a discussion about our expectations on own-voices books ft. me opening up about colonization, white-washed references & why i don’t talk about brazil anymore

Hello, friends!

I am bringing yet again another discussion. Being on Twitter recently has sparked my interest in some of these, so at least there’s one good thing coming from my time in that God forsaken app. (Y’all who use Twitter on a regular basis deserve veteran discounts. That shit is so toxic lmao)

During the last month, I took part in the Latinx Readathon and that was my first time reading so many books by Latinx authors. While I did really appreciate my experience, I also felt like it opened up a lot of internal discussions on how much international/white content I consume regularly.

@jojosiwasbraintumor

I don’t stop thinking abt this tweet AND YES I’m gonna do this STUPID standing in front of a tweet trend because it works #foryou #foryoupage

♬ NO WHERE TO RUN by Stegosaurus Rex – morguehorde

That’s literally me, lmao. Not only because I blog and talk in English regularly, but because most of my interests are not Brazilian or Latinx. I’ve been more recently facing that regularly, especially since I started university and most of my friends there are interested in Brazilian movies, artists and content creators, and I didn’t know any of them. On one hand, I did feel great because it was feeding my quirky, different, not-like-other-girls Aquarius rising persona where I’d be interested in things that they weren’t, but on the other, I realized I should be supporting more Brazilian creators. We talk a lot about #own-voices, and yet, I’ve read more books published in the US about Latinx-Americans than books published in Brazil by actual Latinx.

That’s not the point of this discussion, though, because I do feel like most of you can not relate with it, and that’s fine. My point is that, in the process of reading more Latinx books, I realized I was, in turn, expecting to immediately like and relate with all books and characters.

IMG_4671I do think that we all have this expectation whenever we pick up an own-voices book. Recently, there was a discourse on Loveless, by Alice Oseman and I won’t be getting into all the points of that discussion, but the most relevant one for this post is the fact many people felt like it was not a “good” own-voices work because sex-repulsed aro/ace were the only ones being represented.

The book never set itself to represent every single ace experience out there. I talked more about this in my last discussion, but this is not how own-voices books should be perceived, because NO book is going to tackle all the numerous experiences that marginalized folks go through.

That’s a big reason as to why I stopped writing about Brazil in my blog. If you followed me last year, you may remember I had a feature called “A Trip to my Home Country” where I talked about elements of Brazilian culture. But I didn’t feel comfortable writing about that anymore because I realized I have a very superficial perspective on Brazil, despite living here my whole life, and I didn’t want to share information that was inaccurate and in return, lead people to believing that this is what Brazil is actually like. But it is also true that I’d never be able to represent, in any work, all Brazilian people out there, because our experiences are VASTLY different.

I think the key is not in the author, but in the reader. When you read a book by an Asian-American author, you should know that this is not representative of every Asian-American person out there. And, in my opinion, it shouldn’t be the author’s responsibility to tweak their story so that readers can understand that this just “one experience”.

IMG_4665Yet, I feel like our expectations, especially when it comes to authors of color, is always that they should do the most. When I picked up History is All You Left Me, recently, I even considered adding in my review that there were no characters of color in the story. But then I started to question why would that be a problem. Just because Adam Silvera is a Latinx man, it doesn’t mean he has to write about only Latinx people. If a white author had written that book, would I’ve been mad that they only included white characters?

I’m sorry to keep repeating the same books, but when I was reading reviews for Like a Love Story, I encountered myself in a similar position. I was looking for reviews that were rather negative to see if others had noticed the problematic remarks that this book contains, and I found a similar issue that people felt like, because the book had been written by an author of color, that they were surprised there were no references of queer people of color throughout the book. While I do understand that is a very valid concern, I’d like to ask that: if Like a Love Story had been written by a white author, would people complain that the references throughout the book were all white as well?

IMG_4188I do think that most of these reviewers would have a problem with it regardless, but it made me think if we don’t have different expectations when it comes to authors of color. If it was a white man talking about how Madonna was a life-changing figure for him, it would be expected, but if it’s a man of color, then we question why wouldn’t he have Marsha P. Johnson then?

It’s kinda funny, actually. It reminds me of an episode in Everybody Hates Chris, where all of his projects would be about Martin Luther King, because being black, that’s what all of his teachers expected of him. Let me remind you that people of color can talk about whatever the fuck they want and write about whatever the fuck they want.

(Of course as long as they’re not being mysoginistic, racist, ableist or homophobic but I think that goes unsaid).

Ok, but how does this tie with everything I said before, about my own experience?

Well, because I do think it’s harder for some of us, folks from colonized countries and who’ve experienced hardcore imperialism over the years, to get to know and be proud of our own country’s culture and art. I’m happy to say that for the past ten years, I’ve seen a rise of young people consuming more Brazilian created content, whether that would be in music or YouTube and even books. But if you ask my mom, who grew up in the 80s, all her favorite musical references were probably American, with a few exceptions of Brazilian artists.

