The “White People” In Books Debate

So recently I read on someone’s blog (who shall remain nameless) that “white people” was a bookish pet peeve. When clarifying, she said she didn’t like the “whining of privileged twats”- which is not what I would call an improvement.  It’s not exactly a legitimate literary criticism either- yet I see this kind of thing around a lot and it makes me sad.

I love diversity in books- diversity in general makes life more interesting. But the criticism of a main character for being “white” or “male” or “het” is too much for me. I just want decent characters and I don’t care about their race or gender or sexuality- and I shouldn’t have to. I don’t think it’s right to only ever look skin deep. I know there are other opinions out there- but to me it all ends up sounding like doublespeak. Can’t we just focus on this please:

martin-luther-king

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King

Somehow that message seems to have gotten muddled over time. Because there is another side to this discussion that I just don’t get. And that’s the whole “white people should/shouldn’t write about people of colour” debate. It’s become a damned if you do, damned if you don’t thing. I can’t really see how that kind of thing helps anyone.

Sorry, but arguing “there are too many white people in books” or “too many white authors” sounds pretty damn racist to me- no matter which way you swing it- and I say this as someone who is part of an ethnic minority and doesn’t fit comfortably in the “white” category. (Yeah, I pass for white but am not actually white- shoot me- the Nazis certainly would have)

And that’s all I really have to say on the matter- I know I may have said too much for some people’s liking, but I’m a total maverick that way and think it’s a discussion worth having.

What do you think about this discussion of white people in books? I’d really genuinely like to hear a variety of opinions- so hit me up in the comments below!

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94 thoughts on “The “White People” In Books Debate

  1. Donna says:

    Such an important discussion to have. To me, it’s the general color issue that’s the problem. It should not even be the focus. Should I like a character less because they’re white? I don’t think so. This kind of remark just proves we human haven’t yet gone pass the difference. Because there are no differences. The only “difference” there is is about how we perceive each other and how we like to put people in groups. A white author might not react the same way to an event than let’s say a Black author, therefore there can be differences in their characterisation. But the whole point of making generalizations like the white privileged twats is beyond my understanding. I search for diversity without having to bring other groups down. With only 1 hour of sleep, my little participation might not be clear and I apologize for it :$

    Liked by 5 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Ahh thank you so much- I’m glad you think so! Yeah I definitely agree with that- I can definitely see that and contextualisation is very important and obviously no one has the same life experiences. But it’s still not valid to denigrate one group for the sake of another- like you said it’s good to look for diverse books without feeling the need to put down another. haha don’t worry, it was very clear- I hope you can get some sleep soon!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. lladyliterary says:

    For me, the easiest comparison I can make to this debate in my own realm of experience (as a white/cis/het woman) is radical feminism and misandry. I absolutely believe in feminism, just as I believe absolutely in the importance of diversity and ownvoices, but it’s a thing that’s supposed to be about equality and respect, and then eventually there are people who take it too far, and then it circles back to hate again. People forget that there are male feminists who try to deconstruct and understand their privileges as men, just as people forget that there are white people who try to do the same. It’s sad when something that’s meant to be about love for everybody becomes about hate again. Anyway! Great post!

    Liked by 4 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Yeah I understand that one hundred percent as a modern woman who appreciates what feminism has done in the past- but often finds an issue with how these things have become (for some people) negative and frankly a mode of hating men- and I don’t approve of that. I think your point about things circling back again is very important and apt. Like you said, diversity and women’s rights are things I believe in and don’t want to see them used for negativity. Ahh thank you!! So glad you feel that way!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. whatthelog says:

    This is a totally fair criticism – I meant the post to be silly and un-serious, but I realise now that this is a topic that shouldn’t be spoken of lightly. I’m currently studying a huge number of white authors, who are seen by my university as the only literature worth reading. In my frustration with the idea that it is only white, cis, hetero, upper class characters/authors who can be considered Literature with a capital L, I wrote without thinking. I’m going to take your words to heart and think much more about the way I voice my frustration with the continued privileging of white authors, and how diversity within literature should be discussed.

