For the past few years, a growing push for diversity in publishing and reading has led to campaigns like We Need Diverse Books and a focus on diversity throughout the bookish internet. One way many readers, myself included, have hoped to increase diverse reading is by tracking books and documenting reading statistics. Last week, BookTuber OneSmallPaw wrote a fabulous, thought-provoking post called Booktube Stats and the Denial of Intersections (which Monika at Lovely Bookshelf also highlighted in her Sunday Salon post) looking at some of the problems with these statistics. Danielle’s major concern is the erasure of intersections when tracking for diversity, which I’d highly recommend you read in her own words (including her follow up post). I know many others have expressed similar concerns, so I’m not sure if its timing or the way Danielle phrased everything, but this is the first time everything really came together the right way for me.
“The harmful nature of the graphs becomes even more apparent when compared with these creators’ graphs of their genre trends. There may be twenty categories representing all different types of books, but individual identities get boiled down to a mere two. Can a graph featuring two identifiers really represent all the diversity that exists in literature?”
And there it is. Straight from my own blog, right below multiple genre categories.
The initial reaction for some is to get defensive, to skip over the idea that makes them feel uncomfortable or wrong and jump to something they can criticize instead. I know, I’ve done it before. But when I looked at my statistics after reading Danielle’s post, it was clear something wasn’t right. Among other fantastic points, Danielle mentions, “If you care about the LGBTQ+ community, you will think about your use of only two gender identifiers.” and I hadn’t even considered it.
I’ve never set goals for any of my reading categories, since it was less about reaching a specific point and more about making me aware. And it’s worked. I actively seek out titles by diverse authors, make lists for my library to purchase, and understand that I have to look a little beyond what’s put in front of me by most publishers. Now that this is part of my reading life, will it change just because I don’t enter a number in a spreadsheet? I would hope not.
That said, I do think tracking can be useful, but each method I’ve mulled over still seems problematic. Take the 2014 Women of Color VIDA Count.
“When we undertook the conception of the 2014 Women of Color VIDA Count, we consulted with a number of people, including the social psychologist, Ashaki Jackson, to help develop the survey that would allow people to self identify race. We are not qualified to determine and assign race to any writer of the more than 2,000 in the 12 publications we have traditionally counted — the recent example of Rashida Jones being publicly identified by an interviewer as a white woman is one example of why. We felt that to impose our own definitions of racial identity onto others would lead to a process full of misunderstanding and erasure, and, in a way, might even serve to fortify the very power systems we hope to call into question. So we designed the survey and began reaching out to writers online.”
This great statement from VIDA highlights Danielle’s points, while also pointing out some of the problems we run into while tracking—reaching out to writers isn’t necessarily an option for every reader, every writer or every book.
So, am I planning to stop using my spreadsheet? No, I like data way too much to give it up. But I do think I’ll be making some changes. Beyond that, I don’t have a clear answer…I’m just glad to be thinking. And something tells me that a willingness to rethink is a sign I’m headed in the right direction, statistics or not.