It has been 53 weeks since George Floyd was murder by police in Minneapolis and since then, especially in the weeks and months following, we heard a lot in the bookstagram community about ‘diversifying your bookshelves’.
Today is June 1, meaning that it is officially the end of Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month and the start off Pride Month. We will have seen, and continue to see, requests to diversify our bookshelves, amplify marginalised voices and buy from queer bookstores and I say YES to all of this. However, what I’ve learnt over the past year from people a lot wiser than myself, is that reading is not enough.
Firstly, what is diversifying your bookshelf? Well, it’s pretty simple – it’s making sure that the books you buy are not simply from white, cis-gendered, hetero authors who tell simply stories that reflect this narrative. It is buying books from authors who may be marginalised in some way due to their race, gender, sexuality, socio-economic background or religion. It is buying books that tell the stories of those in the LGBTQIA+ community, of black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous and immigrant people. It is supporting publishers and bookstores that actively support and promote these authors and books, not simply to fill a quota but because it is something they are passionate about, knowing that these stories should get the same care, love, promotion and space as those of their non-marginalised counterparts.
But here is the question bookworms – does reading solve the systemic racism in this world? Does it counter the Asian hate we have seen in the wake of COVID-19? Does it end the homophobia, transphobia and wide-ranging barriers that LGBTQIA+ people face on a daily basis? No, it does not. You may learn from these books, whether fiction or non-fiction, they may open your eyes to the experiences of others but reading alone is not going to help further the discussion on these issues.
I sit here writing this as a white, cis-gendered woman who identifies as part of the LGBTQIA+ community, who has grown up in Scotland, and I know that I am not the person who can best articulate these complex issues, especially as I have no lived experience of them. However, what I can do is say that reading is a start on our journey to better understanding the history, the present and how we move forward. It is a way of opening our eyes to the lives of others, but we have to do more than that. We have to be active participants in change, in fighting alongside those that these challenges directly impact and harm.
I want to end by highlighting some of the women I have learnt from this year. There are many within the bookstagram community I find to be fountains of wisdom and knowledge, but there are three in particular that I always check out and whom I have linked below. All I ask is that you respect their boundaries – these women are not here as a free resource to teach us, but they do have wonderful book recommendations, insights and amplify marginalised voices, both in their own community and others:
Traci of @TheStacksPod
Lupita of @lupita.reads
Diana of @OwlsLittleLibrary