    Liked by 4 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you very much for saying that- it was really big of you and I really respect you all the more for your comment. I can definitely appreciate what you said and I do get why you would feel that way- especially with reference to the literary canon. Having done English at uni, I would say that there are reasons for that which aren’t to do with privileging white authors. Furthermore, I think the academy is going a long way to address these issues- particularly in modern and postcolonial literature courses where there is more of a focus on diversity and (as my friend who has a passion for Asian history found) studying non-Western books in translation. But I can understand your frustrations- I just hope that I’ve offered an alternative perspective. Again thank you so much for your comment- I really appreciate your input.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. MyBookJacket says:

    Can I hug you? Seriously? I’ve unfollowed a few blogs and boggers here and on twitter because of thier nasty racist arguments and every time I point out that it is racism against white people the first thing they say is “You can’t be racist against white people because they are privileged. And this breaks my heart because these are people I genuinely liked till I realised how they actually think! It’s getting out of hand and I don’t know how to handle this anymore because I DO want diversity, I don’t want to punish a whole race for something their ancestors did. Wish we could just focus on good books and great stories!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Bridgett Morigna says:

    I think discounting a character for fitting into certain categories is a problematic and uncomplicated response to a very complicated issue. Diversity in books is great, but there are thousands of ways for characters to be diverse and having a character be white, male and heterosexual doesn’t prevent the character from providing a unique voice in some way not related to race, gender or sexual preference.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. JJAzar says:

    There is no valid argument here. None whatsoever. Everybody has a right to a story. Stories withstand the test of time by their merits, not by the color of their authors and characters. In school, I’ve read books by minority authors (Khaled Hosseini, Zora Neale Hurston, Tennessee Williams) and about minority characters (Wang Lung of The Good Earth, Okonkwo of Things Fall Apart, etc.). And those are just the books I remember off the top of my head. I was also assigned my fair share of Dickens, a white guy who wrote about privilege. And?

    There is no argument here. There are books attributable to every color and creed, but if you read a book for its color or creed, you’re doing it wrong. That’s not the point. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve caught glimpses of this kind of thought around WordPress and I thought I’d throw my word in here because I feel your blog has a strong, forward-thinking community behind it.

    Liked by 5 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you so much for your comment! I one hundred percent agree with you- I read books by diverse authors in school too and it was because they were great books and deserved every bit of merit they get. The same goes for Dickens (who, by the way, grew up poor and had no privileges in childhood)
      Yes precisely- I agree so much!! Thank you!!

      Liked by 2 people

      • JJAzar says:

        I didn’t know that about Dickens. He’s a guy I never enjoyed reading, personally, so I never bothered to look into him any more than I needed to! 😀 And I was certain you would understand, but I wanted to clarify for anyone who may stumble upon the comment. This is an issue I would not like to be understood in.

        Liked by 1 person

        • daleydowning says:

          Most of Dickens’ novels that focused on the wealthy pointed out that lots of people in his culture were mean to the poor, or hypocritical, and sometimes he liked to show that people born to a life of luxury still had obstacles and struggles, and that indeed money doesn’t buy happiness. It’s why his work is seen as so important all this time later.

          I totally agree that books should be chosen for their literary quality first, and the heritage of the author way down the line, or maybe not at all.

          Liked by 2 people

          • JJAzar says:

            Thank you for enlightening me about Dickens. I hadn’t a clue about his overarching themes or views on wealth and privilege.

            And indeed, when it comes to books pushed “institutionally,” as some would say, my experience has been such that literature of quality comes from all walks of life. As if that could prove shocking to some!

            Liked by 1 person

            • daleydowning says:

              I have really enjoyed some novels from cultures that weren’t my own – and others, if I didn’t, it was purely because I didn’t like the writing style and found it dull – who the author was in terms of ethnicity never had anything to do with it!

              Dickens was quite remarkable, especially for his time period – when no one wanted to hear that the poor were being treated unfairly, and that money wouldn’t solve any problem. My favorite of his is A Tale of Two Cities – which is, interestingly (although it is set against the backdrop of the French Revolution), at its core, a love story!!

              Liked by 2 people

  7. thislifeinbooks says:

    I don’t think it’s racist or wrong to express frustration and disappointment that a system designed by and for white people has led to a world where books are overwhelmingly white, where white is the default, where, in some genres at least (SFF comes to mind) diversity is actively being fought against. As readers, we may try to be color-blind, but the world is not, and it shows every time I walk into a bookstore. To say there are too many white authors is, at least to me, not racist. It’s an acknowledgement that the system is broken, and, though it is getting better, there’s a long way to go.

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      I understand what you’re saying- but I think you have to take historical context into consideration in the western world and consider demographics in order to look at this fairly. I think also that it is incorrect to look at this as a world problem- my friend studied Asian literature when at uni and did not come across books by white authors. I think it would be a shame to ignore the wealth of history in literature around the world and not acknowledge that there are very different markets out there. That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be diversity in Western literature- but that we shouldn’t promote it by putting down other people.

      Liked by 2 people

      • thislifeinbooks says:

        To clarify, my comments were specific to the reading world of which I am a part as an American who only speaks English. I would never attempt to generalize globally.

