Full disclosure: You shouldn’t be reading this. I am a straight white male. I actually had to look up “cis,” but I’m pretty sure that applies to me as well. I’ve never directly asked my parents if I was born a dude, and I’ve never seen a picture of my birth-penis, but I’m going to go ahead and assume I’ve always been a male.
This week, some writer I’ve never heard of named K.T. Bradford encouraged everyone to stop reading white, straight, cis male authors for a full year.
I’m also going to confess that the majority of books I’ve read in my life have been written by white people. Probably more male than female. Probably more straight than gay. Probably more cis than trans. Not that I ever spend my time looking up the sexuality of an author. I try to read what sounds good to me rather than discriminate against authors because their hair is a certain color or because they prefer the company of boys, girls, house plants, or farm animals. I’ve never once decided not to read a book because of the gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, or sexual preference of the author. Maybe that’s just me.
Back to K.T. Bradford. I don’t think her challenge goes far enough. In fact, it seems like a non-challenge. While it may sound like she’s trying to spread diversity, she’s actually doing no such thing. Her article makes it clear that she only quit white male authors because she wants to read authors who relate to her, and she universally rejects the writing of all straight, white males. Because of course all straight, white males write exactly the same way about exactly the same stuff, and they all discriminate against everyone else while they’re doing it. (On a side note, I’m not really sure how it’s a “challenge” to stop reading stuff you don’t like, but that’s cool.)
Hey, I don’t think anyone should spend their time trying to slog through stories they don’t like. After all, the amount of time you have to read is pretty limited. You can only read a finite number of books in your lifetime, so why read stuff that pisses you off?
When I taught high school English, we tried to work more diverse voices into our curriculum. In fact, one year, we even decided to rename a class “Diverse Voices.” But there was one big problem. We were actually doing a major disservice to our students (mostly white, mostly straight, mostly cis). Instead of giving them good books to read by these diverse voices, we grabbed any old book that was written by someone who wasn’t a white male. That wasn’t going to solve any problems. If anything, this only served to discourage these students from reading non-white literature.
KT Bradford’s challenge isn’t going to solve any problems either. In reality, she doesn’t even want me to read more books by non-white, non-straight, non-male authors. I’m not her target audience. In fact, by her logic, I should only read books by straight, white males. But I don’t see much to gain from that. I actually do want to challenge myself as a reader.
But why just give up straight white male authors? Let’s make this a real challenge. Here are 10 things you can do to make your reading even more rewarding.
1. Don’t read anything that contains any straight, white, or male characters.
2. Don’t read anything that was published or edited by straight, white males.
3. Don’t read anything that uses the letters M, A, L, or E.
4. Don’t read anything that is published on white paper (or a white background for digital publications).
5. Don’t read anything that a straight, white male read, reviewed, purchased, or viewed on Amazon.
6. Don’t read anything written by an author whose name or lifestyle resembles that of a straight, white male.
7. Don’t read anything written by an author who has straight, white male friends.
8. Don’t read anything written by an author who has read the works of a straight, white male within the past 10 years.
9. Don’t read anything written by an author who was ever taught by a straight, white male.
10. Don’t read anything that uses words that sound like something a straight, white male might say.
Or, if you want to really step up the challenge, you can just stop reading completely. Because no matter what you read, you’re bound to find something that annoys you.
Or, here’s an even better solution: rather than trying to exclude certain voices in order to become more diverse, why not try to include more voices? If we’re talking about becoming better readers, better writers, and better people, we can’t do it by shutting out the voices that challenge us or make us feel uncomfortable.
Don’t waste your time with K.T. Bradford’s non-challenge. Do yourself a real favor and find good books by authors you otherwise wouldn’t have read. For your next book, get out of your comfort zone. But most of all, keep reading and keep supporting writers no matter what they might look like.
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