SJW

Remember When Reading Diversely Meant Something Else?

I’m sick and tired of being made to feel like I need to explain my choices, my intent or the meaning behind my various opinions and exhortations, to people who – in the grand scheme of things – I really shouldn’t give a shit about. Yeah, I know: umpteen million other people have it far worse than I do. This is such a  ‘white girl problem’. I should just check my fucking privilege and realise that by dint of my merely owning a computer from which to compose my tirade of ‘first world’ ire, everything I have to say going forward is invalid, irrelevant and easily dismissed as being both self-absorbed and drastically lacking in self-awareness.

It’s okay. I get it: I wasn’t born ‘wrong’ enough to warrant the right to voice my displeasure or distaste for any aspect of my life. Oh wait, did I say ‘wrong’ enough? Shit. That’s such an exclusionary, ableist and ignorant way of putting things. What I meant to say was that I wasn’t born ‘disadvantaged’ enough. ‘Marginalised’ enough. I’m insufficiently hindered by arbitrary demographical demarcations, decided upon by people I’ve never even met. Yeah, that sounds about right. Sure, I’m female and with that comes the slight inching up on the ‘progressive stack’, but I’m also straight (deduct 10 points), cis-gendered (deduct 5 points), able-bodied (deduct 5 points), middle class (deduct 10 points) and white (deduct 50 points). So, I guess I need to pipe down and let someone much less privileged than me take the mic, right? I think that’s how these things are supposed to work.

check_your_privilege__bingo__by_plumpiepelican-d5z2lqd

What’s that? You think I’m exaggerating? I really wish I was. But you and I both know that the past 5 years have seen the scourge of identity politics infest all of our lives with its far reaching, invasive tentacles worming their way into all that we hold sacred; all that is/was good. It wasn’t always like this though. I remember when things used to be fun. Sure, I’m probably older than some of you, but trust me when I tell you that there was a time once, when the films we went to see, the video-games we used to play and the online communities we were a part of, weren’t immediately judged to be a reflection of our political affiliations or our overall worthiness as human beings on a scale dreamt up by smug ideologues.

No, seriously. I’m not making this up. Once upon a time, the most disparaging thing you would ever heard uttered about gamers was that they were a bit nerdy. Films were criticised on their merit and atheism was just a word used to describe a disbelief in a god. The internet was a democratic platform where anyone who understood how to access it could go to speak freely, engage and voice opinions – however disagreeable – without fear of being curtailed, or ostracised or doxxed. Universities were institutions of higher education, where young adults would go to gain valuable information, seek knowledge, have their ideas challenged, be exposed to new perspectives and figure out how to become independent before going out into the real world. These were halcyon days back then. We just didn’t know it at the time.

And now? Well now it’s all gone to shit and no one can say or do anything without it being poured over and picked at, by a strange new class of self-appointed, virtue-signaling wankers, who want so badly to be deemed ‘right-on’ and ‘PC’, that they spend their days patrolling every medium we have at our disposal, looking for things to be offended by. And these things are rarely things that they themselves are offended by. No, they tend to be perpetually on the lookout for any instances of transgressive misdemeanor that they can take offense at, on behalf of other people. It’s quite amazing really, the way they just feel entitled to rock up and adjudicate you with the unspoken message that: 

“What you’re saying/doing there, doesn’t necessarily offend me, but it might offend someone, somewhere and we simply can’t have that now can we? So kindly fuck off out of here with your sexist/racist/homophobic/ableist intolerant bigotry, before someone gets so upset, they need to set up a Patreon account to seek reparation.”

Urgh. Everyone knows what I’m talking about. Fucking retarded (yeah, I said retarded; big whoop – wanna fight about it?) SJW ideologues, doing everything they can to encompass the sentiments expressed in George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. That book was supposed to be a cautionary tale, but these control-fascists are treating it like a goddamn itinerary or a manifesto for the dissolution of civil rights. And with each community they’ve infiltrated, violated and devastated, you can see society starting to divide up, as people decide whether they’re going to sign up to be one of the shiny eyed, unquestioning conformists, or say “Fuck this noise!” and join the ranks of insurgents who refuse to be told that they’re a piece of shit, merely for liking or enjoying a ‘thing’ in their spare time.

My particular pastime of choice is reading. I’ve been a voracious reader for most of my life but it’s not just a hobby to me. Books are something I both treasure and kind of take for granted. To me they’re not a luxury, they’re a necessity – I love them. I live in them, through them and alongside them. They’re my teachers, my instructors, my friends and my compatriots. I learn from them. I grow from them. With books I try to challenge myself. And they challenge me right back.

