My one gripe about social media is that is gives me easy access to topics that are trending. Many trending topics tend to make me upset because they far too often show a glimpse into how sad, overly politically correct, opinionated, and overall dumb the world is becoming.
I’m a bit late to this argument mainly because my side is probably considered to be “in the wrong” but here goes…mainly because I feel that SOMEONE needs to stick up for reading as a general habit and not a lifestyle choice that you can use as a badge.
Last month, I read this silly article about why people should stop reading books by straight white male authors. While I’m not naive enough to think it was the first time someone made such a suggestion, I noticed how something of a campaign started to build behind this concept.
I’ll be honest…at first I thought this was a moderately good idea. What a great way to find new authors! What a great way to find new books and ideas and maybe even a whole new literary world!
But then I started to really think about it and if I’m being honest, I got irritated
Here’s the thing, folks. I’m all for diversity. I don’t think anyone should ever NOT write because of their race, sexual orientation, political leanings, right/left handed skew, or whatever. Similarly, I don’t think readers should set a book aside because it’s written by a woman of color or a man that likes other men. I grew up in the deep south so I KNOW that these sorts of people do in fact exist…but not on a large scale.
I read my first story featuring homosexual characters when I was thirteen. It might not surprise you to know that it was by Clive Barker. I am apologetically heterosexual and always have been. But reading about gay characters in no way swayed me to stop reading Barker, nor did it change my sexual orientation (as many of those same southern types actually do fear). You know why? Because I, like most readers out there, aren’t judgmental dicks. Barker is an amazing storyteller and I’m fairly certain that he would gladly tell you that he reads not only gay writers, but straight ones as well. Because it’s dumb to narrow down your reading an entertainment choices on such biases.
Wait…but Barker IS white. So I guess that makes me a racist, right? Either that or just closed-minded.
Sure, that a gross simplification of the article and concept in question, but it’s what it really boils down to.
Full disclosure here…I went through most of my books before writing this and will admit a few things about my reading selection. Here’s some general points I discovered:
- The vast majority are indeed by straight white men. Do I need to apologize for this? I think not. After all, without King, Gaiman, Koontz, or Matheson, I wouldn’t have cared much about writing anyway. Additionally, there were some stinkers in there…authors I stopped reading because they suck…not because they were gay or straight or white or black.
- The few authors of color were lesser known names. Most of them, in fact, were in my poetry section. (Go check out Major Jackson if you have the time).
- There were more women authors than I remember, a few of which are either homosexual or bisexual from what I know about them.
I list these out in such a way to prove the point that I have never held a bias towards an author based on their race or lifestyle. The back blurb of one of Poppy Z. Brite’s book indicates that the central character is gay and you know what? When I saw it in the bookstore however long ago (something like 12-15 years I think), I didn’t set it down because I’m a straight male. Instead, I picked it up, excited that there was a new Poppy Z. Brite book that I had not yet read.
A further point for you: I’m pretty sure the following has never happened:
A teen walks into a bookstore, sees his first King book and is excited about buying it. But then he feels guilty…he Googles Stephen King and finds out that he is a straight white male. The kid throws the book on the floor and demands to see the Gay Hispanic Horror Author section instead. Only there’s no section like that because sub-categorizing authors in such a way would be idiotic.
The above never happened because I don’t think the majority of readers are as ignorant as this. Some, sure…but not enough to warrant the support for a call against white male authors.
And hey, I might be blowing this out of proportion. It wouldn’t be the first time. I understand that at the heart of the movement, there was the hope that getting through to even a small fraction of readers might help bolster the sales and popularity of authors from different ethnic and sexual backgrounds. I get that and, in a way, respect it.
But it’s too similar to another thing I see on social media all of the time…the argument that says:
“THIS SHOW doesn’t have any gay characters so I’m done watching it.”
Or “THIS SHOW doesn’t have enough black women on it, so I’m boycotting.”
Or “THIS SHOW does show this minority group that I identify with but I don’t like the way they are written, so the show sucks.”
Or “THIS SHOW doesn’t have enough left handed teenage Asian homosexuals that wear only white pants, so the writers are clearly bigots.”
Do I understand the need for diversity? Yes. Telling an effective story with an all-white and straight cast was easy on The Honeymooners but is vastly different today. I do think that “white washing” certain stories or shows isn’t painting an accurate picture of our society and, therefore, is sort of robbing a story of its merit and relevance. As a writer, I think anyone needs to be aware of that.
But am I going to stop reading an author because they happen to be straight and white and have a penis? No. That would be stupid.
By excluding an author because of their race or sexual orientation seems to wholly negate the reasoning behind the entire argument in the first place, does it not? As far as I’m concerned, it even smudges the line between diversification and prejudice.