The Logical Fallacy of Not Reading Diversely
Since it's Black History Month, I've been thinking a lot about how I haven't read a ton of novels set entirely within black communities and why that's a bad thing.
At one of my book club meetings last month, we were discussing The Mothers by Brit Bennett, which is set entirely within a black community. A couple of the members noticed that in the descriptions of the characters, no one ever explicitly points out the person is black. You pick that up from context clues and meeting tertiary characters every now and then that are explicitly said to be white. Usually, in literature, it's the other way around––the races of the main cast of characters are never pointed out unless they're people of color, which gives readers the expectation that white is the default.
This is obviously problematic, and while the We Need Diverse Books movement is gaining momentum (hallelujah!), I get the sense that reading diversely just isn't something the majority of readers think about. Usually when I ask white people when the last time they read a book by a black author was (and when I ask men when the last time they read a book by a woman was), they respond the same way: "I just read what I like."
Sounds basic enough. People just want to be able to go in the bookstore, grab what catches their eye, and read whatever that is. I used to make this same statement myself years ago, but now I realize that not having to think about what books you might like because the majority of the authors and characters are similar to you is a privilege.
I've talked about the importance of ALL people being able to see themselves in literature before and how people with marginalized identities have a hard time just walking into the bookstore and being able to immediately find books by and about people like them. So when people say "I just read what I like," what they're really saying is that they don't want to have to think about the problems in the publishing industry and how certain people are shut out of the literary world. They're saying they're comfortable in their privilege because the publishing industry's problems benefit them.
Hidden in "I just read what I like" is also the implication that it's somehow bad or wrong or unenjoyable to be intentional about the books you read. Or that striving to support under-represented authors with your book buying dollars somehow diminishes the reading experience. I used to be in the "I just read what I like" crowd and I'm here to tell you that reading diversely has done nothing but enhance my reading life. Instead of reading formulaic books with obvious problems and adventures that have been documented for decades or centuries, I get to step outside of myself completely and live in someone else's story––someone who inhabits a body I can never and will never inhabit.
To act like it's soooo much work to seek out authors different from you is to imply that books by marginalized writers couldn't possibly be good or worthwhile. And that's just wrong. Not only that, but people who aren't reading diversely are really missing out and I feel sorry for them and all the great reading experiences they're losing out on.
Believe me when I say that I'm preaching to the choir here. I've only been open to reading diversely for the past couple of years (since like 2014 when I started this blog) and it's still something I have to actively think about. Even so, it still surprises me at the end of the year when I find that the majority of books I read are still by white people.
But what matters is that I'm trying and every year the percentage of diverse books I read goes up and I want that to continue to happen. I hope you do too and that you'll join me in this reading journey. It's so worth it.