        In this specifically English-language reading world, even accounting for demographics, diverse voices are underrepresented and white voices are overrepresented. If there are statistics that contradict this, I would be eager to see them. I do not understand how acknowledging this situation puts anyone down or is in any way unfair. Admittedly the message can sometimes be made in less than ideal terms, but I remain convinced it’s important to keep trying to communicate. As a reader, it’s something I try to remind myself of regularly, lest I have a repeat of the year in which “just reading whatever I want” led to my reading only a single book by a person of color.

        Liked by 2 people

        • theorangutanlibrarian says:

          Sure, I understand that- but I think you are misunderstanding me- I was just trying to suggest that there is another perspective and maybe to look internationally for more diverse literature. If you limit yourself to the English speaking world, it will make a difference- considering the historical demographics (And following what you said I did some research on demographics- in the 18th century for instance, when numbers of black people in the UK increased- exaggerated figures would only allow black people to account for 0.4% of the population- using these two sources:
          http://www.localhistories.org/population.html
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_British
          meaning historically you’re looking at very close to 100% of people in Britain being white)
          Fair point- but I have never seen any evidence to suggest what you said is true. I think if you could provide statistics to back up your point, that would be great. Especially correlating this with demographics.
          Either way, I wasn’t saying that diversity shouldn’t be celebrated or that there shouldn’t be more diverse books to reflect changing demographics. But I think you can promote diverse books without saying “let’s have less white people”. There is no need to put someone down for their race.
          I think it’s a shame you feel this way- I couldn’t ever think of a time when that has happened to me. Heck- I did an experiment a while back about this and found there wasn’t even a month when I failed to read something by someone who fit into this category.

          Like

  8. daleydowning says:

    YOU ARE SO RIGHT. (Taking a deep breath…) This is something that drives me %$@#*&^ crazy-mad. To me, it is absolutely just as racist. When it comes to “whites shouldn’t write diversity”, as an author myself, I have these thoughts:

    I am a big supporter of Dr. King’s vision and mission and dream. When it came time to decide if “diversity” would/should? play a part in my fantasy series, I came to the conclusion: yes, because in my story, I am supporting a goal of unity, of people working together despite their differences. I have a discussion in the story about humans not discriminating against faeries (as a metaphor), when the humans and most of the faeries are on the same side. Also, I stated that the organization I invented was international – so I kind of *have* to include other nations/cultures/races – and I think it’s great for, again, promoting the idea of unity.

    Also I won’t shy away from inter-racial relationships, because I want to show that my characters are choosing each other based on the personality traits that draw them together – kindness, humor, work ethic, similar interests, etc. – and that the color of their skin/what country they’re from is purely coincidence.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Ahh thank you so much!!! As a writer I also have some thoughts on that- namely “why on earth would you want me to whitewash my cast?!” and “if I was writing a historical fiction novel set in Celtish Britain would you really expect me to shoehorn diversity in there?”
      Ah I love how you interpreted the issue into your story and use it to promote unity!! I came at it from a different angle- in my high fantasy it’s very much place specific and in my dystopic fantasy it’s pure coincidence and I don’t put any weight on it (though there might be some interesting backstories that have more to do with ancestry than race!) This I think is very similar to your technique and am glad you feel the same way! I love what you said about not shying away from these issues, because I think that is what is most important.

      Like

  9. wonderfilledreads says:

    Can I just say that I completely agree with you?! This entire diversity argument has become a damned if you do and damn if you don’t. These people will never be okay with anything, they will always find some kind of fault. I’m all for diversity in my reading, I love seeing it! But I can’t expect every single book to be entirely diverse or written by a marginalized person, even though the majority of YA is written by women who are technically a marginalized minority!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. thesarahdoughty says:

    I’m always the one to want to know the character and what they must struggle with throughout their journey. And as a white woman that has a black woman as a big role in my books (even being the heroine in one of them) I did a lot of research, interviews, and observations before I delved into her mind and told her story. I wanted it to be as authentic as possible to her character. She dealt with being in a small rural town in Indiana and the problems that came with it, on top of everything else. It was her character, how she handled things, and how she thought, that mattered to me. I think when you’re writing about someone of a different race, you need to understand how different something might be for them, especially if you’ve never experienced it for yourself. Otherwise, I don’t see how the color of someone’s skin is going to matter when it comes to the story.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Liam @ Hey Ashers! says:

    Diversity in books will (unfortunately) never not be an incredibly important topic of discussion.

    I think my reply’s going to be pretty long, so let me first get on my knees and beg for your patience. And here, have preparatory snacks: 🍎🌮🍩

    You asked, “What do you think about this discussion of white people in books?” If we’re specifically and only talking about this blogger’s (hyperbolic) demand that white people disappear from literature entirely, and we’re ignoring the fact that she was speaking hyperbolically: yes, of course her demand is ridiculous and racist. But her statement is in fact hyperbolic, an exaggerated outburst of frustration and anger at what really is a big problem: the prioritizing of white characters, authors, and narratives over people of color characters, authors, and narratives.

