At our Book Club meeting tonight, a woman said something that I can’t seem to shake off. Now, before I get into it, please understand that I’m not mad at this woman herself. I’m annoyed at the comment she made. Also – I don’t think she is any more or less prejudiced than I am and people in general. She is funny, a wonderful human being, and I really do love her. I don’t think the less of her and will continue to enjoy her company.
Ok. So enough disclaiming.
Tonight, we were throwing out books to consider reading for the second half of 2014. We all contributed several selections and I mentioned the book, When My Name Was Keoko, from my last post. “It’s about two Korean kids during WWII and the Japanese occupation of Korea,” I said.
“But we already read an Asian book!” my friend replied.
In shock, I exclaimed, “What? We’ve read hundreds of books about white people and I’ve never complained! But we can’t read two books with Asians in it?” I tried to keep my voice light and easy. Teasing. I wasn’t really mad – but I also wanted to get my point across.
“I read stories about white people all the time! I’m surrounded by white people! Hapa Papa’s half white! I don’t complain! Sheesh! But we can’t read more than one book about Asians? I also recommended a book where the main character is half black. Is that too many books about colored people?” We all laugh at this.
Realizing the pickle she got herself into, but also joking along, my friend says, “Well, we did read The Help a few years ago, so I think we’re okay.”
“Besides, it’s about the Japanese occupation of Korea during WWII. I never knew about that, did you?”
Another woman said, “No, I didn’t. That sounds interesting.”
“Well, I’m sick of reading about WWII, too,” muttered my friend.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “I’m sick of reading about the Holocaust.” (We have read a LOT of books about the Holocaust in recent years.)
From there, we moved the conversation along. The whole time, no one was offended and there really was a lot of laughter and gentle poking fun. And to be fair, this woman has recommended several books with people of color in the past. But the incident still bothers me because it is indicative of our culture at large.
As much as I appreciate Asian American History month or Black History month, I often feel as if it lets folks off the hook. Like, “Oh, we have a separate month where it’s an anomaly to talk about people of color. But when that blip is over, we can go back to our regularly scheduled programming and talk about real people and real stories. You know, about white people.”
Stories about people who are not white should not be relegated to some “colored” or “very special episode” ghetto. Just because we’ve heard one “Asian” story doesn’t mean that we’re done with our quota for the year. I mean, for crying out loud. How many times have we heard the good girl meets bad boy story? Like, at least a million times. No one is claiming that we shouldn’t have any more of those. (Although, maybe we should.)
Look. Are white people’s imaginations so utterly pathetic that they can’t possibly imagine identifying with a character that is not the same race as them? I mean, millions of black, brown, red, and yellow folks do every single fucking day. Just because we’ve had more practice doesn’t mean our imaginations wouldn’t like a break now and then.
I know we’re always given complete bullshit marketing answers about how white people don’t consume movies/books/shows with POC main characters. I get that companies are in the business to make money. But seriously? Aren’t there billions of non-white people in the world? Have some gumption, story tellers. PLEASE.
In the meantime, I will go out of my way to actively buy and purchase stories with people of color. It’s the least I could do.