Opinion Pieces / reading / The Latest

10 Ways to Decolonise Your Bookshelf


Today’s post is inspired by a T-shirt I bought from GreenBoxShop. They are a U.S. based brand that specialises in social justice messages and really cool prints and fashion (if you ask me). I found them through Instagram and loved the simple yet powerful messages their brand showcases. The T-Shirts come in a range of colours and are size inclusive.

GreenBoxShop don’t know that I am writing this post today, so nothing is sponsored or anything like that. I just loved the idea behind the brand and thought it was a great talking point for book lovers who want to be socially aware.

For those who have delved into post-colonial studies the phrase “decolonise the mind” might seem familiar. However, I also understand that post-colonial studies and indigenous studies around the globe are lacking, so there is a good chance you might not have come across this phrase. In my own words, I define decolonising the mind as the active resistance against colonialist ideals that exploit and subjugate the bodies, minds, and cultures of colonised groups. Decolonisation is also about indigenous liberation, which should ultimately result in the celebration and acknowledgement of indigenous cultures.

Decolonising your bookshelf in my words—as my beautiful baby pink and white T-shirt suggests—is asking readers to actively resist colonialist notions of narrative, storytelling, art, and literature. There is a tendency in literary studies, and book culture in general, to prize certain types of authors and narratives over others. I have touched on this a little before with my talks on the literary ivory tower. But decolonising your bookshelf is more than just resisting snobbery. It is really asking you to re-assess your whole understanding of the literary canon.

At first, this can seem daunting and you probably have a lot of questions. So I thought I would start by talking about what decolonisation is not, and work our way from there.

DECOLONISATION ISN’T:

  1. throwing away every book you own written by a white person.
  2. only reading indigenous authors for the rest of your life.
  3. saying that marginalised groups are superior to dominate (white) groups. This isn’t a #alllivesmatter moment…
  4. just for marginalised groups to practice.

So now we have that out the way, what does it actually mean? Decolonisation is always going to be a somewhat personal journey. Personal because this will really change from country to country. Whilst aspects of oppression are universal the world over, I would look to your local community for guidance and ideas of what decolonisation could look like. For marginalised groups, in particular indigenous groups, decolonisation is about reclaiming, celebrating, and nurturing indigenous identities. It is about resisting the idea that white European notions of beauty, food, art, culture, and clothing etc. are above all other cultures.

If you identify as white, I believe that decolonising your bookshelf can help bring you new understandings of marginalised groups. Reading books from marginalised groups is a way to explore new cultures, learn about new identities, educate yourself, connect with marginalised storytellers, financially support marginalised artists through the act of buying books, and in general you it can create a stronger sense of community.

So how do you start decolonising your bookshelf? It all starts with a book, or two!

Rather than tell you what you should be reading, I wanted to give you some thought-provoking questions about your decolonisation journey. I have tried to keep these questions general and they can ideally apply to anyone. If you want any reading suggestions though, I am happy to give you some great starting points.

ASK YOURSELF:

  1. How many authors of colour have you read?
  2. How many books do you own by (local) indigenous authors?
  3. How often do you read female authors?
  4. Have you ever read a book by a queer author?
  5. If you have read a book about colonialism, were indigenous voices centred in the story? (Do not use the movie “Green Book” as an example)
  6. How many books have you read where the main character is from a marginalised group?
  7. Have you ever read an intersectional feminist text before?
  8. Put your money where your mouth is: how often do you buy products directly from marginalised groups? (I don’t mean that $2 boomerang you got at some discount store here…)
  9. Have you read a book that was translated from a non-European language?
  10. How often do you engage with local minority groups in your community?

There are so many more questions we can ask ourselves about how we actively resist present-day colonialist ideals, but I wanted this to be a starting point for anyone out there wanting to change, but not knowing where to start.

Here are some books to get you started:

Disclosure: This section of the blog may contain affiliate links. Clicking through for additional information or to make a purchase may result in a small commission.

So You Want to Talk About Race

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Thick

Wow, No Thank You

Untamed

Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia

The Vegetarian

We Need New Stories

Do you have any questions to add to my list? How are you decolonising your bookshelf? As always, share the reading love.