    And surely we all agree that that IS a big problem, one that has serious, negative consequences for authors and readers and society at large.

    Thank god, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone (seriously, genuinely, non-hyperbolically) argue there are too many white authors and characters. Instead, I’ve heard people frame their frustrations as “there are too few POC in books, too few POC authors.”

    I also don’t think I’ve heard anyone (seriously, genuinely) state that white authors shouldn’t write about people of color. Instead, I’ve heard people demand that white authors employ and heed the advice of (preferably a large number of) beta readers who are members of whatever community the author is writing about. White Christian author writing a book with a Muslim protagonist? Hire eight or ten or twelve Muslim beta readers! If even one of them has a problem with something you wrote, you discuss it with them, learn from them, and fix the problem. It’s significantly harder to do, like, online or book research of a cultural experience than of a setting; the only way to truly make sure you do someone’s cultural experience justice is to learn from people who live that experience–to show readers from that community your work and get their feedback. I don’t think that’s too much to ask of white authors, any more than I think it’s too much to ask that fantasy authors invest time and effort in their worldbuilding.

    Maybe I’ve just been living in a sheltered corner of the Internet, where those totally-for-serious “get rid of all the white people in books” and “white people shouldn’t write POC” voices haven’t reached? If so: I’m glad for my cozy corner!

    But even if there are dozens of voices shouting totally-for-serious racist things about how white people should be removed from books, etc., those voices aren’t nearly as powerful, nor will have they nearly the impact, as the white majority’s voice has had in the past, has in the present, and probably will continue to have for quite some time into the future. (I’m of course speaking of the English-speaking publishing industry here.) Yeah, hearing a some anti-white voices sucks (racism isn’t a good thing, no matter which side it falls on), but white authors, characters, and narratives aren’t likely to be severely negatively affected by them.

    As for not liking the “whining of privileged twats,” I’ll admit I actually agree with the original blogger. I tend to think stories about, say, some wealthy handsome intelligent white man struggling to find meaning and fulfillment in his perfect life, or a gorgeous white teen girl angstily competing against other gorgeous white teen girls for the gorgeous white prince’s hand in marriage (while literally nothing else happens in the story, because snagging that man is all that matters–other than maintaining the perfect figure, of course), are rather insipid and uninteresting. But that’s just my own reading preference, and everyone’s tastes are different!

    Of course, all of these are just my personal opinions, and I hope you take them with a grain of salt. Also, thank you for putting up with my constant rambling; your patience is stellar. 😅

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Phew- long comment- gonna need all your snacks! Hopefully I can get through all your points- let me know if I miss anything.
      Hmm I think that you can understand why I might criticise this though- if the hyperbole had been aimed at any other group, people would have jumped on it. (Again, I say this as someone that doesn’t fit comfortably into this category- I’m not giving anyone any special treatment here- just calling it as it is)
      I would need, however, a little more evidence that white characters, authors, and narratives over people of colour characters, authors, and narratives are prioritised- it’s quite a statement to make- because that would imply active discrimination. If that is the case, that would indeed be terrible. I have always personally suspected that lower numbers of diverse books has to do with not enough people from different backgrounds writing and probably something to do with socio-economic issues that affect society as a whole (which need to be addressed in general), rather than a concerted effort by the publishing industry. Unfortunately, I have never found any data around this. Has there been a study that analyses the stats, whilst taking into consideration a number of factors beyond race/sexuality/etc that would account for lower numbers of books? Also any exact figures just so I know how big the problem is? I genuinely would like to see something like that (cos I’m a nerd). Either way, the solution in that case would be to encourage more poc to write and promote their work- not put anyone else down- which seems counterproductive
      Yeah- sure that makes sense about beta readers- I had someone earlier telling me how they as a white woman wrote an urban fantasy with a black female protagonist and explained the extensive research they did for it. Like you said- fantasy authors go to a lot of effort for world-building, contemporaries should be shown the same level of care.
      Well sure- that makes sense- I think the issue I took was the correlation of that with white people. I don’t want to read about twats in general!
      No problem! Just to reiterate- I can understand why people would want to promote diversity for sure. That’s totally their prerogative- and I never argued against such a thing. But- this doesn’t need to be at the expense of anyone else. There’s plenty of room on the shelves for everyone!
      Hope I was clear there and that you can put up with my rambling!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Liam @ Hey Ashers! says:

        You deserve all the delicious snacks! *Piles them upon you.* 😄

        “[Promoting diversity] doesn’t need to be at the expense of anyone else. There’s plenty of room on the shelves for everyone!”

