Happy Pride Month! This month, we honor the memory the 1969 Stonewall riots, the series of demonstrations that catalyzed the LGBT civil rights movement. As with Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I honestly think we should be celebrating LGBT identities year-round. (And won’t it be cool when we don’t need to have recognition months anymore, because no one is marginalized?) But for now, it can be nice to have a month to remind us to reflect on and recommit to our support for one another. Sort of like a way to hit refresh on respect!
Today, I want to talk briefly about language, specifically the ways that language can empower and disempower people in non-dominant groups. Historically, LGBT communities especially have had to deal with their identities being misrepresented in language. Words are never “just words.” Words convey our thoughts and beliefs; whether we are conscious of it, they betray our values. Reexamining our language and making sure that it truly reflects respect is the first step toward advancing understanding—which, in turn, puts us on a path toward achieving justice.
My personal goal this month is to educate myself on gender and sexuality. I realized that it was a weak point of mine, during a conversation I had last week with my boyfriend’s grandmother, on a humid night in rural Rhode Island.
If you live anywhere a source of news media, you will know that this has not been the best week for the world. You don’t even me to link to the events that have cast long shadows over the past few days. While bright things are happening every day – much of which I want to share with you – it feels disingenuous of me to share them without first addressing things that for all I know could be affecting you directly.
So this is me checking up on you. You ok? What’s helping you reorient?
I have this theory that your bookshelf is a portrait of who you are, particularly if you bought a lot of books growing up. Study your bookshelf closely enough and you can trace the ideas that compelled you at different point in your life.The seven volumes of Harry Potter captured my imagination between the ages of five and thirteen. There’s the Eragon series from my 5th grade dragon phase, those tomes that only Comparative Literature majors read, and some poetry that I thought was good when I was sixteen but now find extremely questionable.
My bookshelf reveals the meandering path I’ve taken to build an understanding of the world. And if you’re also like me, the majority of my bookshelves was occupied by books written by white authors. It’s not a totally bad thing. I truly value some of those books – even from a white, European perspective, they could touch on some universalities that I felt as an Asian American girl. But my bookshelf also revealed my blind spots: there was little that I knew about Black, Latinx, Native American, LGBTQ+, and disability experiences. I didn’t even come across an Asian American protagonist until I was seventeen, and I didn’t read a FilAm protagonist until I was 20!
The disparities on my bookshelf have less to do with conscious choices than subconscious biases, the lack of diversity in the publishing industry, the systemic barriers to entry for authors of color, and the dominance of a straight-white-male literary canon that is taught and valued in American high schools.
Since college, I’ve made it a point to diversify my bookshelf and deepen my understanding of stories that aren’t my own (after all, reading diversely is an act of resistance). Here are the 10 diverse books that helped shape my understanding of perspectives outside my own:
There is little I can say about Charlottesville, and the events that have unfolded since, that hasn’t already been said more eloquently, by wiser people than me. When a mob of white supremacists attempt to negate the human life and dignity of entire populations, and when people in power condone hatefulness, it’s hard not to let the waves sorrow, anger, hopelessness, and disillusionment erode you.
You shouldn’t stop yourself from feeling whatever it is you’re feeling. But when you’re ready, there are small steps you can take to heal and resist. And one of the most meaningful ways to resist is to read books by diverse authors.