7 thoughts on “10 Ways to Decolonise Your Bookshelf

  1. I’ve been trying to do this with my reading lately and it’s an ultimately rewarding practice. I’m reading more books by women than ever, my bookshelf (both IRL and on Goodreads) is brimming with authors hailing from all over the world and I can feel my mind sharpening as a consequence.

  2. (1.) No; (2.) Indigenous to where? Watford, England?; (3.) Sometimes. Does that include non-fiction? (4.) Yes. (5.) Yes. Does that include fiction? In which case, yes again; (6) I can’t remember. I’ve been around for a long time. (7) I don’t know what that expression means; (8) Hardly ever. No marginalised groups have tried to sell anything to me. (9) Yes; (10) As an elderly curmudgeon/recluse I don’t engage with any groups within my community, such as it is. Not so much a community as a large, amorphous housing development where I barely know the next-door neighbours.

    Now that I’ve impressed you with my attempts to eradicate my own intrinsic patriarchy and white privilege, can I go now please?

    • Roland, 1. if you haven’t read any authors of colour then you can check out my review list. There are some great suggestions. 2. Local indigenous authors refers mainly to people who live in colonised lands. But don’t fret, England has a very complex colonial history, so you can always look for literally any of the hundreds of authors who’s lives have been shaped by racist British oppression from around the globe. You’ll have so much reading! 3. Women write both fiction and nonfiction and it doesn’t matter if it one or the other. However, if you want to explore your literary horizons, try both. 4. That is great that you have read queer authors. Keep reading more. 5. It is always important to think about where the motivations for stories come from, even in fiction. 6. You should use an app like Goodreads and then you can keep track of all the amazing decolonised books you are reading. 7. Intersectional means thinking about the ways in which race, gender expression, class, health, etc. impact the way people experience the world. There are some great intersectional authors in my review list. 8. Supporting marginalised groups can simply mean thinking about where you shop. There are a lot of people of colour making and doing amazing things. Try researching black-owned brands, for example, and you’ll be blown away with what is out there. 9. That is great that you are reading non-European literature. Keep doing it. 10. It can be tough to meet new people, but I am sure there would be community centres or volunteer spaces you could look in to. If you don’t like socialising in person, you can always try online spaces.

      Good luck learning and discovering new ways to decolonise your life Roland.

  3. Pingback: ‘Literary ghettos’: how do we make sure diverse authors are included in mainstream publishing? | bound2books

  4. “1. How many authors of colour have you read?”
    Plenty, and my opinion is that the books could have been written by anyone, or the quality sucked ass because the author failed to learn basic grammar or spelling and were published simply because they were authors of ‘colour’.
    “2. How many books do you own by (local) indigenous authors?”
    Do you mean native Americans or native californians? Because in the former case, those are rare, as for the former they tend to be self-published drivel that ends up in the free bin. Occasionally they arouse my curiosity but mostly they suck and are fit for lighting the stove.
    “3. How often do you read female authors?”
    I’d say 30% of the time. Some are good. Some are terrible. Some write just like men.
    “4.Have you ever read a book by a queer author?”
    I’ve nearly read the entire works of the horror author Cliver Barker. He’s gay and I love his stuff. I also like his Hellraiser stories and movies.
    “5. If you have read a book about colonialism, were indigenous voices centred in the story? (Do not use the movie “Green Book” as an example)”
    Yeah, I love the alien invasion genre. Humans being the “indigenous people” tend to be the focus.
    “6. How many books have you read where the main character is from a marginalised group?”
    Plenty and they tend to suck. The main character makes their maginalised group status central to their character and have no other traits other than being hyper-competent Mary Sues that make the other characters look stupid, incompetent or evil. In a well-written novel the main character’s race, gender, sexuality should have no bearing on whether or not they are interesting to read about.
    “7. Have you ever read an intersectional feminist text before?”
    No. Why would I read what is the equivalent of brain cancer in the literary world? Have you ever read the delusional rambling manifesto of a misogynistic? I did. “My Twisted World” by Elliot Rogers. I needed a brain bleach after reading it, but it did give me some insight into how shallow a sexist worldview can be, male or female.
    “8. Put your money where your mouth is: how often do you buy products directly from marginalised groups? (I don’t mean that $2 boomerang you got at some discount store here…)”
    Prefacing your question with an provocative accusation? Also what does it matter? I don’t spend my money frivolously because I don’t have a lot of it after I meet my basic necessities. Whatever I don’t spend I save. I don’t give out my money to non-marginalised groups either unless it’s something I really need.
    “9. Have you read a book that was translated from a non-European language?”
    Yes, I’ve read several horror stories by Japanese authors because some of them were made into some of my favorite animes. Japanese is non-European. But I doubt that’s what you meant. Also Spanish is a European language, and yet somehow I think you didn’t realize that.
    “10. How often do you engage with local minority groups in your community?”
    Does getting my car stolen twice count in two years count? What about having my laptop stolen right in front of me? Does getting called racist things by people of minority groups from across the street count? Does getting called “I’m goin’ get you” on public transportation count? Other than that, I try to greet everyone as individuals regardless of their race.
    So am I decolonized now? Can I have my non-racist card now?