        AMEN. This really is the fundamental, underlying truth: we need billions of books available for each and every race, and religion, and sexuality, etc., forever, without cutting back on representation for anyone else in the process. And thank goodness the internet (and ebook readers) provides a great platform for tons of new, diverse voices to be heard and spread around.

        I know this isn’t what you meant, but quick tangent: I do worry that there’s not as much physical shelf-space in physical bookstores as there is online, though. I know when I scan the YA shelves in Barnes & Noble, the majority of the books available are by and about white people. Shelf space for books by and about POC seems to be at a much higher premium than I’d like it to be! But that’s a toootally different topic, and not one I know much about. (I’d love to hear from a bookseller who does, though!)

        It’s true, racist hyperbole is never a good thing, and will always raise people’s hackles. You’re right, I can definitely see why you criticize such language; it should definitely be called out as the unproductive, racist, harmful language it is. I guess I tend to be more forgiving of (anti-majority) hyperbolic language when I think it’s clear that the person is just venting and doesn’t literally mean what they’re saying. (Not that that makes what they’re saying GOOD, of course. I just don’t get too offended by it. Am I making sense? *Sweats.*)

        There have been a few (but not nearly enough) surveys of the racial breakdown of the people involved in the publishing industry. This one (http://blog.leeandlow.com/2016/01/26/where-is-the-diversity-in-publishing-the-2015-diversity-baseline-survey-results/) is a major, recent, often-quoted survey of the industry, which finds it overall composed of 79% white people, and breaks that number down by levels/departments (86% white executive level, 82% white editorial department, 83% white sales, 77% white marketing and publicity, 89% white book reviewers). In contrast, the industry contains 4% black people overall, just as an example. The survey features gorgeous pie charts, FYI. (I love pie charts.)

        There are also quite a number of well-written articles out there (search “race in the publishing industry,” etc) on the topic, particularly regarding POCs’ first-person accounts of the discrimination and resistance to diversity they’ve faced at all levels. A common refrain you’ll find is: white literary agents, editors, publishers, marketing agents, and executives can be unconsciously more inclined to work with white authors and publishing white stories; even if they don’t realize they’re doing it, it still has an impact on how many POC stories get published. I think that this isn’t “active discrimination” if by that you mean these white people are consciously engaged in a concerted effort to prevent minority stories from being told–but it’s still discrimination. The fact that it’s subconscious doesn’t make it less discriminationy.

        Those first-person accounts can make for upsetting reading, that’s for sure. But I don’t think I can cite any specific study titled, like, EXACT PERCENTAGES TO ILLUSTRATE IN PRECISE DETAIL HOW RACISM ADVERSELY AFFECTS POC WITHIN THE PUBLISHING AND BOOK-LOVING INDUSTRY, although that study would be amazing! Here’s hoping that study comes along soon.

        Diverse beta-readers are life-savers, that’s for sure! I’m genuinely excited to see that they’re becoming more common, and easier for authors to locate.

        You’re right, automatically dismissing all white people as twats is ridiculous. (Even though plenty of white people ARE twats, and I seem to find quite a few books about them per year. Maybe we can make #getthosetwatsoffmyshelves2017 a thing? Twats of all races can be eligible! I guess that’s kind of long for a hashtag, though. Um.) I just read the sentence in question differently; I thought she was talking about white whining twats in particular, not all white protagonists ever!

        Thank you for chatting with me like this, by the way. I love that we can agree on the fundamentals (diversity is great!) even when we approach the topic from different angles. ❤

        Liked by 2 people

        • theorangutanlibrarian says:

          Well from the short time I spent working in a failing bookshop, they always put the newest books at the front- when I was there it was about fifty copies of the Danish Girl, cos that was in the cinemas (they were always looking to flog to people that just wanted “whatever’s big right now” to talk about at some dinner party :/ ) But that’s from my limited experience in a very small bookshop!! And I do agree that there’s never enough physical bookshelf space!! *sighs* why can’t all the world be a bookshop/library?!
          Yeah I do get that- and I completely get the sentiment- because of my background it doesn’t offend me personally, but cos of that, in a way, it makes me more aware of it… does that make sense?
          Thank you so much for sending me that!! (FYI I love piecharts too!!) I’ve been able to get quite a few studies together from doing this post- and that’s always a great thing 🙂 (like I said I’m a nerd- to me this is fun)
          Largely agree with what you’re saying- and definitely seems like there’s a discrepancy- have to be honest though, I’ve never been that wholly convinced unconscious bias argument- I mean, most people don’t think about it too much when they’re biased, sure, but it’s usually a bit more tangible than that. It’s hard to put a finger on it exactly- so I get why people would say it comes down to unconscious bias. But the argument falls apart if we want to hold people accountable for their actions and actually effect change- if it is unconscious, can we really blame people for it? I think bias usually shows itself more consciously and it’s best not to tar everybody with the same brush (am I making sense- because I feel like this is amateur psychology hour?)
          hahahaha oh my god we need that hashtag so badly!! Although can we keep Holden Caulfield- I know he’s a stereotypical twat, but I actually really love hating him 😉 haha no she was talking about white people being whining twats.
          You’re welcome! Absolutely ❤

