These are some terms that I have been associated with when I was in middle school. I was teased for my musical preference. I was tormented for the way that I talked (and not only for my lisp) and how I presented myself. I never embodied the stereotype of a black person, whatever that is supposed to be. I had to deal with comments from friends, classmates, even from my own family, just because I didn’t live up to their or society’s expectations for the color of my skin. It took me a long time to finally accept me for me and if people don’t like it, that’s their problem.
But the conflict with my personality and societal expectations is on the rise and this time, books are at the forefront.
Are you shocked that I was criticized for my choices of reading material? Well, you should be. My choices and the fact that I was a booknerd (a badge of honor I proudly where today) came under fire. However my book picks irked some, or what some people said “my white books”. Let me explain. When I was young, I would figuratively gobble up popular book series, such as Sweet Valley High and Nancy Drew. But to some, these weren’t the right books for a black girl to read. My mother, my biggest fan in my reading, told me not to pay attention to the critics. And of course, a mother is always right. My reading level, which was low when I was around 5 years old,rose to a college reading level by the time I reached the 7th grade. So reading those so-called “white books” paid off in the end.
I consider myself color-blind books. I know people usually say that when they talk or deal with race. But in this case, I speak the truth. I don’t actively look for books written by different racial authors. If it piques my interest, I’ll read it. However, that doesn’t mean diversity in books and in publishing is severely lacking it needs to be rectified right away. But my race and the books I read should not affect my reading habits and why should it? I read to enter other worlds, different from my own, and through my reading habits, I am able to visit different cultures. Some of you may think I being naive and limiting myself. Is it limiting or inviting? I am stepping out of the sphere that society tried to keep me trapped in and make me feel guilty for wanting to take that one glimpse over the horizon.
Reading is more than just a pleasurable activity, it is fundamental necessity in our everyday life. We learn more about the world around us, experiencing cultures that are completely the opposite to ours. How can we broaden our scope if we can continue to limit ourselves due to our race? I am not naive but I refuse to be ignorant. If we only read authors that match the color of our skin, our book discussions would be very boring. We definitely need diversity , there is no denying about that. But don’t let the lack of diversity on your TBR shelf stifle your reading personality. Read based on merit, not on guilt. Ignorance may be bliss for some but it doesn’t have to mean you.
So if you’re black and you like to read Jane Austen, read Austen. If you are white and you like to read Toni Morrison, read Morrison. If you are Asian and you like to read Isabel Allende, read Allende. And if anyone dares to question your reading choices, fire back with this question:
“And what have you read recently?”
And observe their blank face with amusement.