What I Learned When I Stopped Reading Books by White Men
The last year for me has been an exercise in reading everyone but white men. I first made the decision because of a bulletin board at my school. On it were the demographics of my city and a list of authors we read. The board was posing the question of whether or not the school read authors who were representative of our community.
Like most people, I've read a lot of white men in my life. So I decided to experiment for a year to read everyone but white men—for pleasure, otherwise I would never pass English.
At first I didn’t know where to start, so I turned to Google and found a wealth of people working to diversify literature. I started with Well Read Black Girl, an online and IRL book club that reads and suggests new books by black women every month. From there I traveled to Nigeria and back to America with Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and fell in love with lyrical prose from Jacqueline Woodson in Another Brooklyn.
Then I started seeking myself in books, something I had never done before. In The Idiot, Elif Bautman struggles with the same problems of a silent Turkish like I do, while Jade Chang’s The Wangs vs. the World shows a fluid dialogue between Mandarin and English that finally felt like the work of a real bilingual. There were also incredibly supportive people like my friends and school librarians who never hesitated from suggesting alternative books.
It was a joy to read these books, constantly traveling to faraway lands and meeting people I never had before. But it wasn’t easy; every time I looked at bestseller lists, I had to go the extra mile of vetting an author. One time an English teacher—a white man—suggested a book to me, but when I told them my no-white-men “rule,” he was somewhat offended. I was at a public library once, browsing the non-fiction section, but I couldn’t find a single book by anyone who wasn’t a white man. Those moments made me wince about how few women and POC are represented.
While I’ve missed out on some books I would love to read in the last year, my challenge has also opened doors to authors and books I would have never looked at before. There are communities that are pushing more representation and support of authors who aren’t traditionally heard. Books by people I don’t normally encounter built my empathy and understanding for cultures and times I could otherwise never experience. I’ve laughed with Phoebe Robinson’s feminist essays in You Can’t Touch My Hair and cried while Hisham Matar tried to find his father, a Libyan political prisoner in The Return.
I’m planning to keep this up—the ban on white men authors—for the next year. My reading continues to challenge the stereotypes I’m constantly being shown in other media, like the news, TV, and movies. It’s not going to fix everything, but it’s the first step in shifting away from all the white men over-represented in my required English books.
By Amelia Dogan, 15