The last 2 books I finished reading were by women of colour, and I’m currently partway through yet another of the same. The last 3 books I reviewed were all by women of colour. I didn’t make any special effort to have this happen. They just happened to be the books I wanted to read at the time.
I’m not saying that to brag or to claim some stupid, “I’m more diverse than you,” award. (Is there even such a thing?) I’m saying it to prove a point, and largely to myself: reading books by minorities is easier than I thought.
I didn’t ever think it was particularly difficult, to be honest. I read books by women, people of colour, and QUILTBAG authors all the time. But I deliberately shied away from reading challenges that challenged me to spend a year reading only books written by women, or only books written by people of colour, etc. What if I book came out that year that I wanted to read and it was written by a straight white male? I’d have to put aside a book I’d maybe been looking forward to for months, just because an annoying challenge said it was against the rules? How fair is that?!
Oh, you thought I was trying to make myself look like some enlightened good guy in this post? Nuh-uh. I admit freely that this urge was selfish, and a bit short-sighted, and I could think of a dozen and one reasons why I should just read what I wanted to read, because why miss out on some good stuff just because of the author’s skin tone, or gender, or…
Oh, right. That sounds familiar.
See, realizing that I, entirely by accident, ended up sorta following one of those challenges anyway, made me aware of something of a personal level that I’ve known academically for a long time. I’m not “missing out” on anything by doing one of those challenges. At worst, I’m delaying some personal reading satisfaction for a year. And seriously, how many books do you think I have on my bookshelves that I’ve looked forward to and was so excited to get a copy of and yet I still haven’t found the time to read it yet?
I looked at the numbers. So far this year, I’ve read 65 books. 37 by women, 23 by men, 3 anthologies that had authors of all genders, 1 co-written by a man and a woman, and 1 where I’m not entirely sure of the author’s gender. Narrowing that down even further, of those 23 men, 3 I know were men of colour. Of the remaining 20, I have no idea of the author’s sexuality, their ethnicity, whether they’re cisgender or transgender.
But either way, less than 1/3 of the books I’ve read this year were written by (probably) straight white cismen.
And before somebody chimes in with, “But think of those poor straight white cismen who never got5 their novels read because you were taking time for other novels,” just stop. Stop before you start. Because for one thing, these numbers were arrived at… What’s the term? Organically? I didn’t make a particular effort to influence them either way. I didn’t, at any point, pick up a book and say, “I want to read this, but oh look, there’s this book over there that’s by a transwoman of color, and I don’t want to read it as much but I will because diversity.”
Second thing, those numbers are not representative. Info that I can find (which admittedly was annoyingly hard to come by since Googling, “How much of global population is white” leads to scare-tactics articles about how white people will be extinct by 2050 or some such crap) says that white people make up about 15% of the global population. White males would be half that, since, well, half of white people are women. 7.5%. So before I even factor in gender and sexuality, it still seems that there are some numbers that will bear me out of the fact that I am reading 4 times the amount of books per representative part of the population. And even if my numbers aren’t quite accurate, I still would wager a lot of money than 30% of the planet’s population isn’t comprised of white men anyway.
Equality. We doesn’t has it.
Which brings me back to my first point: I totally could spend an entire year reading books written by everyone who isn’t a straight white cismale, and I wouldn’t actually miss out on much. I’d have missed a couple of readalongs. Some good books, and some of those good books dealt very well with minority issues in one form or another. I’m definitely not saying that books written by white dudes are without merit. But the fear that held me back from doing one of those challenges, the little voice that told me I’d miss out on too many good books along the way? That voice is pretty quiet right now. It’s sitting in the corner, looking ashamed at being called out on the misconception.
Which means so am I. I had that idea. I had that thought. It came from me. It was influenced by things outside me, of course, because things always are, but I clung to it for so long even when I knew, really, that it wasn’t right. I just didn’t want to change. I didn’t see much reason to, and I saw some reason to not. And that was pretty damn ignorant and narrow-minded of me.
But now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some more reading to do.