Navigating the Book Community as a Person of Color

 

NAvigating as a POC

Hello friends!

I know what you’re saying after reading the title…oh no, she’s here with yet another rant…or maybe you’re not and that’s just me haha. But either way, I wouldn’t call this a rant *cough* *cough*. It’s more of me putting to paper -per say- a collection of thoughts and observations I’ve been having for the past couple years of being neck deep involved in the book community and advocating for diversity. I just want to preface by saying that I won’t be bashing anyone or anything in this post, what I will be doing though, is sharing my thoughts without any sugarcoating.

Times and times again, every time something happens that makes me feel like shit as a person of color, I write a thread on twitter and promise myself that this time, this time, is the time I actually organize my thoughts and write a coherent post about my feelings and my experiences threading through the book community as a POC. And I’ve had this title in my drafts for months now, possibly over a year, but every time, I back out. For no real reason other than the fact that I can never seem to gather my thoughts properly. So I thought that since that’s something that’s seemingly never happening, I might as well just word vomit and hope a decent post comes out of it.

Why now, you ask? For two reasons,

In the span of a week, not so long ago there were two incidents that irked me. The first one, and one that’s been talked about extensively is that one booktuber who made a video to say that booktube is NOT racist by…being racist. It was almost laughable, they called folks from minorities “you people” and “people like you” which, you know, is kinda sorta racist, and something you don’t want to do if you’re trying to prove a community you’re part of isn’t racist. But that’s all I’ll say about that. It’s not the point of the post. Second incident is the whole SJM Asian Manon artwork fiasco, which a non negligeable amount of Asian folks have spoken about, one of which was May, who wrote a long caption on their Bookstagram about how hurtful and disrespectful that kind of second-thought-so-called-representation is, which was received with a HUGE amount of backlash, which you can read all about in their fantastically snarky response post here.

And all I can think is…when does this stop? When will we stop being antagonized for expressing genuine concern based on our reality? I’m not here to say that the book community is racist, because it’s not. I would have jumped boat a long time ago if it were. But it sure does have a race problem. And experiencing it, navigating it feels like a dodge the bullet sort of game on a daily, I love the community, but it’s exhausting.

What I’m here to talk about is bias. If you’re white, you’re automatically privileged and have a race bias, hell, even us POC have a lot of internalized bias to work through and unlearn. And when I say privilege in this context I don’t mean that your life is all sunshine and unicorns, I mean that your skin color doesn’t put you at a disadvantage in the way the world interacts with you. Simple, right? The privilege being there isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s actually good -for you, it means that that’s one less thing you need to worry about. That being said, that privilege needs to be put to good use.

On some days, being a person of color in the community is disheartening. Expressing our hurt or concern, and sometimes even outrage is often -and unfortunately so- met with backlash and harrassment at worst, crickets, brushed aside, invalidated, humoured at best. We often have to have our word backed up by white people to be taken seriously and that makes me sick to my stomach, why does my opinion have to be validated by someone else, to have any sort of legitimacy? I’ve seen this time and time again, and glaringly so, when POC voice a concerns and get little to no attention but the minute a white person reiterates literally the SAME concern, the community bursts in outrage.

Which brings me to my next point: the treatement of books by authors of color versus everything else. It pains me how fast books by AOC are shunned and frowned upon for the smallest mistakes, when books by white authors with far bigger issues go unchecked and are still widely loved and read by the *same* people who are quick to harshly criticize books by AOC, *cough* SJM *cough* Maggie Stievfater *cough* many others *cough*. And I’m not saying don’t read those books and authors, you do you, boo, I’m not gonna shit on the few things that bring you enjoyment in a world that’s going up in flames. All I’m asking is that 1/ you acknowledge their problems and 2/ you extent the same courtesy and benefit of a doubt to book by authors of color. 

