There's something that has been worrying me for a little while now. Are there certain books that privileged people just shouldn't read?
Back in November, Jay Coles tweeted a thread as he was reading Lies We Tell Ourselves, a book by Robin Talley - a white author - set in 1959 about the integration of black students into a previously all-white school, and the racism they face. Coles discussed how much was wrong with this book - do go and read the thread and then come back. I originally raved about this book in my review, I absolutely loved it, but I missed these problematic elements due to my privilege. This was on my mind as I read The Steep & Thorny Way. a Hamlet retelling in prohibition era Oregon, when the KKK were still active, by Cat Winters, another white author. I've not seen anyone have any issues with that book, but I did look for reviews before writing my own.
More recently, I read and loved Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland, which features Grace as the love interest, who is disabled due to an accident, and walks with a cane. Then just last week, I saw a review of Our Chemical Hearts on Disability in Kidlit, which discuss some issues around Grace's disability, which I, again, missed.
Of course it goes without saying that we should have more people involved in the publishing process who would spot these things - more people of colour, more disabled people, more LGBTQ people - and the same for those who judge books when it comes to awards (Lies We Tell Ourselves has won, was longlisted, and shortlisted for numerous awards), so that problematic books are found to be problematic before they're published/win awards. This absolutely has to happen. But, obviously, we're not in a great place when it comes to diversity in publishing, so some books slip through.
This isn't about whether white authors should write about racism, or if able-bodied authors should write about disability - that's a discussion for another time. This is about me, as a book blogger - as a privileged white, cis-het, able-bodied book blogger - and reviewing certain books. As a book blogger, reviewing a book leads to promotion - even when reviewing negatively, I've had people tell me my review has still made them want to check out the book. If there is the possibility that I may miss out on problematic elements because of my privilege, should I be reviewing it, and, therefore, promoting it? I did think Lies We Tell Ourselves was amazing, because of my privilege, I didn't notice the problems with it. Because of my privilege, I didn't realise that there were issues surrounding Grace in Our Chemical Hearts.
I'm very much aware of my privilege, and I'm very open to learning and being educated. But I also know, because of my privilege, I may miss things, and I don't want to be part of the problem by promoting books that are problematic. What's the solution here?
Like with A Steep & Thorny Way, I could try to find reviews for the books I'm reading before I write my own, but I've been doing that recently, and not finding reviews in reputable places, like Disability in Kidlit. If there's no way of checking, at the point of finishing a book, if the book is problematic or not, should I simply not review the book? Write a review maybe, but don't post it until I'm sure about the representation? Or should I simply stick to #OwnVoices novels, to be certain the rep is going to be the best it can be? Part of me doesn't want to do that though, because I could miss out on really good, well-researched books, where the author has gone to great lengths (like all should) to make sure there is good rep in their books.
What do you think? What's the best way around this? How would you make sure privilege doesn't get in the way of reviewing?