I’m thrilled to have a guest post by Guin Thomas! Guin is one half of the Twinjas, who write as G.L. Thomas. Their debut, The Mark of Noba, was pretty darn great and you should totally check it out.
Guinevere Thomas is one half of Twinja Book Reviews, a book blog that celebrates diversity in books by day, and slays ninjas by night. Diversity is her strong point. Procrastination is her weak point. Chat books with her on Twitter @dos_twinjas where she joins her partner in crime to tweet about diversity in books and media. Be sure to visit her official site www.gltomas.net
You learn a lot about yourself when you’re put in a room where you’re the only person that looks or is like you. You try to be strong. You try to get through it as unaffected as those around you. But nothing tests your strength more than a situation like that when you come from a marginalized group.
I’m reminded of an event I went to last year. It was a grassroots blogger conference celebrating children’s and YA literature. Their theme was diversity, so that aspect brought it to life, so even though I was in a foreign place, I was in an element I was comfortable in.
I remind myself of a moment when a prolific self published author spoke about how women who weren’t of color reviewed her books. This particular author writes amazing books for children. I don’t think they appeal to every demographic, but they appeal to the demographic most important to her. Young, Black and inner-city.
I think it’s been said by Malinda Lo before (in a four part essay no less), about the perception of books that are inclusive, when they’re reviewed by groups that don’t understand them. The author at the conference wished that when bloggers reviewed books, they admitted their biases in the reviews.
We all have it. Bias. It’s not always a bad thing to have bias, or at least for me it isn’t. When I review a book, I feel inclined to state where I’m coming from. When I write, I feel inclined to state where I’m coming from. I do this because I think it’s important to understand that I may not always get something. I may not be meant to. I may not always be a target audience for something, and that’s ok.
To this day, I still don’t understand a lot of experiences my boyfriend has. He is the epitome of White privilege. Male, cis, straight, abled, White. Hell, he’s even blue-eyed and blond haired. I’m not saying we’re an awkward fit, but our experiences and biases are way different. He can’t turn on a tv without something being geared toward him. Advertisement, media, opportunities. In the United States, everything is made for him. He didn’t grow up rich, but he benefits from all the things that I don’t.
So he can’t always see the issues that other marginalized groups face. People of color learn about race a lot quicker than White people. Queer people learn about homophobia a lot quicker than straight people (as well as people of different genders learning sooner than cisgender). People with disabilities learn about Ableism much quicker, and to be honest the list can keep going on. I speak on the level of a person of color because that’s the identity that I feel the strongest toward.
I don’t want to come down on White people, but as a person of color, I just don’t have the power to combat racism. I can only make my voice heard, which is still a powerful tool. But I still fall under one of the most brutalized, taken advantage of, misinterpreted groups since the Americas were colonized. My eyes, my bias, will always have that feeling of being powerless. You can disagree. But consider this.
While this counts for all marginalized groups, I see it more through the eyes of a person of color. We don’t have real power to protect ourselves. Our image, our lives, our children, our communities…
A Black person never dies in this country without being dragged through the dirt weeks after their death. There are a lot of people who still don’t see that Black Lives Matter comes from pain, and that many feel voicing our pain isn’t enough to people. No one has ever disagreed and said All lives didn’t matter, but BLM is a movement that’s just trying to voice, that we don’t feel ours do in comparison. People still need to view a video of a teenager getting gun down for our pain to feel real to people. Reasons like that make us feel like we need receipts of our pain to matter.
What does this have to do with books? Everything. We have so few effective tools to teach children. We’re living in a world that’s greatly affected by our generation before it. -Isms were a norm for them, so we inherit it. Sometimes our most memorable teachers are loved ones.
I didn’t read diversely much as a kid. As a kid I was into R.L. Stine, and as a preteen I was a Stephen King nut (no one ever believes me. But at 11, I never slept). Whatever I learned about culture different from mine was in a book. It was before the internet, so books were the only interesting, tasteful source of literature there was (I was also a teeny bopper, and loved teen magazines. Not very sophisticated). No one looked like me, and the ones that did were never Cuban, or had more than a few lines, but I was content with scraps for representation.
This is where I show my hood side, but I just gotta quote Nicki Minaj right quick.
“You’re in videos with black men, and you’re bringing out black women on your stages, but you don’t want to know how black women feel about something that’s so important? Come on, you can’t want the good without the bad. If you want to enjoy our culture and our lifestyle, bond with us, dance with us, have fun with us, twerk with us, rap with us, then you should also want to know what affects us, what is bothering us, what we feel is unfair to us. You shouldn’t not want to know that.”
And I apply that to every marginalization I don’t belong to. I’m learning to be a better ally. I think I make mistakes as an ally sometimes. In the past, I’ve wanted change so bad, I may have spoke in spaces that would’ve been better coming from someone who knew better than me, experienced it for themselves, instead of me joining in to speak. I’ve learned to amplify voices when it’s not my conversation to have, and have my seat when it’s time to be silent.
I’m not disabled, I’m not a religion that receives heavy scrutiny. I’m American born, I’m cisgender. I realize this isn’t a lot of privilege, but it’s still privilege. For voices that often get silenced in the conversation about inclusion, I should want to know what affects them in their community. I want to know how life treats them, what bothers them, I need to know the good and the bad.
I learned the most about inclusion and diversity in books as an adult. When it’s done wrong, when it’s done right, who should do it, who should steer clear. A lot of this is gray for me. I want silenced voices to be at the forefront, and receiving credit in the ways they’re often ignored. But I also want to still matter in lit where it’s not from a marginalized group too. This has been said so many times, most people can recite it verbatim, but kids who are White, straight, cis, abled, the whole she-bang, they need to see us, before we become a hashtag.
Our experiences shape whatever biases we have. But inclusion in books is a small step toward expanding our limited thinking. I remember being at Barnes & Noble and overhearing two sisters requesting a book they’d read in school about a little Black girl. And I was even more floored at the effort the mother was making to find them this book. It wasn’t just a book with a scattered diversity here and there. It was a Black girl their age, front and center, with a story different from theirs, that they were prepared to read over and over again.
You can’t tell me that’s not a good start…