Friday, September 25, 2015

The Need for Real, Honest Diverse Books: A South Asian Perspective

A WRITE INCLUSIVELY GUEST BLOG POST IS HERE!!!!! The fantastic Meghana Ranganathan is here to speak. Take it away!

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In fifth grade, my history classes focused on ancient Rome and Greece. In sixth grade, we learned about medieval and renaissance Europe. In seventh grade, we learned about United States history. Ninth and tenth grade, we learned about Europe and the United States in the 20th Century. After that, we no longer were required to take history classes.

Six years of history, and we spent one year on the Eastern half of the world. In one year, we jammed the entire continent of Africa, and China and India into nine months. And of that year, we spent most of the time discussing what those countries were like after colonialism. Our few months of learning about India were based on how the British affected India. Because these countries needed the presence of white people to make their history relevant enough to teach in a typical school.

Looking towards college, I wanted nothing more than to break out of this cycle of focusing on the West and learn something – ANYTHING – about some other part of the world. I was so looking forward to learning the history of my ancestors – India – as well as the histories of South America, more about Africa, and Southeast Asia. I’m currently in college and out of about 80 history classes, 17 are based in countries that aren’t in Europe or North America. And from those, only 6 are about the country before colonialism.

Now, I’m not trying to write off these classes or the importance of knowing the history of the West. To be fair, a fair amount of those college classes were about the experience of minority groups in America over the last century, which is really important stuff. But those numbers just show the gaping hole we have in our education system. I’m set to graduate college in two years, and yet I can say that I know absolutely nothing about South America. Literally nothing. I haven’t sat in on one lecture or one day in school where we’ve talked about the history of South America. I can’t tell you much anything about Southeast Asia, the vast majority of Africa (though I can point to the countries and name them), and all of Asia except China and India. It’s embarrassing.

#WriteInclusively means so much to me because books and movies are the way that I learn about the experiences of people from all over the world and the way that I spread knowledge about my experiences as a South Asian female and my family’s experiences. And it’s so important to have those experiences be real and true, otherwise it’s functionally the same as teaching incorrect history, or the wrong formula for the quadratic equation. It gives an incorrect vision of the world and the people that make up the world.

And yet, this happens all the time. For me as a South Asian, I pay particular attention whenever Hollywood comes out with a movie set in India, or whenever a book about India or Indian people comes out. But as I’ve come to realize, most of these movies and books end up being about white people experiencing India, not Indians sharing their experiences (e.g. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Outsourced). There are exceptions, but I remember my first picture book about India when I was little got me so excited in the bookstore, because it was a book about someone like me. I took it home and opened it, only to find it be about a white girl going to India on vacation and her experiences. If that’s the only perspective people get on India, it creates stereotypes. Like India being this crazy country that white people have to struggle to navigate. Some part of that stereotype is true (driving in a car in India is horrifying), but we need more depth in media. I remember my mom getting so excited whenever she saw an Indian person on a television show, only to have that character be a silly stereotype of a nerdy guy with a “funny” accent who smells like curry.

The intention for my writing is to show people another side of India and the Indian people. To show people the amazing villages, the strong people who fought for Independence many decades ago, Akbar the Great and his rule over India in the 1500s, to explain the experience of a second-generation Indian female living in the United States. My parents grew up in the United States, so I’ve been called “basically white”, “whitewashed”, “only Indian by blood” and told by other South Asians that it would “do me good to take a class on India.” I grew up thinking I was the only one to experience that. In fact, I still haven’t met another second-generation person of color with whom I can share that with. I want the things that I write to tell other second-generation people of color growing up that they’re not alone, and that no one can tell them what they identify with.

And I want to learn about other identities and other countries through others’ writing. I want that to be my continuing education, and I can only do that when we support those writers who are brave enough to tell their stories and tell the stories of their countries. I will continue to support #WriteInclusively in hopes that these amazing stories start showing up on bookshelves.

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Meghana Ranganathan is a writer and a student specializing in applied mathematics. She is passionate about writing important stories from new perspectives and spreading facts about science issues like vaccines, climate change, and evolution. She runs a science blog dedicated to discussing the science behind these issues and others.

Things she thinks are genius: Jurassic Park (the book), Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, Dollhouse, cheesecake, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, apple cider, the humor in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gus and Shawn’s relationship in Psych, most M.I.A. songs, the combinations of spices in Indian food. She strives to come up with something about a quarter as amazing as most of these things.


Follow/tweet her on Twitter and visit her blog!!!!






Thank you so much for being a guest blogger!! As an Indian American myself, I can relate so well to what you have brought up.

Some of my favorite quotes:

1. "And it’s so important to have those experiences be real and true, otherwise it’s functionally the same as teaching incorrect history, or the wrong formula for the quadratic equation. It gives an incorrect vision of the world and the people that make up the world."

2. "But as I’ve come to realize, most of these movies and books end up being about white people experiencing India, not Indians sharing their experiences."

3. "But those numbers just show the gaping hole we have in our education system."\

4. "Because these countries needed the presence of white people to make their history relevant enough to teach in a typical school."

Writers: what do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments. And be sure to tweet and share this post. If you want to possibly be a guest blogger, email me.

If you want to get more involved with the Write Inclusively campaign and be up-to-date with it, sign up for the newsletter. We do not email much - in the last 10 months, only two emails have gone out.

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THANK YOU SO MUCH MEGHANA!

3 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you so much!!!

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  2. Hi! I am looking for a history book on the United States (or North America) from the perspective of Asia. Do you have any suggestions?

    ReplyDelete