Reading outside our own identity… A topic that’s sure to ruffle a few feathers but is so important nonetheless! Here’s what Natasha has to say about it.
Some of you saw this title and immediately clicked. Others saw this blog title, rolled their eyes and prepared for the usual.
Well, before you knock this post off as another rant about needing more characters of color (actually we need more authors, too) and the necessity of diversity, give me a minute and let me explain some things to you. Maybe it’ll change your mind about the own voices movement or get you to read an author who looks/believes differently than you.
Okay, to kick things off, I need to let you know I have an issue with the word identity.
Too often in America, when we talk about identity or diversity we limit our thinking to only race, specifically black and white. There are several historical and social reasons behind this thinking but that’s too much for one post.
The truth is identity is not one facet of a person. Identity isn’t just race. It’s gender, sexuality, religion, skin color, nationality, and more. For some people, identity starts at a smaller level than the aspects I’ve listed previously.
I was born and raised in Baltimore and though it isn’t going to affect me the same way as my gender or race does, for me it is a very significant part of who I am.
Basically, Shrek had it right from the beginning.
So, what does this all mean?
Reading outside your identity doesn’t necessarily mean reading about a character of a different race, though I don’t really see the problem with that and you should definitely do that, as well.
It means reading about a character who may come from a different income bracket, a character who is a different gender or religion (we need a ton more of these) or a different sexual orientation than you.
But wait, there’s more…
Despite what some may think, reading outside your identity isn’t just for white people either.
More often than I’d like to admit, I’ve come across angry readers who are white and “tired of the diversity” being pushed down their throats. Of course, I’m outside of this demographic but, personally, I’ve never taken it that way.
When I read diverse books or about the importance of diversity in literature I think it speaks to all of us.
Because no one can identify as everything.
Yes, in America whites are in a unique position because they’re the majority, the standard.
Let’s be real. If an author doesn’t give too much detail about a character’s physical appearance, most people picture the character as white. I can admit I’ve done this, especially in my younger days when almost all the books I read were devoid of characters of color.
That said, obviously, the own voices movement and sayings like “read more diverse books” are going to play a special tune for the standard.
If you’re not familiar with the title, you must have been living under a rock for the last six months but no worries, I’ve been doing some strength training, so your rock should be easy work.
Okay, so to sum it up the story centers around two American characters who are of Indian descent: Dimple and Rishi. While Dimple is opinionated and rebellious, Rishi is more reserved and believes in following his parents’ traditions to the letter. Of course, their parents attempt to set them up for marriage and let’s just say things do not go as planned, for the parents or Dimple and Rishi.
While reading this text, several thoughts came to mind:
- Rishi is boyfriend material
- Dimple is my sister from another mister (Love ya, girl!)
- “When Dimple Met Rishi” is not for me.
Now, before all the fans prepare to kidnap me and tie me to train tracks, hear a girl out. As I said in the post on my own site, WDMR isn’t for me the same way Beyonce’s “Formation” isn’t for other groups of people.
Yes, anyone can enjoy “Formation”, anyone can bop their head or shake what their mother gave them to it. It can be appreciated by all but it was written in salute of the black community, specifically black women and WMDR does the same thing.
It was written for young Indian teens stuck in a limbo of being American while their parents are Indian. It was written for young Indian youth who’ve never seen people who look like them as the leads in any western media, despite growing up in a western country. And though I still enjoyed it and learned from it, no, it’s not for me. Yes, it was written for them.
Does that make sense? I hope I’m doing a good job of explaining this because I know it can be a sensitive topic.
I think what this book did for me that was most significant was remind me (it’s funny how we can so easily forget these things) that race in America is more than black and white.
However, like I said above, reading outside your identity doesn’t have to stop at race. Two other great books which I highly recommend are “Birds of Paradise” and “Life Without A Recipe” by Diana Abu-Jaber.
The author is of American (German and Irish ancestry) and Jordanian descent, giving her writing a unique cross-cultural flair. Because of her Jordanian roots, discussions of Islam (religion in general really) and characters who follow the religion do appear in her writing. Not only am I simply impressed by her storytelling but her work had allowed me to step into the shoes of someone of a different faith and see the world from their perspective. Most importantly, by having Muslim characters in her work, they have been humanized to her readers, particularly if these readers—whether they were aware of it or not—held some hate in their hearts.
Because in so many ways characters are real people.
Still, I haven’t answered the question. Why does reading outside your identity matter?
Well, for several reasons actually but we’ve somewhat discussed those above such as humanizing marginalized communities and opening your eyes to more than the stereotype.
However, I think digesting material outside of your identity is so important because it’s what takes you from being an ally to a friend.
So, let’s hear it? How do you feel about this?