          Liked by 2 people

          • Liam @ Hey Ashers! says:

            Yeah, bookstores gotta make money, and featuring what’s already popular or the current topic of discussion seems too be the easy go-to.

            “*sighs* why can’t all the world be a bookshop/library?!”

            AMEN. Let’s take over the world with this as our platform. It’ll be glorious!

            “because of my background it doesn’t offend me personally, but cos of that, in a way, it makes me more aware of it… does that make sense?”

            Yep! I think it does.

            Aw yeah, pie chart love.

            “I’ve never been that wholly convinced unconscious bias argument”

            It’s definitely hard (impossible?) to prove when and exactly how someone is subject to unconscious biases, especially random Internet laypeople like us. Unfortunately! Wow, life on the Internet (not to mention offline) would be so much easier if that weren’t the case.

            “if it is unconscious, can we really blame people for it?”

            Hm, I think my response to this (potentially rhetorical?) question would depend on the definition of “blame.” If blame means to yell at them and tell them they’re awful people, and tell them they’re guilty of ruining the lives of the people they feel subconscious prejudice against–definitely not.

            I do think that when people exhibit symptoms of their subconscious prejudice, they should gently and delicately be informed of it (depending on the situation and their relationship with you, etc), and then held accountable for their future behavior.

            Jut as an example, if someone I know pretty well shows a prejudice around me, I might say something along the lines of, “Hey, I know you’re not a bad or mean person or anything, but the words you just used/the thing you just did/the logic you just used was actually vaguely racist, because [reason]. I know it can be really hard to tell when something’s kind of racist, and it’s super easy to accidentally fall into that kind of language/behavior/reasoning, so I just wanted to let you know so you’re more aware of saying/doing that thing in the future.” (And I’d say all this in a non-threatening, non-accusatory way, because threats and accusations make people defensive and less open-minded, and because I’m a delicate soul who wilts in confrontations.)

            If that person pauses to reflect on what they said or did, hopefully they’ll be like, “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I hadn’t thought about that.” And then they’d be more careful about it in the future. On the other hand, if the person scoffs, “I’m not RACIST,” dismisses my observations, and continues to show those subconscious biases–then there’s a problem. It’s impossible to confront and fix your own biases when you refuse to acknowledge they exist (universal “you” here, not you specifically, of course).

            I believe that everyone’s at least a little bit racist (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RovF1zsDoeM), making itty-bitty tiny judgments about other races and religions, etc., that might never be big enough to see the light of day. It’s human nature to (a) judge other people, and (b) be more comfortable with the people of your own group (race, nationality, age, gender, religion, sexuality, hobby-type, etc). And that’s okay! It’s human. But sometimes those tiny prejudices do affect other people (like a white publisher subconsciously preferring to publish white stories), and in those cases the prejudice should be pointed out and corrected.

            So it worries me that white people and mainly-white institutions–like the publishing industry in America–might be thick with people who are unaware of their quiet biases. I think it’s important to gently educate them (not, “HEY, YOU’RE RACIST,” but, “Hey, that thing you said/did/tend to do comes across as vaguely racist, and has a negative affect on the POC around you”), and then hold them accountable once they’ve been educated.

            If you do end up Googling “race in the publishing industry,” you’ll find those awful first-hand accounts of minority people facing discrimination, including more concrete examples than the single one I mentioned. Things like minority authors being told that their story wasn’t accepted because there’s no market for “that type of story” (simply because it featured a minority protagonist–which is total bullshit, because obviously the market exists; it’s just not currently making as much money as the market for gorgeous white people doing gorgeous white people things–and won’t be able to make as much money until significantly more diverse books are being published), or authors finding their books shelved in bookstores and libraries in the “multicultural” section instead of the general “sci-fi” or “historical” or “children” or “memoir” or whatever section. And on, and on. Like I said, it doesn’t make for fun reading, but I think theses stories are important to read and be aware of.

            “(am I making sense- because I feel like this is amateur psychology hour?)”

