointedly seeking out only PoC authors is not different that seeking out only white authors. I’m not saying that you do this. And I probably read too much into what you were asking people to commit to. Again, I apologize if I offened you. :(

  58. January 20, 2010 8:04 am

    I’m probablz going to be the odd one out here, but I feel I need to say this. Why should I be reading something I’ve never heard of and possibly won’t like just for the sake of reading something byPOC? I don’t avoid POC books, but I don’t actively seek them either. Yes, there surely is a lot of POC books I would love if I ever got to read them, but I’m sure there’s just as much or more books by white people that are great and don’t get nearly as much attention as they deserve.
    I live in Czech Republic, so except a few asian minorities basically an all-white society. So I guess I’m one of the privileged, too. But that simply is my cultural backround. There are some really good czech book almost no one outside the cyech republic knows, but I don’t feel the need to promote them somehow. In my reading experience, really good books will find their way to you somehow. If it’s a great story, I don’t need to know what colour the author is.

    • January 20, 2010 11:42 am

      Karolina,

      In my reading experiences and the 2+ years I’ve spent blogging, I’ve learned that good books don’t always make their way to readers who would love them. I’ve found so many great books because of another reader blogging about it. On my blog, I try to do the same thing: showcase well-written books that aren’t receiving the audiences they deserve. I don’t know you or visit your blog but I would be open to reading great Czech books because it’s not an area I’m familiar with.

      From what I’m reading in the comments for this post, you’re not the odd one out. So many people are resisting reading something different from what they’re used to. Throughout this month people have been writing about making more deliberate reading choices but I guess that only means reading more classics and not about the world around them or people different from them. Who knew?

      “Yes, there surely is a lot of POC books I would love if I ever got to read them, but I’m sure there’s just as much or more books by white people that are great and don’t get nearly as much attention as they deserve.”

      Now that comment? That bugs me. Have you ever thought that if there’s just as much or more books written by white people that are just as great it may be because that’s the majority of what’s being published? I read a lot of books written by white people last year and a lot was bad. Books that didn’t have purpose or a reason why they were created.

      Please don’t think I’m jumping on you. It’s obvious that you and I both read and blog for different reasons. Thank you for posting your honest comment.

    • January 20, 2010 11:46 pm

      Karolina, I feel like you missed the entire point of my post. So I find it difficult to reply to you, except to ask you to pleas reread my post and the knapsack article I link to.

  59. January 20, 2010 11:43 am

    Wow, what a post! And what a lot of responses! I didn’t read them all. lol

    I have never before last year noticed the race of the authors of my books. I consider the content and whether the time period it was written in seems interesting too. But when I started the Classics Circuit in September I started feeling very uncomfortable with how American and English the names I was coming up with were. Since I want to find classics from all over, I’ve been doing more research. I think what you say is right on: we may have to look a little more, but we’re going to love those books too.

    While I think I’m still going to read more Victorian literature than other stuff, for example, I do hope I get more diverse in my choices this year and future years. I’ve been very excited about the Harlem Renaissance tour, I want to read more Japanese this year (maybe Chinese next year) and I’ve joined the Black Classics Challenge. There are seriously dozens I want to read. It’s a matter of figuring out which ones. :)

    • January 20, 2010 11:47 pm

      I’m SO happy that you commented Rebecca! Especially since you read a lot of classics, and love them, as do I. And it is SO difficult when you love classics to get past the whitewashing. So yeah, your comment made me a bit giddy, but in the best way. ;)

  60. January 20, 2010 11:50 am

    Stephanie,

    If I were your black friend, I would wince reading this. Let me be clear, I don’t advocate you read PoC as some kind of social gesture. Read PoC because PoC write what you already read. When you decide to read out of your comfort zones for other reasons do you ever think, “Oh, am I being discriminating by purposely reading books in translation”

    If PoC writers were actually published and promoted equally to their white peers you wouldn’t have to seek them out.

    I’m black. I don’t read AA contemporary fiction. I don’t read gangsta fiction. I don’t do black romance.

    Reading PoC appeals to me because I’m reading a different perspective and experience. There is no reason to believe that you cannot relate to a PoC solely based on race/ethnicity.

