As a reader, I’ve been working to better balance my reading so I’m reading an equal number of white and BIPOC authors. While this isn’t enough diversification, it’s a start, and it was inspired by Emily X. R. Pan’s challenge to her Instagram followers. This challenge has been surprisingly difficult. For one, it really underlines how prejudiced the publishing industry is – while far from impossible, it is a lot more difficult to find books by Black or Latinx authors… and frankly it is nearly impossible to find ones from Indigenous or Native authors. To find books to fit what should be a very simple requirement, I’ve had to dip well outside my comfort zone.
I’ve been reading a lot of adult books when I prefer YA. I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction – memoirs and antiracism books when my niche is fantasy. But most of all, most of all, I’ve been reading a lot about Black pain. In fact, nearly every fiction book I’ve read from a Black author has been somehow tied into Black pain and/or trauma.
I will conceed that I may just be picking the wrong books. But even if I am, it’s undeniable that easiest-to-find Black-written books center around racism, Black pain, Black trauma, police brutality, or gun violence. Black-written fantasy books have elements of slavery. All of them have heavy underlying themes targeting racism. It’s important to bear witness to these realities, but there’s a disproportionate amount of books around these themes. It is much more difficult to find books celebrating Black joy.
Back in February, Nic Stone posted a video on Instagram and I haven’t stopped thinking about it.
She shares many thoughts and fears and frustrations in this video – if you haven’t seen it yet I highly recommend it. It’s powerful, heartbreaking, frustrating, and utterly honest. According to her Goodreads author page, Stone has 27 distinct works… but the first one that will jump to most readers’ minds is Dear Martin. It may be the only one folks think of. In her video, Stone touches on this – on the fact that her bestselling books have been the ones about Black trauma, Black pain. And that… well, that sucks.
I cannot more eloquently extend this message than Stone did in her video spilling her heart about a world that only wants her pain. I cannot say more than bloggers like Amber @ Du Livre when she pleads with readers to read about Black joy during and beyond Black History Month. Angela L. Fraser runs the DNA Publishing Group, a publishing group to authentically represent the voices of Black women in an industry that otherwise tends to tokenize them. These are their lived experiences. I cannot recommend enough to make sure to widen your net and to follow and support these voices.
As readers, we have a responsibility not only to read diversely and support BIPOC authors, but to seek out balanced books as well. Over the last few years, the publishing industry has decided to elevate Black authors if they are telling stories about Black pain. Let’s do what we can to teach the industry we want these, yes, but we also want Black authors to be able to tell any story rather than capitalizing on their trauma. Outline that we believe the industry needs to make a better effort to publish well-rounded books showing diverse peoples as complex individuals and not just fetishizing them for their misery. That we want and will read books about joy.
What was the last book you read that had elements of Black joy? For me, I think it was You Should See Me In a Crown (even though that also had many of the above themes alongside the joy – it was at least well-rounded). I’d love to hear your favorites – please share you Black joy recommendations in the comments!