I visit bookstores filled with great ideas and awful writing. Loose paragraphs about white people in intense or ‘deviant’ relationships. Pages where the writer is so captivated by their own story they forget words matter.
Toleration as a reminder of power is exerted in the bookstore by sidelining powerful stories and by promoting people of colour as representing ‘ethnic’ or ‘immigrant’ experiences. This strategy hopes that white people continue to believe themselves raceless.
Non-white writers represent groups whose life experience is compounded by their race.
White writers often produce books of an alien universe where bias is a myth.
Selling the idea of an apolitical world matters: it exploits the reader – assuming them an idiot – in order to stop questions against their own exploitation – and their participation in the exploitation of others – before they root.
We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature.
This matters. What we consume matters. Stories matter: they direct where our attention focuses. Rectifying inequalities in education, employment, housing, and the justice system are urgent matters that implicate every reader of any novel in North America, and need to be addressed in our art. Approaching art as an outlet to quell our distaste for systemic violence fails literature. All of our experiences are political.
Whether white people swallow colorblind books to feel less guilty and ignore what is happening in their backyards, bodies will still accumulate. Generations of people will continue to die those slow deaths of poverty – or the quicker ones of violent struggle and contemporary slavery. Canadian land will remain stolen, and the genocide against the Indigenous will continue.
White people choose to study these books in some schools. If they feel that they’re ‘liberal’ or ‘feminists,’ they might even read articles online – so long as it doesn’t call out how their cultural appropriation is an exercise in colonial privilege.
This is not the stuff of our best-selling novels: a book about a racist, here and there, misses the point: it isn’t about individual racist people, like your grandfather. It’s about the way the system has always worked, and the point is that everyone is involved.
A Diversity Gap study found that only three out of the 124 authors who appeared on the list during 2012 are people of color
Using literature to dull our awareness does a disservice to literature and the population.
Representing relationships that are conveniently and impossibly removed from privilege gives readers no more credit than as acquiescent viewers of commercials.
Raising the bar for fiction in 2015 means giving more credit to readers and to those whose deaths permit our writing and publishing and consumption of the works in the first place.
Consume what you believe: read books that matter.
words by Liam Lachance, a writer at our upcoming live art event