    The publishing industry and I suspect the same is true of all of you. You wouldn’t find anything odd about me reading white authors. Why then behave that reading PoC is somehow alien and foreign?

    A woman said to once in disbelief, “Why would I know any black authors? I’m white.”

    • January 20, 2010 9:41 pm

      Susan – I think you misunderstand me. I don’t think reading PoC is alien or foreign at all. I read books for their content. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you the race, ethinicity, religion, or sexual preferance of most of the authors I read. Because I don’t care. I don’t see color. Maybe that’s naive of me to be like that. My only point is that purposely picking out PoC authors, to me, is the same as purposely picking out white authors. Whether it’s positive discrimination or not, it’s basing a read solely on the color of the author. I have never gone out of my way to do that.

      I do realize the publishing industry, like any other industry, is probably more discriminate that I am. That sucks. I wish things were different.

      I hope I haven’t offended anyone. That certainly wasn’t intended if I did. I’m sure now I will be more conscious of the author.

      • January 20, 2010 11:48 pm

        Hi Stephanie! I’ve replied to your comment up above. But I will say that yes, assuming that not paying attention to an author’s ethnicity will result in diverse reading in our society does seem naive.

    • January 20, 2010 11:48 pm

      I loved your post Susan; obviously, we’re on the same page!

  61. January 20, 2010 11:53 am

    Okay, I actually am literate and can write a grammatically correct sentence. I swear my errors is trying to respond when I have a minute left on my lunch hour. :-)

  62. January 20, 2010 2:42 pm

    Wow! You’ve certainly made people think!
    I think it’s never a bad idea to broaden your reading tastes.

    • January 20, 2010 11:50 pm

      I know! I’m glad we’re actually talking about this now, because it’s been like the elephant in the room for me for the past few months. ;)

  63. January 20, 2010 11:13 pm

    Stephanie,

    Let’s not get sidetracked by unnecessarily worrying about offending one another. We don’t know each other and I have no reason to think you would intentionally say something offensive. The issue at hand is why reading and promoting writers of color matter.

    I don’t purposely seek or avoid white writers. What I find frustrating is your insistence on suggesting that seeking out people of color is equal to discriminating and false when the playing field isn’t equal to begin with.

    I read mostly women. In fact, I’d say 95% of my reading is women and that is because I unapologetically prefer women. If I didn’t make a conscious effort, which I do, I would be missing out on a great deal of good literature by men.

    I don’t know what it will take to be clear why not reading consciously is problematic. Not consciously choosing to read different perspectives limits your opportunity to broaden your awareness and understanding. It robs you of a potentially enriching experience of hearing the point of view of someone whose experiences are different in part because of race and culture.

    I’m embroiled in a major campaign against whitewashing at the moment. If you’re interested, read my Open Letter To Bloomsbury.

  64. January 21, 2010 8:22 am

    What a thorough and thoughtful blog post! I was directed to it by a link posted on A Few More Pages blog and I can see how you’ve inspired others to talk about the subject.

    As a debut author (The Red Umbrella – a YA book being released by Random House/Knopf in May) I would also like to suggest a few other debut books written for teens that are written by poc and whose characters are poc. You should certainly consider Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes, Escaping the Tiger by Laura Manivong and Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garica McCall (of course, I’d love for you to read mine as well).

    Thank you for your support of all authors and for bringing attention to the issue.

  65. January 21, 2010 2:14 pm

    Thanks for this post, Eva. It’s really made me think. I’m not usually so good with “challenges” and the like, but I do really want to add more PoC into my reading. The first time I really thought about this was when I was choosing a book for the Harlem Renaissance Classics Circuit. I had to seriously sit and think really hard about who to read. I was so mad at myself because the only thing I could recall about this important art movement was something about poetry and Langston Hughes. And that was IT. I sheepishly wrote to a friend of mine who loves all things Harlem related, and she recommended an author, and I thought, “Wow, how could I be so ignorant about something so important, not just in literature, but in art, music, and civil rights.” Your post really made me realize that this is a serious hole in my education and in my reading. Your lists are a great resource. Thanks again for compiling all of this together.

