The notion that all classic literature is out-of-touch stories written by old (or dead) straight, white men, is one I’ve heard with increasing frequency. It’s usually in conjunction with the assertion that modern literature is more diverse and inclusive than classic literature, and therefore classics are no longer necessary or valuable to read.
Admittedly, this was something that I used to believe.
I’ve talked before about my feeling on how prevalent this line of thinking is, and how detrimental I feel it is to the sheer number of diverse classics that actually exist. To condense: diverse classics exist. They are still important, and much of the problem in the lack of knowledge on diverse classics rests in how classics are taught and which ones are taught, not because they simply don’t exist.
I think this is important to understand, because when we erase the existence of diverse classics, of the stories written by and about marginalized people and people outside of the Western experience, we are (even if unintentionally) erasing those voices by asserting they were never speaking in the first place. It is as important as uplifting and reading diverse literature today.
With conversations about representation gaining speed and more books gaining recognition for having more and better diversity, a common trend I’ve noticed is bringing classics into the mix. I have a lot of thoughts about it, namely how we’re centering classics as the opposite of good, modern representation and diversity.
I don’t think that classics are or should be everyone’s cup of tea; diversity in reader preference is as important as having diversity in the books that we’re reading. That said, as someone who enjoys classics and the boom in more inclusive media, I’m not sure that the way the discussions surrounding classics versus modern literature are adequately tackling the issues with classics in terms of representation and pitting them against each other has more inherent problems than not.
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I made a couple of Tweets yesterday regarding ARCs—specifically ARCs for books written by/for people of color and the disproportionate number of white ARC reviewers for these books vs. reviews by people of color.
I was finalizing the list of books I wanted to include on my BHM Anticipated Releases Tour (shameless plug for the fun happening next week) and skimming the reviews because I like looking through reviews of books I want to read because I like to get a feel for how a book has been received or perceived; I find it makes me think more when I read through a book.
In browsing the Goodreads pages for the authors/books I’d be including, I noticed a pattern that was mildly annoying until I came across a review on New Kid that solidified the source of my agitation. New Kid is a middle-grade graphic novel written by Jerry Craft with the following blurb:
Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.
As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?
New Kid, Jerry Craft
And yet so many reviews, including the one in question, entirely stripped New Kid of its racial context, hailing it as a universal story about what it means to be a new kid in a strange environment. As I started to pay more attention to who was reviewing the ARCs of this book, I realized the sheer number of the reviewers weren’t black or even biracial reviewers, but white ones.