As I explain in my tweet, I used to think this way. I prided myself on being colour/gender/sexuality/whatever-blind. This, I thought, was the height of egalitarianism.
Except, it’s not.
What this viewpoint fails to acknowledge or compensate for is that while you might feel perfectly unbiased, you’re impacted by larger, systemic choices made by the publishing industry, marketing departments, other buyers, general society, etc. The deck is stacked against marginalized writers in favour of white male writers, so not making a choice cedes control of your “to-read” pile to other people who will happily make those choices for you.
I figured this out several years ago
when I made a conscious choice to analyze my Goodreads statistics. I very quickly realized that despite my best intentions, I was reading about 66% straight white cis guys (mostly American, too.) Over years as a reader, I’d developed favourites, almost all of whom were the beneficiaries of a publishing industry that pushed the works of white men above all others. Tad Williams, Terry Brooks, George R.R. Martin, etc. I’d read all their books, which took up a chunk of my overall reading volume, and paid close attention to their receommendations (or the algorithm’s recommendations, which were, of course, shaped by past behaviour.
If I was colour blind, why were the majority of the books I’d read in a given year written by white writers? If I was gender blind, why did I read books by male authors at a rate of two times that of female or non-binary authors? If I was blind to sexuality, why were so few of the books I read written by queer authors? Because I’d ceded those decisions others. Rather than being unbiased, I was steered by the biases of an industry historically shaped around the voices of white cis men. So, I change that. I made a conscious to start pushing towards a more balanced breakdown of authors across a few different spectrum.
And, you know what? A funny thing happened.
I found new favourite authors. I listened to their recommendations and discovered new books. The algorithms adjusted. Eventually, it’s become self-correcting. After a few years of conscious decision-making to adjust for market biases, it’s now pretty effortless to end the year with a Goodreads challenge full of writers who are queer, non-binary, women, BIPOC—alongside the white guys I still love.
The kicker? The quality of my reading has only improved by doing this. So, forget the idea that reading “quotas” undermine the “meritocracy,” and embrace the idea that we’re all impacted by unconscious market biases. Confront your reading habits. Make a choice.
Then, come back in five years and tell me how it’s changed your life as a reader. Because I guarantee you’ll be happy you did.
Don’t wait. Change your habits. And just read.