Trying to understand others’ experiences can feel like an impossible task, but it can be as easy as switching up your reading list.
As we approach the end of a semester, some of us will begin to search for some great summer novels. But instead of picking up familiar books and reading about stories that reflect things you’re already interested in, try branching out. We often get swept into reading work with a somewhat similar background or life story to our own. But we should reach for books that give us a new perspective, one that teaches us something about a different culture or that is written by someone of a different ethnicity.
Books allow us to view the world through a different lens, potentially bearing witness to racial and/or class hardships. A single author’s experience cannot speak for an entire community, but the perspectives they implicitly bring from their backgrounds — especially their racial or ethnic background — can still be enlightening. It’s difficult to gain a rich, diverse perspective if we only cling to books that align with our reality. It’s great to read books with white protagonists, but we consume white perspectives everywhere, through movies, television and everyday life. When whiteness is the default, reading authors of color becomes even more necessary.
The publishing industry is overwhelmingly white, with only 14 percent being authors of color. Although there are few writers of color, they do exist — and we should be listening to their stories.
For example, Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize winner in literature and black author, writes about the ramifications of slavery on the black community, and Junot Diaz, Pulitzer Prize winner and Dominican author, writes about his experience as an immigrant and a Dominican man. If you’re into nonfiction, Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” is a great read that can offer readers an alternative perspective in terms of viewing the prison system in a different light.
If you prefer works of fiction, you may be interested in Octavia Butler’s sci-fi novel “Fledgling,” which explores race and sexuality through the perspective of a young female vampire. Although the publishing industry is skewed in favor of white authors, we should not discount minority writers because their work is critical in contributing to the array of human perspectives books can provide. Authors of color are just as entertaining as their white counterparts, and their works allow a glimpse into their communities.
Ignorance is not bliss, because it only fosters bigotry. Empathy is the only weapon we need to fight intolerance, and books are our greatest means to do so.
McLean is a english senior from Houston.