We Only Read White Literature in School
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Politics and Activism

We Only Read White Literature in School

How American English class suppresses U.S history.

We Only Read White Literature in School
Photo by Seven Shooter on Unsplash

In English class, we study "respectable" forms of literature. We read "classics" that are our foundation for viewing the world around us. There is a problem with these literary classics however, and that is their authors: all straight, white, cis males. These make up the entirety of the literary canon, therefore they are the only perspective we study. This hinders our understanding of history and racism, as in these books, racism is presented as a problem of the past, rather than a contemporary issue. This lack of black representation is why so many students are unaware of systemic racism in our modern day society.

Why is this so important to recognize? This under-representation of the black experience may be why many people assume racism died with the civil war, and think the black lives matter movement is not their fight. The historical narratives never show racism in modern context. We never really learn the dangers of white privilege. It allows room for ignorance.

The literary canon should include more diverse authors so we can get a better understanding of contemporary social issues. We glaze over slavery and only know that black people were oppressed. We are not reminded how law enforcement was created to terrorize black people. We do not realize our prisons are disproportionately black men. We do not learn how black people are more likely to live in poverty, or be deprived of a quality education.

What if we read books that show us contemporary social problems instead of only books that make it seem like those problems are history? If schools cannot amplify black voices in the books they teach, they should encourage students to listen and read more books by black authors. By including black authors, we will have a fuller understanding of humanity, instead of a perspective that is one-dimensional.

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