            Ahaha, you are making sense–and we make very good-looking amateur psychologists, if I say so myself. 😄

            Don’t hate me, but I’ve never read The Catcher in the Rye. But of course Holden Caulfield is your precious hate-ee and must be safe from all future twat-purging. It’s cathartic to have at least a few twats around to loathe!

            😊

            Liked by 1 person

            • theorangutanlibrarian says:

              haha yes!!
              Yeah- you are right on this- it’s just something I’ve been trying to thrash out lately- I’m trying to be more optimistic about people if that makes sense? haha and yes that was a rhetorical question (with quite subversively emotive language- I certainly don’t intend on ever going up to someone and saying “hey you- you know that thing you said- well you’re to blame for the world’s problems!” 😉 )
              oh yes I can understand that- unfortunately I know this from first and second hand (aka what people have told me) experience- so sadly it doesn’t surprise me in any way. :/
              hahahaha yes indeed!!
              haha don’t worry- it’s kind of a hit or miss book for most people. Exactly!! There are so many books where I hate some, if not all of the main characters (Gatsby, Kite Runner, Atonement) but I need these “people” in my life as target practice for my loathing 😉 (wow that sounded weird!)

              Liked by 1 person

  12. hiraethforthepages says:

    Love the discussion! Personally for me, I love it when there is diversity within a book – not necessarily because of the skin colour or the sexuality but just more the inclusion of the community and the diversity within it. Of course, there’s going to be exceptions dependent on where the book takes place (and when) and the demographics within it but in reality, the places in which a lot of these books take place DO have a diverse community. My issue isn’t necessarily the race of the people within the book because if I’m reading a book in which no race is issued than I don’t have much problem to raise! I just feel like diversity of a community that truly is diverse means that there is no exclusion or specific choosing.

    I completely agree that those comments in pulling ‘white people’ as the pet peeve isn’t helping anyone and it makes me so sad as well. The focus in diversity shouldn’t be putting race groups down, it should be promoting diversity more! I do see the double standard that white people have to be diverse but they can’t include PoC characters and cultures and I find that this is also really wrong. I like the promotion of diversity and I think that to include this diversity, research should be endorsed to make sure that it is suitable and appropriate.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. My Tiny Obsessions says:

    YES YES YES!!!! Lately there’s a discussion about every single thing. Whether there aren’t POC characters, or they are not well written, or they are whatever… there’s always some problem! I look around me – and I have a diverse enough background and context – but my family and close friends are “boring” and not that diverse… and I’m sure that’s the case of a lot of people. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong, so why does this representation is books makes it wrong? I rather have well written characters and story. I don’t really know when this community became so judgmental, to be honest.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Transhaan says:

    AMEN!! 😀 Short and sweet. This was most needed and I’m glad to hear your thoughts on the matter. Since I’ve started blogging I started to hear this whole diversity issue come out of the blue. The racism was indeed going both ways, even if people thought that advocating #diversity and promoting non-White authors was the way to go. I’m really glad to see someone who sees the full picture and completely understands the issues at hand. Thanks for sharing! 😛

    – Lashaan

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Zezee says:

    I agree that it’s racist to say such a thing. I like the diverse reads movement that’s all the rage now but I think some people take things too far sometimes are racist and sexist while trying to promote the need for more diversity in books and other media. Just because a someone is of the minority group doesn’t mean that person can’t be racist or sexist toward others.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. 50th Ward Follies says:

    I agree. Anti-white bias seems to be everywhere, and you hit the mark–it’s both racist and sad. People who should know better and who wouldn’t for one minute consider all blacks or all Latinos to be the same have no trouble whatever lumping all whites together–both the working class and the elites are tarred with the same brush. It’s the real lesson of the Trump victory–white people are hurting, too. The media elites of all colors derided the non-college white voter as an ignoramus bound to vote for Trump because he/she is at heart a white supremacist; none of these reporters or commentators applied similar standards to the non-college Black or Latino voter. In an intervie broadcast last week, President Obama expressed the opinion that America is now “a little browner” as if its being less white is a great achievement — although he didn’t say why fewer whites is such a good idea. It’s too bad that we can’t recognize merit without giving it a color. In the end, it makes us all a bit less human, doesn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Yes it’s a real problem- I don’t think it’s good to have prejudice about people period. It’s just wrong in general to lump all people in as the same- especially because of something they can’t control like race. It’s not like everybody thinks the same. Plus, like you said white working class people also have it hard. I think the biggest flaw with this argument is that it hinges on “privilege” theory- which under any other guise would be seen as very similar to the methods used by both the Soviets and the Nazis to claim someone else had privilege and therefore it was right to take it away from them (and start oppressing them). This kind of politics is divisive and the road to disaster. I one hundred percent agree with you- it’s very far removed from the ideal of not getting bogged down with race.