Bookshelf

They inspire me. Entertain me. Enlighten me. They keep me company and they grant me precious solitude. They open my eyes, they break my heart and they blow my fucking mind. So when I see the SJW narrative seeping into the literary community, it devastates me. Enrages me. And it also kind of baffles me. Because as much as I adore – and sometimes almost fetishise! – books, in reality I know that they are merely conduits for ideas and opinions and knowledge; they are bridges between the minds of the authors and the readers. Hold a book in your hands and what you have is a collection of bound pages. Nothing more than a pile of material derived from trees. But actually read a book and you take part in an ages old act of receiving information; of listening; of learning; of connecting. To encroach upon the content of books, is to encroach upon ideas. By monitoring what people write or read, you are policing their freedom of expression.

So to have this form of pleasure questioned, derided even, by those who want to enforce a kind of social obligation onto readers, really pisses me off. Articles like this one: Why You Need To Start To Read Diversely designed to guilt trip us into changing our reading habits, so that they end up meeting some kind of self-enforced quota system that represents every single author demographic. Because apparently, what we choose to do on our downtime should no longer be about just finding something that we like, enjoy or are interested in; no, we should be forcing ourselves to read books that we didn’t actually show any prior interest in, so we don’t end up reading books by – GASP! – predominantly straight, white men!

Last year the pressure to read books from outside one’s area of interest, was ramped up with the Twitter campaign: #DiverseDecember set up by bloggers Naomi Frisby and Dan Lipscombe. The idea was to get people to tweet the titles of the ‘diverse’ (I’m beginning to hate that word) books/authors they were reading. Because nothing says “Look at me! Look at what a good person I am, reading these books by non-straight-white-cis-gendered-men and telling you all about it!” quite like jumping on a Twitter campaign bandwagon to do just that.

I used to think I read pretty diversely myself actually. I read fiction and non-fiction. I like literary fiction, the classics, sci-fi, dystopia, horror, crime-fiction, physics, biology, psychology, history, sociology, medicine, biography, true-crime, study-guides, books about books and books about…well all manner of things really. But apparently that’s not what reading ‘diversely’ means these days. No, now it means that we’re supposed to consider the race, gender, sexuality and nationality of the authors writing those books, more than the breadth of subject and genre they cover. Suddenly, there was a whole new level of expectation required of us, in order to be able to claim to be a ‘diverse’ reader. Never mind if every book you read was a romance novel or a history text. As long as you featured a range of cultural demographics in the author of said books, you could now call yourself a ‘diverse’ reader. Which is exactly why I started to hate that word. It stopped being about the different topics one read and instead became disingenuous shorthand for a self-identifying morally superior ideologue.

Identity politics loves to take words and change them so that mean something else. But even more than that, it seeks to make an issue out of the very topics it claims to be free from. Choosing to read books because they are written by someone of a particular gender, race, or sexuality – and subsequently choosing NOT to read other books because of those same reasons, becomes inherently discriminatory by its very nature. You’re not eliminating or tackling issues of racism, sexism or homophobia by singling those categories out as a means to seek out certain books to read. You’re perpetuating it.

Regressive Left RD

You can imagine how utterly fucking annoyed I was then to see tweets appearing in January by people stating that for the whole of 2016 they would not be reading any books by straight white males. These people, in their attempt to show just how ‘right on’ and ‘progressive’ they were, were simply basking in their decision to discriminate on the basis of gender, race and sexuality. And they wanted everyone to see that they were doing this. Virtue-signalling has become to go-to method of indirect boasting, used by the regressive-left, whenever they want to draw attention to their supercilious faux do-gooding. What’s even worse though, is that those of us who refuse to join in with this strategic ideological game, find ourselves being labeled as racists, sexists, homophobes and bigots. In this case, all because we choose our books purely because their content is what appeals to us the most.

I’ll be honest with you. For a huge number of the books I read, I don’t actually know what their race, sexuality or nationality is. If they don’t have a photograph on the dust jacket, or if I haven’t bothered to look the author up online, then I have no way of knowing if someone is white, black, mixed-race, hispanic, Asian or Inuit. Even a non-anglicised name is no guarantee of someone’s ethnicity. People marry. They move to different countries. They have children and can decide on names ranging from the traditional to the bizarre (I’m looking at you Frank Zappa). Some people adopt children from other countries and whereas some will choose to keep the child’s birth-name, others will want to give them a name of their choice instead. Yes of course I know that there are some cues to be gained from some names; for instance I was pretty sure from day one that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of ‘Americanah’ wasn’t a pasty white Russian oligarch. But how many people would be able to correctly assess the racial or sexual identity of James Baldwin, Tess Gerritsen, Randy Shilts, Roxanne Gay or Thomas Sowell, just by looking at their names?

