Identifying Racist Books

With the necessary ever-expanding discussion surrounding diversity in books and myriad resources available online, we readers have fewer and fewer excuses to ignore or not recognize harmful representation in books of marginalized groups of which we are not a part. For example, in just the past few months, multiple books have been identified as containing significant racist content but continue to get positive reviews and sales. As a white, straight, able-bodied, cisgender woman, I can never truly know the experience of others note in these privileged groups. However, there are plenty of ways that I can educate myself on different experiences and how to identify harmful representation.

First is sitting down and listening. I follow a great number of awesome activists, readers, and reviewers that read and call out problematic books and discuss the surrounding issues. If you are not part of a particular group, listen to the call outs without getting defensive and without jumping in to add your two cents. I’ve learned that the more defensive I feel about a particular conversation, the more I need to dig into and reflect upon the issue being discussed (this is done quietly by myself). As non-members of particular group, our part in the discussion is to promote marginalized voices and help spread the education to others with our own experiences. Below is a woefully short list to get you started on Twitter.

Next, pay attention to the reviewers when a well-received book is being called out. If a large contingent of white reviewers are praising a book that a black woman has identified as racist, then there is an problem with the book. Use the resources available to you; Google is your friend when you want to know more about why a book is being called out. While many in the book community are gracious enough to educate, they do not owe us their time or that education. Want to learn about the racism in two initially well-received YA books, Carve the Mark and The Continent? Read Justina Ireland’s blog post here instead of asking her or others about it. (Also skip The Black Witch — both racist and homophobic. See more here from @b00kstorebabe). When seeking information about a problematic book, don’t stop with one point of view. All groups contain a wide range of experiences and voices, and listening to multiple voices will facilitate a broader understanding. Some members of a group may not have a problem with a book, but this does not remotely invalidate the other members that do.

I still have many books on my TBR shelf that contain racist, homophobic, and other problematic themes. Some am I aware of, and some I am most certainly not. Do I read the books that are problematic? In some cases, the answer will be no. I will remove the book from my shelf and move on to something more inclusive. However, in some cases, my privilege will still allow for my interest in the book. In these cases, I will take the problematic content into account when rating (or not rate at all), and I will strive not to discuss those books without reference to that content. This plan is aspirational, and I know I will still get it wrong. The bottom line is that we must take care not to promote problematic books.

While a post on the creators I support on Patreon is coming, one I especially recommend checking out is The Bookavid. Her posts on problematic issues and allyship are an important part of my continuing education, and I recommend checking out her work.

This is one of my first forays into discussing these issues, so I apologize for anything I got wrong or took out of context (and please let me know). A major goal with this post and this blog is to promote marginalized voices and share what I’ve learned with others like me wanting to learn. Let me know some of the awesome people you follow on Twitter that contribute to your education!

~Virginia