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Through reflecting on my experience in high school English classes, I tripped on the common thread of white men dominating the curriculum. In class, I read authors like Ken Kesey, Tim O’Brien, F. Scott Fitzgerald etc.
Outside of class, I read more white writers such as Jack Kerouac, Cormac McCarthy, and Kurt Vonnegut.
These writers were recommended by my English teachers. While I enjoyed them, as a gay man, I couldn’t relate to a straight man’s story. But this lack of relation doesn’t equate to their importance as writers because they’ve paid their dues to the craft.
Once in college, my professors taught Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, and Lorraine Hansberry.
It was a breath of fresh air.
From reading these authors I realized that my lack of fulfillment as a reader came from only digesting one group’s world view. I, then spent these past two years deep-diving into writers of color.
What I learned on this journey is the importance of diverse curricula to both people of color and white people.
In high school, it was difficult to find LGBTQIA+ voices in American literature. While they exist, schools don’t teach their work. I hoped to read a book written by or about a gay man to validate my experiences, but the curriculum crushed this dream.
When I got around to reading James Baldwin and Bryan Borland, my experience as a gay man felt less lonely. I felt understood and heard. Teaching an array of authors can prevent students from feeling like academic apparitions.
It’s time to shatter the status quo.
Why We Need Change
Looking at academia with my newfound lens I asked myself: How do schools expect students to fall in love with work written by someone racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic? And there will be people saying to separate the art from the artist. Sure you can do that to an extent, but you can’t do that when their views leak into their work. At the end of the day, the art reflects the creator.
Coming to terms with the fact that you might not read something written by someone you identify with is heartbreaking. There are plenty of diverse authors with diverse stories, however, schools like continuing the tradition of a predominately white male curriculum.
Apart from authors of color, women writers need to be taught in school. Although, there’s a plethora of women writers in American literature, male dominated curriculum overshadows them. And female characters in literature are often written by men portraying them as overly emotional caricatures. Moreover, they also tend to inordinately sexualize them.
The majority of male authors I’ve read don’t know how to write women. And being a woman reading these characters must be blood boiling.
It’s crucial for schools to teach diverse authors. It allows students to walk in another person’s shoes. Furthermore, it introduces the concept of perspectives. These glimpses into the lives of people they might not surrounded themselves with helps them practice empathy. Lastly, it aids them in understanding another group’s plight.
As a result from reading writers of color I have become more of an activist. And I owe that to reading writers who talk about injustices.
Reading authors of color gifted me the opportunity to learn and understand different cultures. In addition, it also granted me the beautiful present of perspective.
I have enjoyed my journey thus far and while I am not done with my deep dive, I have learned a lot. I hope that in the future academia will realize that diversity in the curriculum has the potential to not only change lives, but also save them.