What Really Matters in the Controversy of American Dirt
A word to the wise. Be sure to read books that fit the criteria. The author must identify with the gender in which you also purport to be. You must also do a thorough online search to ensure the author of the book you wish to read shares your same skin color and has DNA proof that s/he shares some degree of your genetic make-up. But you knew this, right?
Since the explosion of the book American Dirt by author Jeanine Cummins, I have been both sucked in and appalled by the racism in the literary world. I have participated in some social media discussions (aka: dramas) that included the following:
~Don't read this book!
~Read these (any) other books instead!
~American Dirt is nothing but bad writing.
~Cummins' husband is an Irish immigrant, which means he wasn't an immigrant at all.
~Her grandmother was Puerto Rican, so she clearly, Cummins, is not part of the Latino culture.
But the post I read today, was just ludicrous. It read (paraphrased):
For those of you who did not like American Dirt because a Caucasian woman wrote it, would you please suggest other books I should read instead?
I just keep staring at those words, like a massive train wreck I can't look away from. How exactly does one dislike a book they haven't read? How do they dislike a book because the author has a specific skin color? How can they not see that they have, by the use of their own words, reduced Jeanine Cummins to nothing more than her skin color?
Have we forgotten what matters?
I've read people's comments about how they're disgusted with the publisher for giving a large sum of money to Cummins for her book when they wouldn't pay that to a minority author. My question to them: Can you prove it? For kicks, I googled the highest paying authors and came back with this list. Can you guess which ones are minorities? I can't.
My point is, unless you look at a photo of every author and then cross check your work with DNA results...see what I'm getting at here? Let me spell it out:
It doesn't matter if Jeanine Cummins is rainbow colored with sprinkles in her hair.
Even if she "was inspired" by the writing of Latino authors who didn't get a million dollars advance. Even though she made that odd statement about wishing someone "browner" had written the book.
There are some things that do matter. And if you're taking notes, I hope you'll make note of these things:
--It matters that minority groups are being represented in literature.
Did Cummins represent the Mexican population accurately?
I don't know. I'm half Mexican and I know very little about my culture or where my family came from. I can't speak Spanish..."Yo necessito el libro" is the one, full sentence I retained after 2 years of high school Spanish. Go figure. That being said, I can appreciate the fact that Cummins wrote a story about people that gave me the impression that I mattered.
--It matters that we treat people with kindness.
I tend to struggle with the insane amount of backlash that comes with these kind of societal uprisings. A woman wrote a book. A publishing company published that book. The woman was paid for her work. That's it. Period. Even if I was indignant and justifiably upset about the contents of her book or the portrayal of the Latino community, or the incredible amount of money she was paid, does Cummins deserve the kind of treatment she's received?
Death threats? Really? Is this what we want to teach our children? In all honesty, I find myself rooting for Cummins. And I'm disappointed at the way some people are treating a fellow human being. Of the comments and blog posts, etc. that I've come across on this topic, this one proved to be the most informative and objective, IMO.
--It matters that we think independently.
Do you remember when you were growing up and wanted to do all the things that everyone else was doing? It didn't matter how trivial, how unsafe, or how ridiculous it was, you wanted to be part of it. And what did the adults say?
If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?
Don't engage in herd mentality. Just don't. In a world where we are working so hard to get our young people to be unique, to embrace their individuality, do we really want to back pedal to that part of the 1980s when it was impossible to tell one girl from the other?
And reading American Dirt doesn't make you racist or mean. Along those same lines, not reading American Dirt doesn't make you a supporter of minority rights and it doesn't make you better than someone who does read the book.
You do you and let other people do them when it comes to this book.
With the utmost of respect, tell me what you think of this book and its controversy. Did you read American Dirt? If so, why? Or have you decided not to? If not, how come?