In the same vein, there’s also the issue of LGBTQIAP+ representation taking precedence over POC representation ALL. THE. TIME. If a book has good queer rep but horrid POC rep, YAY, let’s ignore the second part because who cares about POC, right? Yes. I am pissed. Because there are some very well loved books that have hurt me and others and us pointing it out has done nothing in having other people acknowledge it. And it honestly hurts. There’s also the case of when a book by an AOC has bad LGBTQIAP+ rep, or rep that not everyone agrees on, it gets immediate backlash, and people are very quickly convinced out of reading it, whereas its racial counterpart gets “Aaaw that’s a bummer :///, I’ll read it and see what I think”.

There were even a few instances of books, like Love, Hate and Other Filters (which is amazing btw), that were criticized because how dare they not have queer characters? And I’m just? Way to disregard books that represent so many people just because they don’t represent *you*. And as a queer woman of color, having both parts of my identity always pit against each other like this, feeling like i need to choose one, to pick a side, hurts. Is it too much to want to see myself and others like me in books without that pressure being put on us?

Is either of these situations right? Absolutely not. Both cases of bad representation should be brought to readers’ attention but what I’m getting at is that both should be treated THE SAME. Bad LGBTQIAP+ representation is shit. Bad POC representation is shit. Act accordingly, please. This only goes to show that people of color aren’t given any room for mistakes and mess ups. One and you’re out. And not just in the community, but in general. No matter how much the world progresses, it still treats us much much harsher and more unfairly than it does white people. Easily invalidated, set aside, discredited and “cancelled”.

Speaking of unfair treatment, and I’m sure this is something that some people will probably dislike me for. Let’s talk about my favourite (not) topic, Arcs. Beyond the -relatively- narrow blogging realm, there’s a systematic disadvantage in the book industry as a whole, on every part of the chain. But since I’ve already talked about the reviewing aspect, let’s flip the coin for a bit and talk about publishing *dramatic sound effects*. All joke aside, the distribution of Arcs by AOC is a bit unfair. Most big influencers are white (which is something I’m not going to get into, that alone needs a whole post) so it makes sense that those Arcs would go to them considering their bigger reach? Well yes it does, but not entirely.

I’m of the opinion that Arcs should be a bit more curated than that. Should these people get these Arcs? Sure! They’d let more people know about these books and thus more people would read them. But I also think that #ownvoices reviewers should get a chance at reading Arcs of books that represent them and review them. Because eventhough their opinion isn’t the word of God, I and many others still trust it above the opinion of someone who isn’t of the same minority.

And I’m not talking about myself when I say that Arcs should be sent to #ownvoices reviewers. I’m an international blogger so I don’t expect publishers to cash out money on me to be part of the select few bloggers who get exclusive boxes, unsolicited copies of the most anticipated releases, etc… when there are US based content creators right there. But thing is US BASED REVIEWERS OF COLORS ARE RIGHT THERE. And they’re vocal champions for books and diversity so they’re pretty easy to find, you don’t even need to look hard. So really, there’s no excuse for them not to get these books.

I talked above that you should use your privilege for good, and one thing that a lot of people are doing is passing on Arcs that they get and don’t represent them to #ownvoices reviewers. And that’s great. But I don’t think it’s something that should fall on individuals, it’s an issue that should be fixed from higher up. But it’s much appreciated. Another thing that can be done is Listening and Boosting. If we raise concerns, don’t brush them aside or pretend you don’t know or even worse, lash out at us just because it’s about your favourite book, we’re not asking you to hate it we’re just asking that you acknowledge that it has flaws and warn people when recommending it.

Also, don’t speak over us, boost our voices but don’t add your own hot take when it’s an issue that doesn’t concern you, uplift our voices instead, the voices of the people who are directly affected by whatever is going on. And generally speaking, please help us champion diverse books with *good* representation. We all have our problematic faves, so you can have yours too, but when people ask you for recs about a specific minority, don’t choose the one that has iffy rep above the one that has good rep just because it’s your favourite.

Like I said, I love the community, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t but it’s not perfect. It’s a work in progress. There are so many wonderful, supportive people that I’m grateful for, but clouds pass from time to time and things happen that have me a little discouraged.

There’s so much more that can be said about this topic, but this post is already lengthy enough as it is so I’ll stop here. Hope you all take away something from reading it.


That’s it until next time!

Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.