It might sound like a moot point, but if a large portion of the books I have on my shelves turn out to have been written by non-straight-white-cis-gendered men, without me realising one way or the other, does that make me more or less of a ‘diverse’ reader? Which is truly a more egalitarian, less discriminatory approach to seeking out literature? Going out of one’s way to read a book purely because the author fits into the ‘diversity’ ideology, or reading books because they looked interesting, regardless of who wrote them, and subsequently finding that there is a ‘diverse’ representation within the authors I read? I know for instance that the handful of books written by authors based in Karachi, that I bought to get a better understanding of modern Pakistan, were written by Asian authors. But on my Kindle, when I look at the vast collection of ebooks – many self-published – by authors I know nothing about, how am I to know upon first glance, what cultural demographics the authors fall into.

I can’t. And more than that. I really don’t fucking care. Weird and retrograde as it might appear, I have a particularly novel (pun intended – sue me) system for finding a new book to read. It involves one of two approaches. The first is where I already know the author and want to read more of their work so I purposely go find if they have any other titles that I’ve yet to read. Simple. The second is where I wander through the aisles of a local bookshop, or use the search function to look through the millions of titles offered online in Amazon or Audible or whatever, looking for a book that sounds…wait for it…interesting! I might be in the mood for a book on the search for gravitational waves or something about the historicity of the Bible; maybe I’m after a ghost story or a book about neuroplasticity – all topics I’ve searched for recently. And whilst there might occasionally be a title by an author I recognise from previous works, or television documentaries, for the most part the names behind the work mean absolutely nothing to me. I don’t care if they’re black or white or hispanic or straight or gay or trans or cis gendered or ginger. Not unless the book in question is specifically about those topics mentioned.

I just want to read good books. That isn’t me saying “I don’t think that books by non-white-straight-cis-gendered-men aren’t good, so I don’t read them.” (although that’s how some of these amateur identity politicians would happily try to interpret it). It means I read whatever the fuck I want to read, based on whether or not it sounds interesting, informative, entertaining and worth the time and effort required to invest in it. I know I won’t always get it right; Zeus knows how many books have failed to meet my expectations over the years. But a combination of the blurb/dust-jacket description and reader reviews, generally helps to narrow the field down to a selection that are much more likely to be worth my money and my time. That’s why I’ve recently been watching a lot of BookTube. I’ve found a selection of content producers who have similar reading tastes to me and from their vlogs find a whole host of new titles to check out, next time I’m in a position to purchase another book. It really is that simple.

But between campaigns like #DiverseDecember – which has now been extended under the hashtag #ReadDiverse2016 – and countless articles telling us that we should be reading more ‘diverse’ books, it’s getting to a point where a person daren’t suggest that they don’t read books by non-straight-white-cis-gendered-men, for fear of being labeled a shitlord. Hang out on the BookTube channels of YouTube and you’ll find countless videos reassuring readers that there’s nothing wrong with not liking the classics, hating YA or not having a particular fondness for a certain genre of literature. Smiley, happy, well-intentioned 19 year olds, with perky personalities and some pretty nifty editing techniques, are falling all over themselves to let you know that what you choose to read is entirely up to you; because not everyone likes every single genre of literature.

But dare to say that you have absolutely zero interest in reading about stories from refugees in war-torn climbs, or that you’re just not into reading about the experiences of slaves living in the Deep South? That’s a whole other story. I like to read some biography from time to time. But it has to be about a person whose live I’m actually interested in the first place. Mostly, the biographies I read are of scientists, because I’m interested in their work and the person behind it. I don’t however have any interest in reading about a woman who used to clean people’s houses for a living. Sorry if that offends you – well, no actually, I’m really not – but I can barely bring myself to do my own housework. Reading about the daily grind of a woman doing someone else’s housework, really isn’t going to appeal to me. (The makers of the indie-dev game Sunset found that lesson out the hard way!)

But these are people’s stories! They deserve a voice! They need to be heard!” That’s the kind of outpouring you hear from neo-liberals who see us all as identical cogs in one huge great machine. “You owe it to them to help them get their stories out there!” “Why are you so against seeing more diversity in literature?” “That’s so bigoted!” Urgh. I’m not saying I don’t ever want to read books by non-straight-white-cis-gendered-males. That would be really fucking stupid. And a massive lie. But I don’t want to have to alter my reading habits and tastes, just to meet some ideological quota and get the approval of the ‘progressives’ out there, simultaneously virtue-signalling their own worthiness, whilst judging whether my character and choices merit a pass or a fail.

