We all like to think we’re fantastic allies. We sit back and champion books featuring Black charaacters, written by Black authors, or with characters of varied sexualities, religions, nationalities, or who appear on the autism spectrum. But how much of what we’re reading “diversely” is actually just performative? I know I’m not without blame here.
When the Black Lives Matter movement took legs following the murder of George Floyd, among many other atrocious happenings, readers in their droves bought many more books by Black authors, subscribed to Black Book Tubers, and shouted from the rooftops about Black creators.
I also did the same, by the way. I filled my book baskets (physical and online) with authors of colour, who wrote about Black characters. I shouted from the rooftops about my favourite Black creators. Of the nine books I’ve bought in June (the last month before my book buying ban) by Black authors, I’ve read just two. It seems to me I’m buying them just to fill my shelves.
But this isn’t what we should do. We should of course cheer for these authors, celebrate their stories, and live to share them with our book loving friends and loved ones. It’s something we can all very easily do.
Seeing yourself on the pages of the books you’ve read is huge. There are so many books I can relate to as a white, Irish, college educated woman who grew up fairly comfortably. But I can recognise the intense privilege that gives me, and recognise these stories are told far too often. There are still so many other stories we need to hear.
It’s part of the reason why Loveless by Alice Oseman is such a beloved book at the moment. For so many young ace readers, it’s among the first time they are seeing their story told in books. Supporting books like this means more people will be able to tell these stories, bringing so many more people’s stories to our bookshelves.
If we’re dedicated to buying these books by author of colour, by LGBTQIA+ authors, or by authors on the autism spectrum (or books featuring characters like these), then we should also make it our mission to read them. That’s how we can actually become better allies in the future.