Growing up in the United States, my education of literature was VERY white and male and American. A lot of what is considered part of the literary canon (“the list of works considered to be permanently established as being of the highest quality”), which is lauded, taught in schools, and held up as classics–treated as crucial and universal–is white, male, and euro- or US-centric. A recent article posted in The New York Times, titled, “Just How White is the Book Industry?” cited that, “just 5% of fiction published since 1950 was written by people of color.” Imagine: just 5%. Consider how much this distorts our view of what is real, what is normal, what is worthy.
The routine privileging of white authors and voices over BIPOC (Black; Indigenous; People of Color) voices has its own part to play in the repression of freedom and equity in this country and globally. It erases the diversity and nuances of human experiences and perpetuates harmful prejudices and stereotypes. Acclaimed Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks of “The Danger of a Single Story” on our empathy, on our understanding of the world, and on our understanding of ourselves. She shares that she grew up reading countless stories of white British characters and internalized the false belief that stories of people who looked like her or had similar contexts didn’t belong in literature. Adichie shares that as a child, what she read influenced what she wrote. It wasn’t until finding authors like Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye that she “realized that people like [her], girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature.” Then, she began to write stories which were truer to her, informed by experiences not so far removed from her own (blonde, blue-eyed British children playing in the snow and eating apples).