Before you even read the first sentence of this article, it has already been tossed aside by someone who made a pledge to avoid reading any straight, white, and male authors. Certain reasons for spinning this piece out of the window would be slightly more reasonable, but not too much more. For example, you’re about to read musings about the human condition from someone who isn’t even twenty-five years into his own condition yet. However, the need to state your race, gender, and sexual orientation has increased in importance in modern society. One must state where they are on the “oppression scale” so that your opinions can be filtered through that lens. People need to know beforehand whether they should be empathetic in regards to the struggles you’re going through, or whether they should mock you incessantly. I’ve always felt a tinge of antagonism when people preface their statements with “speaking as a…”
This statement is used under the delusion that it will lend more credence to someone’s position when in reality all it does is show that the idea can’t stand on its own, but needs a shiny coat of white, black, or brown paint in order for it to be presentable. Either that or this particular person isn’t a very good proponent of said idea. The question is probably hovering in your mind, “Why would someone make a pledge to avoid reading books written by straight white men?” The answer to this ridiculous question that will be given to you by those who make it reads as such, “Because it’s important to incorporate a variety of stories and perspectives into your reading list.” This statement comes with a whole host of untrue implications. First, it implies that every single straight white male has the exact same perspective, sees the world the exact same way, and writes the exact same story. Any thinking person can discern why this is a preposterous sentiment. Secondly, this implies that all one needs to do is read a book written by every combination of race, gender, and sexual orientation in order to acquire all perspectives which is also a ludicrously false statement. Thirdly, this statement contradicts the action taken in order to remedy it. It is actually a symptom of the problem that is complained about as opposed to the definitive solution.
One can discern what matters to someone based on what they say and the actions they take. In this case, the prescribed course of action is not to “read more authors ‘of color’,” the action isn’t “read more gay and bisexual authors,” and the action certainly isn’t, “read more female authors.” The modus operandi that is suggested is “read fewer straight white male authors.” It’s as if the people who say these things have an unchanging number of books that they are allowed to read. It’s not as if they could simply read more books, those books being by authors who aren’t straight white and male. So if we follow this logical malfunction to its conclusion it reads as such, “Broaden the number of perspectives in your reading list by reading fewer books.” This is what occurs when you concern yourself with what color the walls of your house will be as opposed to actually building a foundation. The entire thing tumbles down because you refused to take into account the basic functions of your statements. If one were truly concerned with your number of perspectives they would tell you to read more, not less. But, of course, as a straight white male you’ll have to take my opinion lightly.
Allow me to lay out a thought experiment for you. Let’s say you already generally read an equal number of authors from various races, sexual orientations, etc. Now you have certain people coming forward and proclaiming that you should read fewer straight white male authors. If you took their advice and didn’t over-ride your book choices with other authors they approve of, then ultimately you would simply be reading fewer books. I don’t think that the goal here is to promote the broadening of perspective in your choice of literature. I think the goal is a sad attempt to make it more difficult for straight white men to succeed in literature. Before the cries of, “We just wanted to get people to read books written from different perspectives,” begin echoing through the air let me pick up on a few more points.
My position is that I don’t much care what race a particular author is. I care what the text actually says. Unless race is of import in regards to what is being written about (for example I can understand the desire to read books about American Slavery written by white people and black people) but even then it doesn’t guarantee different perspectives. Reading a book written by a rich white man in England will not give you the exact same perspective as book written by a poor white man in Albania. Especially in the business of fiction where the entire point of the genre is to come up with scenarios that are fictitious in order to drive a plot. Although, some authors do write fiction based on their own personal experience as well. Perspective is something that is developed; no one is born with a perspective. You actually have to live part of a life in order for your perspective to become more solid. So if you’re going to actually take the time to research an author before you read what they’ve written, research their back story. Buy a biography written about them (but make sure it wasn’t written by a straight white man because those are the rules) and everything will be right with the world. Those who want to argue that we should read less in order to expand the number of perspectives we receive are deluded. Either in the sense that people should take “read fewer straight white men” to mean “read more of everyone else,” or that this isn’t an attempt to stifle ideas and stories written by those of a certain identity.
Now I’ve seen a certain “challenge” pop up in various publications like The Guardian, The Week, Buzzfeed, and Jezebel about how people stop themselves from reading white male authors for an entire year. When one takes a step back it’s clear what is going on here. The challenge does not say, “Read at least 10 books by non-white authors this year,” it does not say anything of the sort. The challenge simply forces you to shut yourself off from any ideas or stories that come from someone who is white and a man. It treats the reading of books as a zero-sum game like the only way to read non-white or female authors is to close yourself off from books written by white men. It pains me to have to explain to those who would advocate for this that your favorite novel would remain exactly the same if the race of the author magically changed. The story would still be the exact same story, the text on the page wouldn’t change and isn’t that what should matter?
If you, dear reader, want to get even more sinister you could claim that this is an attempt at policing the kinds of ideas that can be shared. But luckily, the people who advocate this don’t realize that ideas aren’t race-specific. But that’s where it all comes down to isn’t it? They commit the act of attempting to make one group’s situation better by forcefully dragging another group down. To draw an analogy (and no I’m not flat-out comparing white people to rich people and black people to homeless people, I’m just doing this to outline the insanity that is their minds), it’s like thinking you are assisting the homeless by beating up a rich person whenever you see them. They act as if they are holding a vengeful grudge against certain groups of people, in lieu of other groups of people who don’t necessarily hold that grudge.
I’ve always been an avid reader and so all of these “challenges” sound awful to me. How dare someone attempt to lecture me on how beneficial it would be if I simply walled myself off from a library filled with text? If they wanted to be the least bit successful with a campaign like this, they wouldn’t be telling people to bar themselves from one particular library then have them mope into whatever other library is available. They would be telling a person that not only does the library you’re currently sitting in exist; there are more libraries just like it that they’ve never seen before! It would pique the reader’s curiosity somewhat. Of course that is all predicated on the idea that they’ve never visited the other libraries before and forcefully walled themselves into one particular library. The vast majority of people already know that authors of other races and sexes exist, they just don’t particularly care. A good book is a good book; good ideas are good ideas regardless of what race, sex, or sexual orientation it happens to come from.
But as many of you (I won’t insult your intelligence) have already figured out, the goal is not to liberate non-white male texts and place them in the hands of readers. The goal is to place white and male texts at the back of the shelf. And if that results in more non-white authors being read then that is excellent, but even if they aren’t being read then that’s just as well. I don’t know about all of you, but I judge a book by its contents.