I know it’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted anything here. Like everyone, I’m processing what’s happening in the U.S. as we spotlight the very real issue of racism and police brutality. And as a white woman, I didn’t want to flood channels with my words when so many more important messages were being sent. But I feel that it’s also my duty as a white woman to lift up and boost those messages and use my privilege to make sure they are seen and heard.
But I struggled with how to do this. Eventually, I realized that as a writer, as a published author, as an avid reader, that there were some failings in the systems I grew up with. And I thought that maybe I would write about those failings, as well as challenge other white people to do better.
I grew up in Southeast Missouri, which pretty much identifies itself as the South. As a child who loved reading, I was never once introduced to books by black authors. Both in elementary school and high school, the stories and books I was given as reading assignments were by white people. When I got into genre fiction (sci-fi), no one once recommended authors to me that weren’t white. Not only did my teachers, my educators, fail me in this, but the librarians I so loved never once recommended black fiction to me. I was sheltered from other points of view and I didn’t even know it.
Sadly, this extended into my college years. I went to Southeast Missouri State University. I took several literature courses where I read a lot of books and short stories by white men and some white women. Even in a children’s literature course, the authors recommended were always white. University librarians never recommended books to me by anything other than white authors. I did stumble upon The Autobiography of Malcolm X, but even after reading that, no one seemed to be able to recommend anything else written for or about people of color.
I believe this is still a lot of the problem with white America. When I see what kids are reading in school, it’s usually words written by white people. When I see books being promoted at the library, it’s almost overwhelmingly stories by white people. When white authors make recommendations, it’s often books by white people. There are plenty of black authors out there, but white people just aren’t getting exposed to them at all.
A few years ago, I realized that this was an issue with my own reading and I vowed to start seeking out works written by black women. And then I realized that all those best of sci-fi lists were skewed not to include black people. How could a best of sci-fi list leave out Octavia Butler, one of the most prolific genre writers of our time? How did I just discover N.K. Jemisin, especially considering the number of awards she has won? I had this discussion with another white reader on Twitter a few days ago and realized that as white people, we have to do better.
So how do we do this? First, it starts with educators, librarians and writers. So this is the challenge I issue to those of you who are teachers, work in libraries and write:
- Librarians: recommend more books by black authors. If you don’t know of any to recommend, then you need to educate yourself on those books. There are so many good resources online that can help you in this. Google is your friend.
- Educators/Teachers: Assign your students short stories and novels written by black writers. How can you expect your students to learn anything if they’re reading the same points of view by white people over and over?
- Writers: This applies to me, too, and I’m trying. Read books by black authors. Lift them up and promote them on social media. Review those books and boost them as much as you can. We’re all writers and we need to support each other, especially those with marginalized voices.
- Readers: Seek out books written by black writers. Again, Google is your friend and there are a lot of lists out there, depending on your preferred genre.
As I said, we have to do better to lift up voices that aren’t being heard. And this is a good way to start. Reading is a window into the universe, but that universe is pretty limited if you’re only reading one point of view. Black lives matter. Black people matter. Their voices matter. Let’s make sure that they’re being heard.