“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” - Martin Luther King Jr.
There is a dangerous sentiment brewing in the writing community and one I hope dies before it ever reaches popularity. There is a call for readers to challenge themselves to only read books from marginalized writers.
That puts it nicely and somewhat innocuous. But when put in another light, it’s shown to be a threateningly racist, sexist, genderphobic and heterophobic paradigm.
Only read books written by people of color, women, transgendered or queer individuals. And don’t read books by white, male, cisgendered or heterosexual writers.
At first, this sounds like a progressive and powerful movement to bring attention to the underexposed writers in the market. That’s cool. That’s great. There is a certain white-washing in the writers’ market today [pardon the pun].
Why not give more attention to those who don’t get much attention?
I’ll tell you why. Read the quote by Martin Luther King Jr. I wrote at the beginning of this column.
What did he mean by this? He meant that he dreamed of a world where people are judged by what’s inside them, rather than what’s on the outside.
A person should be judged by their character, their talent, their skill, their abilities, etc. and not by their skin tone, genitals or sexual orientation.
I am adding some qualifiers to his quote because I don’t think the precedent should only be applied to race.
And therein is the problem with the “challenge” being prescribed by the louder social justice warriors in the writing community.
What is a reader doing when they look at a book, then look at the author and then judge whether or not they should read the book based on nothing else but that writer’s external makeup?
The reader is killing MLK’s dream. They are also instantly missing the point of reading at all. A reader should read the story, not the writer. And make judgments based on the quality of the work.
That is, make a judgment based on the internals of a story and not by its cover. Nor who the writer is.
I have a solution to this problem, which I think is a great compromise and marries the original idea and my issue with it nicely.
Let’s promote more works written about those who are marginalized in society. Let’s promote books about the struggles people go through because of their external qualities. Let’s promote stories of how these struggles are overcome.
Let’s then turn around and judge writers based on how well they accomplish that work. That way, the only judgment a reader has to make about the writer, who should always be faceless, is whether or not they are good at writing. Which is how it always should be.
When attempting to be progressive, do not fall into the trap of lapping bigotry. In the race of promoting social justice, don’t go so far ahead of the bad that you forget the good you are trying to do.
Judge a writer not by the color of their skin, which genitals they have, what gender they live nor what gender they are attracted to.
Judge them by the quality of their work.
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