In which I examine the uncomfortable realization that I am the deepest of literary snobs taking my own privilege for granted and attempting now to work through this horror by expanding my own reading to experience new and diverse voices in both Young Adult and General Literature.
Greetings. Welcome to my blog, Building Diverse Bookshelves, the ongoing expedition I’ve sworn to undertake in 2016 to find, read, and integrate (into my high school English classroom and personal philosophies) new and classic voices in literature that are written by diverse authors or showcase diverse protagonists.
Diversity for the sake of this blog shall include (but is not in any way limited to) race, disability status, socioeconomic status, religion, and sexual orientation/gender identity. As I am a high school English teacher, most of my focus will be on the explosion of diversity in the Young Adult Literature community, but I also hope to read some General Adult Literature as well. But I need help! Right now I live in a very small Midwestern town with a tiny library. And I don’t have the funds to buy all the books that I would like to read. Thus, if you have any suggestions as to which books are paramount in importance of key issues, please let me know!
I’m not entirely sure what I hope to accomplish by undertaking this task. I do hope to grow in empathy and service to those who are marginalized by society and to encourage others to do the same. It was only recently (in the last year or so) that I became conscious to the idea of my own privilege. Born the eldest daughter into a white, upper middle class, conservative Christian family, well–I fit the mold of power and privilege in our country, but never once thought of it that way on any personal level until I began working with disadvantaged teenage girls in Southern Florida. As I began to learn more about the plight of poverty in immigrant-heavy areas and saw it at work in my students’ lives, the light gradually began to dawn that all the things I took for granted in my life–a good education, the encouragement to pursue the arts, the ability to pay for college, personal confidence/lack of anxiety around law enforcement–are areas in which diverse populations often experience the opposite of my own experiences.
Then, about a year ago, I ran across the organization We Need Diverse Books; I was mind-blown to discover that so little had to been done to promote books written by or showcasing diverse experiences. It forced me to examine my own experiences with literature and to admit my own bias. I grew up on the “classics” of United States and Western European literature–Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, etc. And I was a literature teacher! This personal discovery truly shocked me, as I’d always considered myself “colorblind” and ABSOLUTELY an ally to other groups. But what was I doing to ensure that my students could see my ally status in action?
The answer was not much. I moved this past summer to teach in an incredibly homogenized public school district. Out of my 102 students, only 2 are students of color. A handful have learning disabilities. The vast majority of them think that President Obama is part of ISIL and wants to destroy America, and parents have called my principal complaining about my “liberal agenda” of exposing their children to objectionable elements such as the separation of church and state. When I brought up the idea of diversifying the literary choices inside my classroom, I was repeatedly met with the same response: a scoffing, “Good luck with that idea in this town.”
This has only served to solidify my resolve.
Thus, the resolution: Read one book a week written by a diverse author or whose protagonist is a believable, realistic (not stock or stereotypical) diverse figure. I will post reviews, concerns, issues, etc on this blog.
I do have some reservations, naturally. I want to work hard not to be seen as meddlesome or having a “white savior” complex. I know that *just* reading books is not enough and that it will never take the place of actual experiences that people of color or the disabled or the poor, etc, have gone through in their lives. But I promise to do my best to keep my privilege in check and shall strive to be open-minded in this pursuit. If I fumble this resolve, call me out! I welcome it.
To the books!