As a white person, I’ve historically been unaware of the more insidious tendrils of racism and white supremacy in our society. As I’ve educated myself more on anti-racism, I’ve often felt guilty for all the times I was complicit in upholding whiteness in the past, but that was until I realized I actually wasn’t. I may not have thought of myself as an activist or an ally in high school, but in reality, I did combat my English department’s eurocentrism by not doing any of the assigned reading at all.
The Scarlet Letter, Grapes of Wrath, Romeo and Juliet, Huckleberry Finn: these are all texts by white men of European descent that I was supposed to read, discuss, and write essays about in high school. While the onus for greater curricular diversity lies on those with the power to change it, it’s still a shame that most students don’t question the overwhelmingly white reading lists assigned to them. Not me though. While I may have never questioned them with my words, I did practice resistance by not doing my homework and then leaning to the kid next to me at the beginning of class and asking what happened in the last three chapters like they could whisper all of that to me in two seconds.
Hundreds of pop quizzes may have said I failed, but my moral compass says otherwise.
A lot of people these days are having conversations about how curricula are selected, what stories aren’t being told, and the need to deconstruct how we naturalize what belongs in the “canon”. Unfortunately, those are just words. I suppose I’ve always been more one for action. That’s why the most I ever read of the so-called Great Gatsby was its Wikipedia page, and yes, my essay on it got me accused of plagiarism. That’s called “good trouble”.
Of course, there will be those who say, “You also didn’t read Beloved or Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” and to that I say, who told you that? Was it Mrs. Reynolds? But you know what, maybe the question should be why were we only assigned Black-written texts about slavery? Damn. Yeah. Bet you didn’t think about that. Better luck next time.
So whoever and wherever you are, do your part by just reading less in general. Welcome to the movement!