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29 thoughts on “Navigating the Book Community as a Person of Color

  1. This was such an important post – I can relate so much to what you’ve expressed, I’m a POC in the book community too and it can feel difficult sometimes when it comes to issues of representation and unfair criticism. I’ve noticed that a lot of times, books by AOC are so highly criticised and held to an impossible standard. Thanks for sharing a much needed post x

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  2. “I don’t mean that your life is all sunshine and unicorns, I mean that your skin color doesn’t put you at a disadvantage in the way the world interacts with you.” THIS. So many people who refuse to see racism don’t understand this.
    Thank you for writing this, Fadwa! ❤

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  3. I really liked this post, Fadwa. First I will admit, I am white, but I do at the same time have some health issues that doesn’t always get good representation (epilepsy and OCD, respectfully). I want to and do read books by AOC. In fact one Secret Daughter I discovered was a 2010 best seller and has good unflinching show of India/India American rep. Not all books of POC have to be about LGBT community. Who in the world ever thought these two have to go hand-in-hand? They can be separate issues and either way should have good representation of any minorities in said books so when people read them so they are not misled and fed bullshit. Fiction we read should not spread hate, plan and simple, I think. It can be used to improve empathy and unit us as humans together. I know fiction is fiction, but authors have some “power” because “words have power” see “The pen is mightier than the sword” quote from who I don’t know, but you get the idea. Books are a way for people like to to explore the world, through space and time, and yes, escape from time to time, but I think one thing we are coming to is WORDS have Power. They can change hearts. This can be used for good to make better people, units us as humans and sometimes let us just relax when we are stressed. Different books have different degrees of ability to do these things.

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  4. Wow, Fadwa, you touched on so many subjects that our community has to work on and you expressed everything so well. I’m in awe of this post and I’m glad you decided to share your thoughts. Amazing post! ❤

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  6. This is such a good post. It’s really well articulated and put together, and everything I’ve been feeling and unable to put together in words has come across so well. Thank you for writing this.

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  7. This post is amazing!!!!!

    For what it’s worth, your efforts are noticed, and are so, so worth it.

    Unfortunately, we White people from other marginalised communities (hi!) need to realise that we aren’t exempt from dismantling societal prejudices and issues. Sadly, there is still a hierarchy of privilege, and we need to realise that.

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  8. OH MY GOD THIS POST IS EVERY FREAKING THING!!!

    You’ve put everything in my heart into text and I’m so happy! I don’t comment on your posts as often as I should because most of them are about heavy but great topics and I get overwhelmed and if I start commenting I might just type out an essay hehe.

    But I sincerely love all of your posts, especially ones like these giving a voice to the concern of us POC and queer and just everything GAH YOU ARE JUST AMAZING ILY ❤️

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  9. This post is so on point and HONEST. I’m not saying the book community is racist just as you stated, but I once had a bookstagram where I tried to advocate/talk about diversity in YA fantasy and all I got was crickets on those posts but my other posts about just white rep. books will have all these likes and comments about how they love it and such! Also I don’t know if it’s just me but I’ve noticed plenty of bookstagram era with two books I love (An ember in the ashes & Children of blood and bone) get the arcs of the book and never once mention it until months later where all they mentioned is that they just haven’t gotten to it yet and I’m not trying to police what they read but shouldn’t they just be honest that they don’t care about these diverse books, pass it on to another, or are they too afraid to admit that. In my opinion they’ll barely get any backlash from admitting anyway, because you know privilege and all. This is a rant I’ve been trying to make my first real blog post for a while now and finally it’s said.

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  11. I just saw this and, honestly, wow. The way you wrote that was so amazing. Thank you for writing this, honestly, and I’m so glad you’re out there boosting those books about POC, because honestly they’re some of the best books I’ve read, and you’re right. They’re not spoken about nearly enough. ❤️❤️❤️

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  14. “Expressing our hurt or concern, and sometimes even outrage is often -and unfortunately so- met with backlash and harrassment at worst, crickets, brushed aside, invalidated, humoured at best.”

    Exactly! Too often our words are dismissed if not “verified” by white people. Thank you for this post; it does a beautiful job stressing the need to recognize and to confront issues in the community.

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