  5. 1. There are literally hundreds of authors, award winning authors that I have reviewed in this blog who are authors of colour. Perhaps you need to do some more research before assuming that they have failed to learn basic grammar or spelling.
    2. I am living in Australian so my focus is on indigenous Australian authors, but there are many amazing authors from around the globe. Indigenous authors are not rare. Honestly, a quick google search can give you lists and lists of award-winning world-renowned indigenous authors. Again, the fact that you assume they are all ‘self-published drivel’ might mean that your view of these groups of people have been shaped by a lot of negative and unfounded biases.
    3. It is great that you are reading female authors and I hope you continue to read more.
    4. Again, it is great that you have found a queer author you like. I hope you can find even more amazing queer authors to read.
    5. Colonialism in this instance does not refer to alien invasions, however, the metaphor of invasion can be used as a lens through which to view marginalized groups who have faced colonization throughout the globe.
    6. I think you might need to ask yourself, why you are so angry at marginalized groups expressing their own thoughts and opinions of their lived experiences in literature? Of course gender, race, wealth, disability, etc. play a role in shaping who we are as people. I am sure that there are many experiences you have had throughout your life that would be a direct result of what constitutes you as a person. It might be good to reflect on why talking about that upsets you so much?
    7. As someone who has had a loved one struggle with cancer that resulted in a metastasis in the brain – I find this comment to be pretty low brow. Cancer is never a joke nor should it be used for point of comparison to something you dislike. There are many feminist authors writing amazing things. Before assuming they are all the same, it might be good for you to try and read more broadly.
    8. This question is designed to ask people: do they purchase things that are made directly by marginalized groups or do they purchase things that are not made by marginalized groups, but are designed to profit off the culture of said group? Namely, if you want to invest money in a decoration or artwork and you like the designs of a particular group, make sure you are buying things from that group. For example, there are many people that will steal indigenous designs and sell them. This is stealing artwork. This question doesn’t ask you to spend all of your money… It asks you think about where you buy things, when you do want to spend money.
    9. I love Japanese literature. When I said Non-European, Japanese is indeed one of the groups that I was thinking of. I also love South Korean texts – there are some great authors coming out lately. You should check them out. My husband is from Brazil and therefore, Portuguese is one of the four languages I speak. We have travelled through Central and South America where the colonizer languages Portuguese and Spanish are spoken. Again, here is an example of where your negative assumptions mean that you over-generalize. What makes you assume that I don’t know anything about Spanish or how Central and South America was colonized? Instead of ‘looking smart’ your assumptions look close-minded.
    10. I am sorry that you have experienced theft. Although, I don’t think every single person of every marginalized group is out stealing cars and throwing threats at people. I would urge you to not use these negative experiences to assume that every person of colour is out to get you. Engaging with community groups might be a way to help you open your eyes to the beauty in humanity. I for example, could have read this comment and assumed it as just another sad nasty racist person who hates the world. However, I believe that there is some compassion and possibility for growth in you. Decolonisation is a life long process. Anti-racism is also a lifelong pursuit of unlearning so many internalized and unconscious biases. So sadly, it isn’t that simple. May the people you meet in life treat you with kindness and compassion, and may they never make the same misguided assumptions about you that you make about them. Good luck on your journey.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.