      Like

      • amermelstein says:

        Yet at the same time, we can’t ignore the fact that racism is a problem and that socially, historically, and culturally it’s been perpetrated by white people against people from other backgrounds. It’s associated with feelings of superiority, and yes, privilege, and historically white people have had that privilege even taking it at knife point, which is why it’s pretty difficult to accuse other cultures of racism against white people. Racism is more than prejudice or bias, it’s creating systems of oppression based on race, which can’t happen if you’re not in a position of power. Pointing out that there’s a problem with discounting other narratives besides the white working class is not racist. The country is not less white than it was before, it’s just that the white narrative is now living side by side and even being challenged by other narratives by people from other backgrounds. I think that’s something to celebrate. It’s these kind of talks and debates that help to challenge preconceived ideas and help us to judge people as the people they are and by no other criteria. For now though, discounting color is just as damaging as openly judging by color. We can’t forget that people are influenced by their backgrounds and biases. Since we don’t live in a color blind world, we have to recognize that racism exists, prejudice exists, and that by discounting a person’s racial and ethnic background, we do ignore a piece of who they are. And though I would love to say that some day none of it will matter–to forget where we’ve been could mean that we could get to that point again. Stories, books, are a way for us to remember. And the more kinds of them that are out there the better, in my opinion!

        Like

        • theorangutanlibrarian says:

          I have to disagree with you about your point on racism- I do not agree with the neo-Marxist redefinition of racism. Racism is simply prejudice based on race. To expand the definition actually opens the floor to racism- put simply, arguing that people have privilege had historically been used to oppress people (the Nazis did it to the Jews, Soviets did it to anyone with property etc) the country is actually less white according to censuses- but sure that’s something to celebrate.

          Like

  17. amermelstein says:

    This is such an interesting topic! Thanks for writing about it. I happen to agree with you. A character is more than their background–they are the sum of their choices, they are their voices and fears and desires. These are both related to their background and not related, individual and social. I think that diversity in books is so important–stories are important–and it’s great to find characters that look like you because it makes you feel like your own stories are important. I think what people really mean when they “dislike” or have a “pet peeve” against a particular kind of character is that they can’t identify with those characters. Sometimes that’s a problem with the writing, and sometimes it’s just a matter of not making a connection. As a reader you’re entitled to make those kinds of choices, and you’re entitled to support diverse authors. It’s easy to get discouraged about lack of diversity, but the lack of it does not make a book inherently bad, it’s just different. Is Pride and Prejudice a bad book because it’s all white or heteronormative? Diversity is an important thing to consider, but there’s other great qualities of books. I think judging a book on an individual basis without writing it off because you haven’t liked that kind of character in the past is the best way to do things. The best thing you can be as a reader is open-minded.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thanks for reading! Yes I agree. And yup, I get that about the pet peeve- the problem only arises when you have a problem with an entire race. Well pride and prejudice is written in a time when close to 100% of the population in the UK was white, so I wouldn’t really think it’s a good idea to level those sorts of charges against it- and as you said it’s a good book regardless. Yes true. Yeah definitely good to be open minded

      Like

  18. collegeramblingsblog says:

    I find it interesting that this debate centers around Western culture. The groups of people protesting “too many white characters” coming out of primarily white countries such as Canada and the United States, those same groups would never go to Asia and protest “too many Asian characters” in Asian literature.

    I understand the want and need for diversity in literature when it is a representation of a culture at a certain point in time. Western societies are becoming more diverse so it makes sense that our media should as well. However, that doesn’t mean the largest part of the population shouldn’t be represented; along the same lines, characters shouldn’t be blindly hated because they represent that majority.

    It’s hypocritical to call for diversity while simultaneously criticizing and boycotting people of a certain race. I think it would be more beneficial to simply support the authors creating content you identify with rather than censoring the ones you don’t.

    I appreciate your take on the situation, and I definitely agree that people should seek to identify with people of like minds rather than like appearances.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you so much for your comment! Yes one hundred percent agree with your there- what I’ve always said to people about that is to give ancient Asian literature a go if they’re so concerned with over representation of white people in, say 18th century Britain (which was close to 100% white) not that people tend to like that answer, but it is a practical solution.
      As you said it’s completely understandable to want to have representation in modern society, but like you said, that doesn’t mean blindly hating the largest part of the population. Yes exactly- to me that’s discrimination plain and simple. Yes that’s something I definitely agree- it should be about positively encouraging people to read outside their comfort zone or reading books you identify with.
      Thank you- I wholeheartedly agree- thank you so much for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

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