Wonder – Reflection: Ableism and #OwnVoices

16951605420_4ecb7ff1cb_kPhoto credit: Writer’s Block | Isabelle Gallino | CC 2.0

Before I became disabled, ableism was not something I thought much about nor was I truly aware of the extent it is embedded in our society and in our internal voices. Ableism is defined as discrimination in favor of able-bodied people, but such a definition calls to mind things like discrimination in hiring or access to a building. Yes, these are aspects of ableism, but ableism goes beyond these things. It is pervasive in our society in an insidious way where most of us, even those of us who are victims of it, do not quite recognize it for what it is.

I had considered ranting about ableism and how books like Wonder feed into this mindset that there is some perfection we should all be trying to achieve. There are people who advocate euthanasia for children on the autism spectrum. This is equivalent to forced sterilizations of “imblices” and other degenerates which occurred in our history and it sickens me to think that there are such similar conversations going on today.

But honestly, such a rant wouldn’t be entirely genuine as I am not disabled with a visible or obvious disability. Instead, I have an invisible illness and while ableism is rampant towards people with invisible illness, it isn’t exactly or always the same as the ableism faced by those with visible illness or difference. In my case, I would prefer a world in which I could be fixed, so I could go back to my old self, but I also strongly believe there is nothing about me that needs to be fixed in the way society seems to think I need to be. After all, in America, we are most often judged on our productivity and a person on disability is deemed unworthy since they do not contribute. I do not think I need fixing in this sense and recognize that I have value regardless of productivity.

I already discussed this some when I reflected on the book, The Little Queen. So that’s not the direction I want this post to go in. I don’t know exactly the direction I want this post to go in. I feel the need to share something to atone for reviewing a book that falls within the parameters of this blog (author of color), but yet falls into the same problems of books by white authors writing outside their experience about marginalized groups. It’s made me stop to consider more carefully what specifically is the aim of reading books by authors of traditionally marginalized groups if those books do not fall within the realm of #OwnVoices. I don’t have an answer for that yet. In fact, I did not realize I needed an answer for that until I sat down to write this post. But it does partly help explain why I’ve struggled to write reviews for a few books I read awhile ago. When a book is outside of the #OwnVoices story, yet tries to write of such experiences, something does not sit well with me. It turns out, that the book I am currently reading falls into that category and there are moments I consider bailing; not because the story isn’t good or it’s not well written, but because I cannot imagine how the author can be true to his main character which has lived an experience so vastly different from his own.

Does it matter who writes the diversity as long as there is diversity? Is it possible for a writer from a privileged group to write a true account of character from a marginalized group? How do we know what is an #OwnVoices story and what isn’t? Do we demand authors tell us their history and background to then determine whether it is an #OwnVoices story? How responsible are we for what we read?

5 thoughts on “Wonder – Reflection: Ableism and #OwnVoices

  1. Obviously I can’t speak on all authors, but I have found that Leigh Bardugo tends to have a wide range of diverse characters and they are all such wonderfully complex individuals that I feel that they are incredibly realistic. So, I guess so long as they don’t feel like characters to me, but instead actually resemble real people, it does not matter who the author is.

    Though I do think we need to have more diverse representation within the author community and blogger/vlogger communities, and even within the books themselves.

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    • I was wondering about Leigh as I’ve heard she has diverse characters, but I wasn’t sure if they were tokens or fully flushed out. I didn’t feel like August was complex; he felt like a character of a real person.

      The more I reflect on it, the more I feel it’s more challenging for an author to write about the specific challenges of being a minority, but it is possible to write diverse characters as rich, complex characters.

      We do need more diversity in all aspects of literature. It appears we are moving more and more towards that.

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      • Yeah, I have felt like there is greater diversity in new and upcoming releases, which is good. And my opinion for Leigh’s characters is that they are fully fleshed out. They all have hopes and dreams and desires and flaws, and I just love following them. Like in the Six of Crows duology you are following a crew of basically criminals, so they aren’t shining pillars of society, but they aren’t corrupt evil mustache twirlers either. They are so fully mired in shades of grey and you can’t help but enjoy the adventure and see how they develop even further.

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