The answer to the question in my post title, “Who writes what I read?” is: Western, Caucasian writers, perhaps with a bias towards women. I only recently realized that this was the case. Until now, I have considered myself to be race- or ethnicity-agnostic when choosing books. I typically pay little attention to the authors at all (other than, as I said, a bias towards women) and chose books based purely on content that appeals to me, regardless of who the author is (other than reading multiple books by the same author because I particularly like the author). In fact, when I looked back recently at the books I read last year, I did not even know the race of all the authors. As it turns out, not too surprisingly, all the ones I did not know were white.
Along with noticing that the vast majority of authors I read were Western Caucasians, I realized something that I find quite problematic: that by being supposedly author-agnostic in choosing books, I am in fact reading mostly white, Western authors. I additionally became aware that if I do not consciously know an author’s race, I have a sub-conscious assumption that he or she is white – and I am usually right.
What triggered these realizations? A few weeks ago, Eva at A Striped Armchair wrote the excellent post “Reading in Colour”, addressing the issue of white privilege in book reading and blogging (more recently, she also had a beautiful guest post on the topic by author Silvio Sirias, “Leisure Time and Reading in a Shrinking – Yet Colorful – World”). In her post, she refers in particular to the article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” by Peggy Mackintosh. If you have not read this before, I strongly recommend that you do so. In this article, Mackintosh explores unearned and largely unacknowledged white privilege – the advantages that white people have in our society simply because they are white. She presents a long list of the daily effects of white privilege, which includes such things as:
22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.
This is directly relevant to reading, and in particular to my reading. I am white, and one privilege that comes with that is that the majority of books I encounter in the library and bookstores are by authors of my same race. Thus, if I don’t pay attention to who I read, I will mostly read authors who are white. It is therefore not possible for me to be race-agnostic in my reading and assume that my reading will therefore be unbiased. There is an inherent bias in the selection of books available to me.
Having recognized and acknowledged my white privilege with respect to reading, what can I do about it? I cannot continue to claim to be race-agnostic in my reading, as doing so supports a biased status quo that I find problematic. As Peggy Mackintosh says in her article,
And so one question for me and others like me is… whether we will get truly distressed, even outraged, about unearned race advantage and conferred dominance, and, if so, what we will do to lessen them.
I would like to, first of all, be aware of the race of every author I read. I think that if I start to pay attention, it will help encourage me to seek out more works by POC – when I wasn’t paying attention, I had an inflated sense of how many such works I read. I also intend to actively seek out recommendations for books by POC and make a deliberate effort to read more diversely. I cannot be comfortable with myself if I continue to read mostly white authors in this multi-cultural world.