Too Many White People Challenge: Thoughts on Finding Authors of Color
Posted by Avory
I’ve decided to do something I’m calling the “Too Many White People Challenge,” named for the simple fact that when I look at my bookshelves, there are far too many white people looking back at me. When I think about the books I read in school, books I’ve read for fun, books I’ve read for research, the vast majority are unsurprisingly by white authors. If I want to be an effective advocate against racism and for structural change, then I’d better start reading points of view that don’t come from white people!
The challenge is simple: no white authors for the next 100 books I read. I’ve made a couple of exceptions for books I’m asked to review and for books I have to read for work, but otherwise, no white authors for the next 100 books. If you’d like to join me, you can do so at this Goodreads group. I’m not going to be blogging a lot about this experience here on Radically Queer, because I don’t want it to turn into a self-congratulatory thing, but I’ll check in from time to time. The Goodreads group is where I’ll be a bit more wordy.
I want to start by sharing some observations I’ve made while looking for books to read. These are mostly what I expected, but I’m sharing them here in case they’re thoughts that haven’t occurred to some:
- It’s not necessarily that easy to identify an author of color. For the sake of efficiency, I had to take some shortcuts that mean I’m missing some of the authors of color on my to-read list. I went through all my Goodreads to-read shelf, checking off authors of color. These were almost always authors that I already know, authors with a non-Western name, or books about a race-related subject. I then went through for the latter two to get rid of the white authors that snuck in. I’m necessarily going to be missing a lot of authors of color with whom I’m unfamiliar, who are writing about topics other than race.
- Reading authors of color doesn’t necessarily mean you’re learning about race. I kept this challenge simple because my goal wasn’t to learn about race, but simply to take white perspectives out of my reading for a while. Some of the books I’m reading are novels, some are non-fiction, some are even self-help. There are a few really silly looking chick-lit novels in there.
- Race is (surprise!) a socially constructed category. We all know this, but it’s interesting when compiling a list like this to see the principle in action. I had to ask myself what the goal really was, and decide where I would draw the line for “of color.” I decided not to include Israeli Jewish authors, for example. I also decided not to include Turkish authors, though that was mostly for personal reasons, since I’ve studied Turkish and am pretty familiar with the culture. I did include authors from other parts of the Arab world, but it’s possible I’ve accidentally snuck some white people in there, since you can’t actually look at someone and tell whether or not they’re white, so if a white person is from an Arab country I might not realize.
I’m looking forward to the challenge, despite the difficulties in coming up with a very precise definition of which authors “count.” I hope some of you will join me?