On speaking up and on resolutions for the future

I have been involved in many “diversity in literature” discussions over the couple years, and it has been an emotional roller coaster to say the least. Between writing and parenting I don’t spend a lot of time reading the newest and latest books (I’m still catching up on the newest and latest books from two years ago..)

One thing I always worry about: should I speak up about problematic elements in books when I read them? Is there a point in speaking up if it’s a book that has won awards and sold zillions of copies (esp. one that is supposed to be a great “diverse” book)? What are the consequences if I do? What if I LOVED the book except for that one element that was completely, blatantly offensive?

I believe as an adult writing for those younger than myself, I have the power to shape hearts and minds. Kids and teens are still forming their own opinions about themselves and the world. This is a powerful place position to be in. How children’s authors speak and how they behave, (and especially what they write) gets passed along to future generations. It galls me when people minimize this responsibility.

There are not that many Indian Americans in American publishing. I’ve occasionally been in a unique situation due to my background/expertise to speak up, but I cannot represent every Indian Americna out there. Friends or family often disagree with me on what is offensive and what isn’t offensive. I often feel like a lone voice. I wonder, am I being oversensitive? Am I, as an unpublished writer, simply jealous of particular author? I’m human after all.

I’ve also had concerns about my budding writing career, about unwittingly severing ties with publishers who may be upset about me pointing out racism in their books. More importantly though, speaking up about racism has been hard because of fear for my personal safety. I have heard several instances of women speaking up online, being harassed online, and then being targeted IN PERSON. Is my personal safety worth it?

I wrote a version of this blog post earlier last month (i.e. pre-election) in response to a question an author posted on Facebook after reading an egregiously offensive book by an award-winning author. I saved my thoughts as a draft. Cut and pasted. Edited. Saved the draft again. Went back to a previous version. Dithered about whether or not to post.

After this election, I’m convinced that it is vitally important to speak up about racism in all aspects of life, not just publishing. For the rest of the year and into the next, I resolve not to worry so much about other people’s opinions about me speaking up. With the political landscape the way it is, artists and writers must be more honest and open. We must not succumb to the shaming that happens online for voicing dissenting opinions. We must not let this country become a place where it is not safe to be a lone voice.

I hope you are with me on this.

Best wishes for the new year,

Amitha

 

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