I do understand that we should always strive to be closer to our own culture. But I think it’s always important to remind y’all that this is not a possibility for every person out there, and that some people don’t have white-washed references only out of choice (like me, btw. I completely think in my case it’s a choice and something I need to work and be better at, because I have privileged resources to support my own country’s content and art and I choose to consume mostly international media), but because of historical systems that have oppressed marginalized folks to the point where their own content is seen as irrelevant or less.

So this is something I wish more reviewers would take into consideration when setting up their reviews and expectations for books by authors of color.

Alright. This discussion is huge, but I hope I’ve made myself clear. Let’s talk in the comments.

18 comentários sobre “a discussion about our expectations on own-voices books ft. me opening up about colonization, white-washed references & why i don’t talk about brazil anymore

  1. vaishnavi 16 de setembro de 2020 / 15:12

    this post was just so eye-opening, and i found myself agreeing with a lot of points you made too. i do feel like the bar for authors of color is immediately set higher! and for what reason? i hadn’t noticed it too much before, but looking back on it, there are *always* going to be more haters and criticism directed towards those authors than any white author writing a story from a white protagonist’s perspective.

    personally, i think that authors should be able to write about POVs that aren’t their own as long as they’ve researched/and are empathetic towards that topic w/out being racist, ableist, etc. there’s no reason they should be deserving of hate on that aspect b/c it’s only *one* POV. there’s no proper way to write people if you’ve followed that, but it’s always going to be something people will point out.

    the discussion can extend so much more, and i feel like we’ve only touched surface level. going back to your own experiences, i can understand why you thought it was better not to write about brazil. for similar reasons, i don’t write too much about my own culture for a fear of not being able to represent it the best i can– and the most accurately. in the end, POC should be able to write whatever they want w/out bein’ criticized for it and that’s the tea :))

    btw– your discussion posts never fail to get me thinking, and you write them so eloquently !!

    Curtido por 2 pessoas

    • Lais @ The Bookish Skies 22 de setembro de 2020 / 20:08

      That’s really true! I was surprised by how much there was to discuss and there are still so many aspects I was unable to cover.

      I’ve realized it’s actually a very common fear, and it sucks, because I do think it mostly comes from this idea that we *have* to represent every voice, and that’s such a pressure and such an impossible task too!

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts & for all your kind words too! 💕

      Curtido por 1 pessoa

  2. Abi @ Scribbles and Stories 16 de setembro de 2020 / 18:04

    This is such an important discussion. I’ve definitely noticed that own-voices books are expected to be perfect. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault, but as readers it’s easy to get excited about a book written by an author who’s like you, and expect it to represent how you feel. But the simple truth is, everyone’s experience is different. No one story can represent everyone in a group.

    It does become a problem when authors of colour have higher standards placed on them, while white authors are allowed to get away with anything. I think it’s partly because people are resigned to thinking you can’t expect any better from white authors. So instead of pushing them to do better, all of people’s expectations are pushed onto authors of colour and that’s just not fair or reasonable.

    Honestly I spent about 2 weeks on Twitter then left because the constant discourse was driving me crazy. So much gatekeeping goes on, and everyone thinks they have the right to tell people what they should be doing. I think as long as the story and representation isn’t harmful, Twitter just needs to lay off and mind their own damn business. 😅

    Curtido por 3 pessoas

    • Lais @ The Bookish Skies 22 de setembro de 2020 / 20:03

      Yes, that’s so true! The bar is so low for white authors that they can do the bare minimum and be praised for. It’s a shame, really.

      Unfortunately, that’s very true. I think Twitter can be interesting and thought-provoking, but for the most part, it’s just really toxic. I think people there kinda forget they’re allowed to have fun and just enjoy things, lol.
      Thanks for reading and for the comment, Abi! 😌

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  3. Florence @ Miscellany Pages 16 de setembro de 2020 / 18:07

    This is such a thought provoking post! I completely agree that the demands and expectations on Own Voices reviewers are higher. It reminds me of an interview I read with Oyinkan Braithwaite, who was expected to write exclusively ‘about’ Nigerian culture so she challenged this by authoring a crime novel, My Sister the Serial Killer (which is fantastic btw!) Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts 📚❤️ X

    Curtido por 1 pessoa

    • Lais @ The Bookish Skies 22 de setembro de 2020 / 19:59

      Thank you so much, Florence!
      That’s absolutely true! I am really glad that it worked out wonderfully for her, beacuse I have heard of the book multiple times and it means a lot that she got to publish it and be successful as well. Unfortunately, I feel like marginalized authors who want to write outside of their experience definitely don’t get as much support, which sucks.
      Thank you so much for sharing it and for reading! 💕

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  4. beckythemothling 16 de setembro de 2020 / 22:06

    Honestly I’m glad you mentioned this. Obviously I don’t think ownvoices books are above criticism, but it’s also very alienating to read reviews in which the reviewer alleges that the rep is invalid because…it matches your own life. I’m white, but I am queer and I have had that happened to me before, and it’s always just a weird experience? And then of course there’s a lot to be unpacked with intersectionality, and specifically how white readers approach QPOC stories.

