Throwback Thursday: A Diversion on Diversity

I spent a part of my workday yesterday on a field trip…to the theater. We had extra tickets donated for a Center Theater Group school-group performance.

Los Angeles Music Center
We were there to see The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, a Broadway translation of the classic American opera about a rural Southern black community written by a couple of white guys from New York. I found myself a bit conflicted by some of the baggage this show carries, particularly in light of the big diversity discussion going on in the book community lately. 
And with that conversation in mind, I’m bringing back this post from July 2011 for Throwback Thursday. Let’s talk about it.

Diversifying…or trespassing? An awkward circular argument

Every time I read a post about someone’s plans to “diversify” their reading I feel a little awkward. I haven’t always felt this way, but I’ve noticed it over the last decade or so, and I was reminded of it while reading Tayari Jones’ Silver Sparrow last week. My reading choices tend to have a cultural sameness…and I’m mostly OK with it, except when I branch out and then start questioning it.

In my post-college years and into my thirties, I recall more readily seeking out and read fiction by authors of color and different cultures – but I don’t recall it being that much of an effort, because I don’t recall literature being as sub-classified and segmented (I hesitate to use the word “segregated”) as it seems to be now.

My early adult years coincided pretty closely with the onset of “political correctness” and increased awareness of cultural diversity, and I think those developments have been much more good than bad, overall. But at the same time, there’s been increased fragmentation in society – it’s become a “niche” world. For my part, increased awareness and sensitivity to cultural niches outside my own has come with a uncomfortable feeling that I’m trespassing if I explore them those niches too deeply – because they’re not my own. I wonder if the growth in art and literature produced by people of other cultures is primarily meant for the previously neglected audiences within those cultures, and whether outsiders are really even welcome to partake of it.

And so it becomes a circular thing: I find myself reading more within my own cultural niche. That becomes my comfort zone. And because it’s comfortable, I feel even less comfortable when I try to step out of it.

But when I do step out of it, it’s usually worth it; I become aware of new stories and different worldviews, and I question myself about why I don’t get out of my reading comfort zone more often. (See the preceding paragraph for the answer to that – I’m going in circles again.) I wonder if I’m engaging in that word I hesitated to use, but against myself.

I don’t have an answer, but I’d like to get to a place where I feel less awkward, and I’d love to know your thoughts about reading diversely.

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