I grew up loving books. My librarians knew my name because I would check out a stack of books every two weeks. I would base decisions off what I expected my favorite literary heroes would do. I felt like they “got me” on a deeper level than anyone else. I moved a lot, and creating an internal world through reading was the only way I felt control over my unstable environment.
The thing is, I thought the gateway to being Smart and Well-Read meant reading as many literary classics as I could. This meant I grew up reading stories by a lot of straight cis White Dudes whose stories did not have a place for me - a mentally-ill queer white femme.
If you’re a person who loves to read, then you get it. Books make you who you are. They show that you are not alone; that others have hurt like you hurt. They can teach you about the world, especially if yours is small and dissatisfying. But if you only read books from one perspective, then your view of the world is going to be skewed. While no one is going to tell a story the same way, privileges affect the way you experience things and white dudes have a LOT of privileges. Read enough stories by them and you’ll begin to think that the way they view the world is The Way It Is.
White males’ perspectives are regarded as the norm in society while queer, people of color, and female voices are viewed as niche. As literature is an extension of society, the stories that are considered part of the literary canon are almost all by White Dudes.
It took me awhile to realize that these books I loved were not written for me. My literary heroes would not allow me to tag along on their adventures and regard me as a peer. Re-reading some of those books now, the femme characters I can pick out are not the ones telling the story. They are plot-devices meant to build up the white male main character.
We need to read each others’ stories to preserve our existence. To remind ourselves that one experience of the world is not The Way It Is. While it’s important to read stories that you can relate to, it’s necessary to read books by those who are not like you. Literature is a means of experience, and we need to experience the world outside of our own perspective, or a white dude’s.
I made the graphic for Where Are You Press’ new mug because I want to drive home the idea that white mens’ stories are definitely not everyone’s stories. Support marginalized artists by sharing and buying their work. Erase the idea that white men speak for everyone.
The world is not theirs.