    Weirdly enough, I actually feel more comfortable writing stories about characters that aren’t like me. I get really nervous writing characters who fit into my marginalizations? It might have something to do with the mentality that if I get, say, a Chinese character wrong, I can apologize and try to write better, but if I get a bi character wrong, then I just bi-ed wrong. I’m not saying that’s a right way to think, of course. I do really want to write more ownvoices stories.

    Lmao at giving book twitter users veteran discounts 💀 Some of them definitely deserve them.

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    • Lais @ The Bookish Skies 22 de setembro de 2020 / 19:53

      That’s very true! I had never really paid that much attention on how different the intersectionality can change someone’s experience, because at the end of the day, queer people of color will experience life very differently than queer white people and that reflects on the way we see ourselves in the representation too.

      I completely get that and it’s how I feel too! I think making a mistake in another rep is different than making a “mistake” in a rep you relate with, because then it becomes about *you*. Like, what have I done “wrong” as a bi or as a Brazilian person that I don’t get this? It’s just such an added pressure! I hope we can both overcome that in our own writing!

      Thank you soooo much for stopping by and for the comment! 😊

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  5. Margaret @ Weird Zeal 17 de setembro de 2020 / 17:59

    Okay wow, I needed this discussion in my life, so thank you for putting so many of my thoughts into words. As I’m not Brazilian or Latinx, I can’t relate to those specific experiences of yours, but what you brought up about Loveless is so true. As someone who is on the aro-ace spectrum and felt incredibly represented by that book, the ~discourse~ surrounding it frustrated me because, as you said, “NO book is going to tackle all the numerous experiences that marginalized folks go through.” The claim that Loveless is “bad” representation bc it only depicts one experience of coming out as aro-ace feels ridiculous to me, since it would be literally impossible to show every experience. And similarly with the pressure that you felt to accurately depict all of Brazilian culture, it’s just not fair to writers to expect them to show all the intricacies and intersecting experiences of an identity.

    And YES, the expectation that writers of color HAVE to write about characters of color/race issues is so limiting. And this: “because of historical systems that have oppressed marginalized folks to the point where their own content is seen as irrelevant or less.” Damn. This discussion is so well written and fascinating to read – thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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    • Lais @ The Bookish Skies 22 de setembro de 2020 / 19:49

      Exactlyyy! I don’t know why we have that expectation when it comes to own-voices works, because I feel like even if there’s only one story being represented there, that’s enough, and we can certainly find other parts of the book to relate with.

      Thank you soooo much for your comment and all your kind words, Margaret! It means a lot! 💛

      Curtir

  6. Marta @ the book mermaid 20 de setembro de 2020 / 11:08

    I loved reading this post and I agree with so many points you’ve made! It’s pretty much impossible for an author to put together all the aspects of a certain representation into one single character, and it shouldn’t be required of them. After all, everyone lives their life differently. As long as the representation itself isn’t hurtful or offensive, it’s okay to be different. I loved your Brazil posts, btw. It’s okay if you don’t cover *everything* because this is a personal blog after all, with *your* unique thoughts and experiences. :)

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    • Lais @ The Bookish Skies 22 de setembro de 2020 / 19:43

      Thank you, Marta! Yeah, that insight means a lot because I always felt like I’d have to portray all the different realities of Brazil, and that is a lot of work. Thank you for your comment and for all your kind words! 😊

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  7. Ruby Rae Reads 12 de outubro de 2020 / 13:28

    Oh gosh, Lais,, I am sorry. I was sure I had read and commented on this post already. WordPress is acting up agh. I absolute loved reading this post, thank you so much for writing it and opening up. You’re amazing and I adore you!!

    also yes i have apparently abodoned twitter also because i hate it there welp

    I don’t have anything to add to the conversation as I’m not an own voices reader, but I’ve been really trying to educate myself and read more about people’s experiences. And I’ve been particularly thinking about how the label is important but also has so much pressure because everyone has different experiences. In all assets of life but particularly with representation. Everyone has a different experience and it is not fair to expect someone to adapt theirs in order to represent somebody else. Agreed with like everything here and loved all the points you brought up!!

    Anyways, you’re amazing and this post was really thought provoking and I just always love your discussions. Sending love your way friend <3<3<3

    Curtir

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