For Part Two of my set about making choices to effect change, I want to talk about the power we already have in our daily lives to empower others. I know more people than ever committing and taking steps to changing the political reality we’re all living in, from organizing protests to donating towards important causes. Which is fantastic.
But there are everyday steps I think it’s important to take in our communities, too. Because when enough individuals change, we can change culture. Small changes can grow.
(Tangentially, this is also why I believe creating art is one of the most important kinds of work a person can do, but that’s a post for another day.)
What this looks like in practice is different for everyone, depending on industry, home situation, etc. Some people have to focus on surviving their environments, and that, too, is resistance. But for those of us for whom it’s safe to do more, I believe it’s important to take up the burden of that work in whatever way we can. I don’t just mean confronting oppression when we witness it, though that’s critical as well. I mean building into our own lives sustainable acts that can go a long way.
In my day job as an indie bookseller, I find there are lots of moments day-to-day where I make small choices that can ripple outwards.
When a man makes a joke about being embarrassed to read romance novels, I can push back on the idea that enjoying a genre devoted to centering women’s desires is something to be ashamed of.
When facing out books on the shelves that will draw customer attention, I can make sure the excellent books we face out are not dominantly by straight white men, and I can choose not to promote books by known misogynist and racist writers.
When organizing book clubs, I can make a point of choosing work by women of color, who systemically enjoy far less support and promotion than other demographics in publishing.
When parents ask for children’s book recommendations, I can recommend books by and about girls—especially girls who aren’t white—not just for the girls who need to see themselves represented on the page in stories, but for the boys who need to see them represented, too.
These are all choices I can make easily and regularly, and many of them don’t take much time.
But they do take awareness and deliberation.
As readers, we can make choices that matter just by looking at the kinds of books we read by default. Because the systems are stacked and often opaque, lots of people are startled to find what percentages of stories they’re reading by straight white men in comparison to the demographics of their lived reality.
We can make the choice to actively seek out work by women, people of color, and queer folk. We can recommend those books to our friends and communities, and we can make a point of including authors that aren’t all straight white men in our best-of lists. (Just in the last weekend I’ve had occasions to talk publicly about Mirage by Somaiya Daud, The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee, and a diverse list of folklore retellings I put together for Sirens two years ago!)
Boosting those authors and works helps change the publishing industry, and diversifying our reading helps change us.
Empathy is learned. It takes thought to undo societal conditioning. But we can do it if we try, and it doesn’t have to take heroic effort to make choices that matter.
A ripple can grow into a wave.
Let’s start poking our waters.