  66. January 21, 2010 3:40 pm

    I am late to the commenting party, but I wanted to echo the sentiments that this is a great post and just make a few points.
    1. I especially love this concept: “But if there’s one thing the last few months have taught me, it’s that reading is an inherently political act” << For those who have said that discussion is not enough, I would argue that revolution comes from within. Reading and living your life as a vehicle for change is certainly a step in the right direction.
    2. As far feeling awkward about bringing us race or diversity as a member of majority group, I would say that everyone should speak out against injustice no matter what group or groups you ascribe to. As a person of color and a woman, sometimes I feel awkward bringing up issues of disparity or discrimination because I feel like people expect it of me. If more people in general talk about these issues, it makes the problem feel like something that impacts all of us not just those who live outside the mainstream culture.
    3. With regard to running for office and voting, running for office takes a lot of resources that many people do not have. Also, I find that I am frustrated when I look at the candidate list because it is choice between dumb and dumber. I think it would be FANTASTIC if I saw a candidate list that reflected the diversity in the country. I feel that is far away– unfortunately :)

  67. January 23, 2010 3:50 pm

    Great post Eva. I read that Mackintosh article for a course I took as part of my teaching degree – it was a compulsory course but we were lucky to score a philosophy professor for our instructor and we looked a lot at these often invisible systems of repression etc. I remember talking about it on my own blog and one friend commenting that she didn’t believe in white privilege, because they treat the black people in their town very nicely thank you!

    I like to read books from other countries and races as well, mostly to learn about places I’ve never been to and people I’ve had limited or no interaction with, but there’s always room for improvement. It’s great that you’ve brought attention to this and have made a personal endeavour to be consciously aware of such things. (On a selfish note, I get great book recommendations through you, so this helps on that front as well!)

  68. January 24, 2010 3:15 am

    Hello, Eva! This is indeed a well-thought of post not to mention the comments already made by other bloggers out there. I certainly laud your efforts to read from a wide, diversified range of authors. I think I noticed that in your blog awhile back and I remember I mentally adding some of the books you reviewed in my checklist hoping it’s available where I live.

    In my case, I read everything. Or at least as much as I can get here in the Philippines. I buy or read books from authors in all shapes, colors and sizes but I love or loathe their books based on the stories, whether or not the stories affect me in any way. I’d like to think of myself as colorblind. What matters, as it should be, is the person and not one’s skin color.

    That being said, I also smile and sing along with the rest of the cast of Avenue Q when I hear the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” It’s a good song. Catchy. And yes, a bit offensive.

    Have a great week ahead!

  69. January 24, 2010 12:11 pm

    Coming to your post late due to some family issues, but I did want to applaud the effort.

    I do something similar with my reading (since WisCon last year). For every book by a white male that I finish, I start a book by someone not white male. I don’t join challenges or the like, but I do think challenges like Women Unbound or 50 POC Challenge are good for those who like the challenges.

    • January 25, 2010 11:37 am

      Urg. I typo-ed my own effin’ name. That’s what I get for commenting from my phone.

  70. January 26, 2010 4:42 am

    I hadn’t realised that Helen Oyeyemi had another novel out, how did I miss that?!

  71. novelinsights permalink
    February 10, 2010 10:04 am

    I would like to come back when I have had a little muse about this and have something more intelligent to say but initial thoughts are as follows;

    Although I often read books about other countries and cultures I haven’t given a great deal of active thought in selecting books by non-white authors and this post really made me think. I love the fact you’ve provided a list.

    One thing that springs to mind for me is about the role of publishers and marketing in all of this. The books that we tend to pick up in shops are heavily influenced by what is being chosen to be promoted and to an extent what publishers think that the market will like in once country or another. I expect (or hope) that the internet and international bloggers will change this over time.

    Random thought about diversity in general. I was thinking about how popular the TV programme Glee is. Perhaps it’s an indication that Westerners are becoming more broad-minded, that a quirky set of characters appeals to a big audience. Again, I really hope so!

    Loved this post – really thought provoking.

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