Minorities

If you feel as though you have to tweet about the books you’re reading to prove how utterly fucking ‘diverse’ you are, then the chances are, you’re nothing more than an ideologue. A wannabe stand-up example of how to be a ‘really good person’. You care more about being seen to be doing something you believe to be worthy, than actually doing the thing itself. You want to guilt trip those not already mimicking your reading habits, into feeling bad, before scurrying off to get their own copy of the latest ‘hot’ title to emerge from a ‘diverse’ author. And you make me fucking sick.

Literature should succeed or fail on its own merit. If a book is good and is appreciated by a large number of people then it should sell well and receive the appropriate acclaim. If a book is crap then others are quite within their rights to say so and vote to take their money elsewhere. (It’s funny though, how we rarely see anything other than rave reviews for those ‘diverse’ books that everyone is suddenly expected to be reading at their book club, huh? It’s almost as if we’re not allowed to criticise them?) Likewise, people should be able to choose exactly what they want to spend their hard earned cash on, without feeling guilty that they aren’t reading what regressive ideologues deem ‘diverse’. Books written by straight-white-cis-gendered-men might dominate a lot of reading lists and prizes, but maybe those books were actually just really good. Maybe they weren’t and it just goes to show the subjectivity of taste and the fallibility in expecting lists to reflect everyone’s cultural experience and expectation.

And before anyone starts to try and tell me that these initiatives/campaigns are necessary because there is a perceived problem with non-straight-white-cis-gendered-men getting published, let’s not forget about the curious case of Michael Derrick Hudson. A white poet whose poem ‘The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve’, was rejected under his real name 40 times before he sent it out as Yi-Fen Chou, when it was rejected nine times before getting accepted. Nor should we ignore the Indian-American author Akhil Sharma who himself has admitted:

I have benefited from being an ethnic writer. All fiction writers want their stories and novels to feel like something new. Because I am writing about things that are not well known, and I am writing about a community that people are curious about, I have received a great deal of attention. I am not saying that my writing is not meritorious. I am only saying that my complaining would feel churlish since I have benefited so much from being a minority.”

Maybe things used to be different and harder for ‘diverse’ authors, I can’t say for sure. But I think it’s only fair to remember that the smaller the percentage of a minority group, then the smaller the number of books you should expect to see representing said minority. As the numbers within each minority group grows, the number of books that are written by and/or represent said minority will naturally increase; and with that increase you can expect to see more books written by minorities being featured in reviews, which should in turn lead to greater sales. If the demand is there then the supply will increase to meet it. But right now it’s as though we’re all being made to feel obligated to read books by minorities or ‘diverse’ authors. Social justice warriors are trying to guilt trip us into patronising these authors (in both senses of the word) which is only going to artificially inflate the actual demand for them.

There’s nothing wrong with saying you don’t want to read a book because the subject matter doesn’t interest you. And there’s nothing wrong with reading a book and saying you thought it was crap. It’s your money, your time and your taste we’re talking about here. It’s great to try and read outside of your comfort zone from time to time, check out topics or authors you haven’t read before. That’s how we grow as readers. But feeling forced to adhere to some sort of societal obligation, when all you want to do is get lost in the pages of a familiar story or subject matter, is bordering on bloody thought-control. Demanding that we all expose ourselves to a set, pre-approved reading list doesn’t sound like fun to me. It sounds like a totalitarian nightmare. But that’s exactly the kind of future we can hope for if these so-called ‘progressives’ keep pushing their ideological narrative.

Urgh…I know, I’ve been ranting for ages now. But this manipulation of the media by the regressive left both angers and terrifies me. Every time a cultural shift is brought about by the intense pressure of SJWs and Marxist ideologues, we seem to be shuffling closer to the dystopian futures laid out in works by Huxley, Orwell and Bradbury. That might seem extreme or exaggerated to those who don’t spend much time online or in university campuses, but we really are seeing a gradual encroachment of ‘progressive’ ideals, in all our lives. Bit by bit we’re moving closer to the authoritarian societies we were warned about in books like Nineteen Eighty Four and Brave New World. They might not be burning our books just yet, but they’re still trying to encroach upon what we choose to read. So before I go, I’ll leave you with some excerpts from Fahrenheit 451, that should scare you as much as they do me, because I’m nice like that. Thanks for reading.

“Once books appealed to a few people, here, there, everywhere. They could afford to be different. The world was roomy. But then the world got full of eyes and elbows and mouths. Double, triple, quadruple population.

Now let’s take up the minorities in our civilisation shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities. The bigger your market Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that. All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did!

There you have it Montag. It didn’t come from the government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation and minority pressure carried the trick… We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against.

They were given the new job, as custodians of our peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior; official censors, judges and executors.”

Fahrenheit 451

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