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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.

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

2 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.

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