Dear YA, White Are You Doing?
This article wasn't something I thought I'd be writing. I've put aside a couple of articles because this one is, well, really important. I'm not white, but I live in a colonised and westernized world. The way we think, the morals we have and so much more are influenced by the ideas that are shared in this world. As someone who isn't white, I can easily decolonise my thoughts and opinions because I don't have that white privilege. I do however have white passing privilege, but that's another topic and a seasonal thing. I think because this topic is so huge, I'm going to break it down into a series within the "Dear YA" series.
So as mentioned before, we live in a westernised world (most of us do) and in YA this influences what we consume and write. It also influences how people review books. Over the weeks I have seen ableist, racist and degrading reviews written by white people. It is because of the "White Lens" that these people have, they cannot see what or how they went wrong.
The first step of understanding where you went wrong, is listening to critique. I have seen people sharing why a review was offensive and racist. I have then seen these people who are subject of this critique retaliating and calling themselves allies, when in fact they have been shutting down the voices that belong to People of Colour (PoC). You are not an ally if you cannot listen and see how hurtful your words were. I’ve seen reviewers and readers say “But I see nothing wrong with that” when shown proof of their racism. Stating that you see nothing wrong is part of the problem. You have to realise that the world is not all white and not everyone belongs to a westernised society. You must educate yourself, learn from your mistakes and apologise.
However, there are those who ask for education and then make fun of those who refuse to educate. "How am I suppose to learn if you won't teach me" is now a White Proverb. For one, we do not exist for the sole purpose to educate White people. We were not put on this earth as your educators. There’s this magical thing called Google, that can educate you for free. You also have eyes, you can read books on this topic. Stop demanding to be educated by People of Colour, we are not here for this.
Reviewers, authors and readers are responsible for doing their own research for a book. If you haven’t done the research, it is on you for misunderstanding the book or writing a problematic book. The values and characters written in books by People of Colour or with People of Colour are not always written in the context of a westernised society. Research is key to understand non-western contexts in books because your White Lens ultimately influences your reading, writing and reviewing negatively. For example, readers and reviewers who complain about teens who aren't white, that "aren’t mature", or "are naïve" or "are annoying" need to check their privilege and step back to see the cultural context. In this westernised world we expect teens to be mature, observant and know everything about what is right and wrong. This isn’t the case for the rest of the world. Someone can become an adult when they turn 21, or when they get married, or when they have children or when they turn 30, you need to research to know this, to get context. Google is great. Make it your best friend. Try to find a lot of places to do your research. I do research too, I have to. I don’t know everyone’s culture or their values. So I research to understand, to clarify and to understand the context of books. Using that new found knowledge then helps your review to become safe to read without hurting people and even helps you decode misunderstandings and misconceptions that you had in books.
Readers, writers, reviewers and bloggers who are wanting to help with diversity and marginalised voices need to listen. If you want to become culturally aware and become an ally, network with #diversebookbloggers. Read their reviews because I know for sure we’re calling out the problematic language and characters in books. We’re doing the hard work while you think it’s appropriate and totally fine to do no research, call the book messy and then say it’s a really important book. That’s not how it works. You cannot alienate a culture and then tell everyone it’s an important book.
Diverse book bloggers exist. Support us, read our reviews and if you want, ask us to collaborate or guest post. Or build a discussion surrounding a book. Stop saying you’re the victim to bullying when in fact it’s just critique. Don’t deflect critique and call us the bad guys when you’ve just obliterated our culture and existence after questioning it.
Those with the White Lens, I hope this article was helpful, if not, you’ve missed the point, again. But if you have understood and know that research is key, thank you. I’m not here to educate. My existence needs no explanation or definition. Don’t demand one. No one’s asking you, so don’t ask us. Don’t make fun of PoC who don’t educate you. Don’t question someone’s cultural, ethnic or racial background because they have the same skin colour as you (this has happened when a reviewer was critiqued. You do not have the right to question someone’s identity. Take a seat). Don’t come for Women of Colour (WoC) after they’ve critiqued your work, listen, learn, research and apologise.
Are you white and have learnt something today? Or are you a Person of Colour who’s thankful for this post which is just a collection of all our thoughts that we have been saying and repeating for, well, forever? Comment down below with your thoughts!