Something occurred to us the other day as we listened to some racial activist drone on and on in an appearance with MSNBC. As is the fashion these days, this particular activist filmed his appearance from home, positioning himself directly in front of his bookshelf so that he could show off how well-read he is to anyone who might happen to care.
As we began tuning out what this guy was saying, we distracted ourselves by looking at the books (conveniently displayed) to get a feel for what this guy has been reading. Try as we might, we couldn’t find a single book on the shelf – and there were a lot of them – that didn’t have something to do with black history, black grievances, and white privilege.
And that’s when it occurred to us…that old computer-based notion of “garbage in, garbage out.” If you spend your entire life reading nothing but literature that tells you how oppressed black people are, how racist America is, and how prevalent injustice is in our society…how would you emerge with any other opinion? Spend enough time reading the same stuff and you will inevitably brainwash yourself into believing it.
For a split second, when we saw the headline “Your Bookshelf May Be Part of The Problem” on NPR’s website, we thought that someone else came to the same conclusion. We clicked on the article, hoping (quite foolishly) that a columnist for a major left-wing news source would have the courage to say, Hey, guys…maybe you’ve just convinced yourself that social justice is a real issue because that’s all you ever stuff into your head?
It wasn’t long, of course, until our dim hopes were dashed:
If you are white, take a moment to examine your bookshelf. What do you see? What books and authors have you allowed to influence your worldview, and how you process the issues of racism and prejudice toward the disenfranchised? Have you considered that, if you identify as white and read only the work of white authors, you are in some ways listening to an extension of your own voice on repeat? While the details and depth of experience may differ, white voices have dominated what has been considered canon for eons. That means non-white readers have had to process stories and historical events through a white author’s lens. The problem goes deeper than that, anyway, considering that even now 76% of publishing professionals — the people you might call the gatekeepers — are white.
Reading broadly and with intention is how we counter dehumanization and demand visibility, effectively bridging the gap between what we read and how we might live in a more just and equitable society.
The guy has a point. People should push themselves to read works from varying viewpoints – even those they are almost certain to disagree with.
But when you come to the table with “black” readings for white readers and say nothing at all about the black readers who are consuming nothing BUT this kind of literature, you’re really missing the big picture.