All that you touch
and all that you see
Is all that you’ll ever be
Pink Floyd crooned these lyrics in 1973, and they can still be heard off the tiny speakers inside my laptop today. I wonder what Pink Floyd must have been thinking when they wrote this message. All that you touch and all that you see is all that you’ll ever be. Everything that you’ve picked up to read has influenced you. The television shows you were once hooked on and the countless movies that played before your eyes and made their way inside your brains have all shaped you, like it or not.
What can I say about all that I’ve touched and seen? Obviously, that’s a lot to cover. Let’s talk books.
More specifically, the books that “everyone” reads and who writes them. (Thus influencing how “everyone” is.) I have this Bibliofile, which is kind of like a reading journal for book lovers. Actually, that’s exactly what it is:
See? Anyway, I got this a year after I graduated from college (I do what I can to compensate for my English courses). I’ve made 24 entries in this Bibliofile since then and I could not help noticing that, of these 24, only 5 were written by authors who are people of color.
That makes 4.8%, which is pathetic. I should mention that of the five, two are light-skinned South American males and one is a light-skinned mixed Canadian male, so you decide how much that counts. The rest of the written words I’ve spent so many hours absorbing, pondering, being mesmerized by, and okay- let’s be honest here- sometimes skimming, were by white authors.
Let me go off for a minute to point out that I barely do better in terms of gender equality (6 of 24 authors were female). I should also mention that I didn’t buy most of these books; I came across them in various places, like from friends, the bookshelves in my house, and hostels in Southeast Asia. Still, it does give us a glimpse of what kind of books are generally being read. And by whom?
I am a Woman of Color. I am part Asian and part European, and I identify as Hapa. I am Deaf. Separating these identities from who I am is unthinkable. It cannot be done. I don’t know who I am if I am not the Deaf Hapa girl that grew up with Deaf peers at a Deaf school and, having no siblings, instantly formed a bond with another Hapa boy in my class, who is still like a brother to me today.
I am also a bookworm. Even at age eight, my mom knew that promising books as reward after getting my vaccine shots would be more effective than ice cream. I had my head buried in a book for a fraction of my childhood, and looking back… Did I ever identify with a character in a book, let alone the author? Was there ever another Hapa girl who reminded me of myself, that I could relate to when it came to being trapped by communication barriers every time she was placed outside her small community? Did I ever once truly see myself in one of the many strong heroines to enter my life at the imagination of the authors whose words I ate up, without a second thought?
The answer is no. Not once. How did I never notice? How did it escape me that nearly every book I’ve read in my life had a leading character that was white and that they were invented by the mind of a white author? The answer is because racism is everywhere. Racism is so deeply intertwined in our society that white heroes and heroines are the norm, unless otherwise stated. Fish doesn’t notice water until it’s out of it, dangling in the air by the hook of a fisherman’s pole.
Even my beloved Bibliofile can be racist sometimes. You know you can’t deny how British-looking these authors’ profiles are.
Now, I’ve read many amazing– life-changing, even– books that were written by white authors and I hold these books dear to my heart. But it’s time to pay attention to my reading habits; it’s become blatantly clear how little authors of color have had the opportunity to influence my mind and being. As a Woman of Color who loves to write, I’m embarrassed about this. Why haven’t I made more of an effort to include works by more diverse authors in my never-ending list of books to read?
But let’s not victim-blame here. Instead, let’s ask: why are the “classics” always white people’s work? The first page of Goodreads.com’s list of popular classics feature 50 books, and yup, you guessed it. White as a marshmallow. Why is it that all the authors that appear on Barnes & Noble’s e-reader’s screensaver are white people? On my friend’s e-reader, I remember seeing the Bronte sisters on a friend’s Nook. And Ernest Hemingway. Virginia Woolf. The darkest person I saw was Poe.
Damn it, give me Toni Morrison! Amy Tan! Marjane Satrapi, and bell hooks, who, by the way, Half Price Books did not have.
I want to drown in your words, women who know what it’s like to be underestimated because she looks nothing like any of our past presidents; women who may wonder if publishing under a masculine, initialized name would be better for the success of the book; women who don’t have light hair or eyes and instead stories of how the first boy they ever liked called her different, and she wasn’t sure if he meant it in a good way.
You are me. I am you. I need your words.
Oh, if you were curious, my 24 Bibliofile entries:
Congo by Michael Crichton (3.5 of 5 stars)
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (4.5 of 5 stars)
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (4 of 5 stars)
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (5 of 5 stars)
Darth Bane Trilogy of the Star Wars extended Universe [Path of Destruction, Rule of Two, and Dynasty of Evil] by Drew Karpyshyn (3 of 5 stars)
The Inner Circle by T. C. Boyle (4 of 5 stars)
Backpack by Emily Barr (2 of 5 stars)
Native Son by Richard Wright (4 of 5 stars)
The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield (3 of 5 stars)
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (4.5 of 5 stars)
One Day by David Nicholls (3.5 of 5 stars)
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (2 of 5 stars)
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (2 of 5 stars)
The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho (2.5 of 5 stars)
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow (5 of 5 stars)
The Art of Racing In the Rain by Garth Stein (4 of 5 stars)
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (3 of 5 stars)
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (2.5 of 5 stars)
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (5 of 5 stars)
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (3 of 5 stars)
Star Wars by George Lucas (3 of 5 stars)
The Blindfold Test by Barry Schechter (4.5 of 5 stars)
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes by Donald F. Glut (2 of 5 stars)
Brida by Paulo Coelho (2.5 of 5 stars)