I had a discussion with some people I know, where they told me that choosing to read books about POC written by POC and books about women written by women is racist and sexist. It wasn’t a nice discussion, and it was rather strenuous as they did admit to having pushed my buttons deliberately (for fun? – at least that’s how it felt). I’d been meaning to write about my preference for #ownvoices for a while, but hadn’t found the time- so this discussion did encourage me to finally write this post.
Definition of #ownvoices: Literature about diverse characters written by authors from the same diverse group (rephrased, Corinne Duyvis 2015)
First, I’d like to say that choosing to read #ownvoices books can still exclude authors that write #ownvoices stories. The author has to out themselves, which they might not want (to be forced) to do.
Here is an incomplete list of reasons as to why I prefer to read #ownvoices.
1. Accurate and respectful representation
If a non-#ownvoices book is written by an author that does not share the marginalisation(s) of the character(s), the author depends on stereotypes, generalisations and their subjective perception of people with these marginalisation(s) for the portrayal of the character(s). They do not have first-hand experience. Thus, the representation may not be accurate.
Authors that write #ownvoices stories live with their marginalisation(s) every day. There are small things that affect their lives due to their marginalisation(s) that may not be known to those that are not part of the group. These aspects may be missing in a non-ownvoices story.
Readers may choose a book because a character is similar to them. However, reading an inaccurate representation can be upsetting, annoying and_or harmful to the reader.
I cannot judge the quality of the representation if I do not share the marginalisation(s) of the character. However, if I choose a book written by an #ownvoices author,the likelihood of the representation of the marginalised character being respectful and accurate is very high.
2. Marginalised authors have a right to tell their story
Marginalised authors have a difficult time getting their books published. The book industry is not very diverse, and neither are the books that are being published. Some authors appropriate stories of marginalised groups for their own profit. This can lead to fewer opportunities for #ownvoices books. Authors from marginalised groups may avoid writing #ownvoices stories in favour of having a secure job and income.
Why should I spend my time reading a non-#ownvoices story, when I could be supporting an #ownvoices author with my time and money?
3. Possible increase of awareness and interest of publishing houses in #ownvoices books
I’m not going to believe for one second that I alone can change the industry with my reading choices. However, the more people start to choose #ownvoices books over non-#ownvoices, the more the industry will pay attention and choose to publish #ownvoices books.
What’s your opinion on #ownvoices? Do you have a preference?