Love is Love is Not an Excuse

Even when we aren’t marching with Tiki Torches and shouting “JEWS WILL NOT REPLACE US,” white people have a natural talent for racial bias.  So natural, in fact, that most of us regularly contribute to discrimination and erasure of people of color (POC) without realizing it.

The LGBTQ+ community is no exception.  In our struggle for rights and acceptance, we have an unfortunate tendency to ignore queer people of color (QPOC). Take, for example, the Stonewall riots: widely seen as a turning point in the struggle for gay rights in America (less so for trans* rights, unfortunately).  These riots, although instigated by trans women of color, launched a movement that benefitted white cisgender gay people disproportionately to the rest of the queer community. The 2015 movie about the Stonewall riots even created a fictional character just so the protagonist could be a cisgender white man instead of the real-life Marsha P. Johnson and/or Silvia Rivera.

We white people have been socialized, through a system of racial oppression, to see ourselves as the “default” and to center ourselves in situations that are not about us.  I am not saying that white queer people (WQP) do not face real difficulties with discrimination and violence, rather that QPOC experience a uniquely difficult struggle as a result of their intersecting marginalized identities.  See this, this, this, this, this, and this article for more information.

When the Pulse shooting happened last year, WQP yet again overlooked the experiences of QPOC as we processed our grief and rage and fear.  I own my contribution to this; I and many of my white queer friends initially failed to acknowledge that the majority of victims were people of color and that Hispanic/Latinx and black communities were hit harder than we were.  It took some reading, a few difficult conversations, and a lot of introspection for me to understand that by claiming the event as “the gay 9/11” and by centering my feelings of victimhood, I was effectively ignoring QPOC.

Which is why today, I want to talk about the comic Love is Love.

LoveIsLove-Cv1

For anyone who doesn’t know, Love is Love is a 144-page comic anthology co-published by DC Comics and IDW in December of 2016, in order to raise money for survivors, families, and victims of the Pulse Shooting. It features 1-2 page comics and spreads depicting the rage, grief, fear, and ultimately hope within the LGBTQ+ and ally communities in response to the event.

You might ask what this anthology has to do with QPOC erasure.  Look at the racial diversity represented on the cover! Unfortunately, the cover doesn’t mean much once you realize that white men are over-represented on the list of writers and artists, while people of color are grossly under-represented. In fact, despite 300+ creators contributing to the project, Love is Love features the work of exactly one black woman.  For perspective: two of the Pulse shooting’s 49 victims were black women; three were white men.

At an LGBTQ+ comics convention in Brooklyn, New York, I attended a panel called “Love is Love: One Year Later,” featuring a small group of contributors, half of whom were white men. Marc Andreyko, the project’s originator and main organizer, moderated the panel. He was understandably proud of the anthology’s success; although meant to be a one-time event, Love is Love has gone through several re-printings, distributed more than 100,000 copies, and will soon be released for publication in several foreign countries. Given that 100% of the initial proceeds went to people who were affected by the Pulse shootings – with proceeds of later publications slated to benefit LGBTQ+ charities such as The Trevor Project – this is undeniably a good thing.

Which is likely why Andreyko was so thrown off when the first two questions from the audience called him out on the lack of POC contributors.

The resulting discussion consisted of several familiar justifications, from Andreyko as well as contributor Phil Jimenez (who himself is a QPOC):

  • You’re wrong.
  • How do you know they were white?
  • No seriously, how do you know?
  • We used white male contributors because we wanted this project to sell.
  • We reached out to as many people as we knew.
  • Not everyone we contacted was able to submit something by the deadline.
  • We didn’t intentionally exclude people of color.

Andreyko did later walk back a few of these comments, acknowledging the problematic lack of diversity on the contributor list and pledging to do better in future anthologies.  (Side note: apparently a five-year anniversary edition is in the works, and Andreyko promises to include more QPOC creators.)

Not all of these excuses were completely false; the comic publishing industry has been consistently dominated by white men. By limiting the project to people who were well-known, easy for white men within the industry to reach, and/or able to temporarily drop what they were doing to create a contribution without being paid for it, the organizers unconsciously favored white men, whose privilege allows them to be over-represented among people who fit those criteria.

White people who are committed to racial equality need to understand that it is not enough to be “color-blind” or to ignore race as a factor. In projects such as Love is Love, white people in a position of privilege need to actively reach out to people of color, directly counteracting the systemic disadvantages that POC face. We so naturally default to white centrism that anything that does not actively work to include POC unintentionally shuts them out. (And that’s not even considering the issue of tokenism.)

The conversation was not going well until Tee Franklin, the only black woman on the panel (the entire project, in fact) spoke up.  (Jimenez appeared stunned to learn that Franklin was the only black woman contributor.)  Franklin described her experience as the “token black woman” in Love is Love.  She talked about queer black women and girls who had approached her to say that her contribution was the only place where they saw themselves represented. She pointed out that not only do databases of creators of color exist, so do anthologies of their work.  There’s even a database where people can search for queer creators of color.

Andreyko seemed increasingly receptive to what Franklin was saying, and by the end of the discussion he appeared willing to take action to include more queer creators of color in future projects.  My girlfriend and I were visiting Tee Franklin’s display after the panel, and Andreyko actually approached her while we were there.  He looked through one of the anthologies she had mentioned and eventually gave her his contact information so that they could work together on future POC-inclusive projects.  As someone outside the comic publishing industry, I can only hope that positive change comes from this.

A recurring theme at this convention was the importance of diversity, intersectionality, and representation in the media.  Representation matters, I heard time and time again. The Love is Love panel attempted to put that mantra into action, by calling out a project whose representation was lacking. I’m sad that it took almost a year for this issue to be brought to the organizers’ attention, and I’m equally sad that Tee Franklin is receiving backlash for speaking out about it. WQP (and allies) need to start doing better by QPOC, and this is just one of the many ways we can do it.

So what can you do?  Here are a few ideas:

  • Watch a video of the panel on Facebook. Show your support for Tee Franklin and other QPOC by liking or sharing it.
  • Educate yourself on the struggles that QPOC face. As I’ve said in previous entries, it’s long past time for white people to listen to marginalized voices.
  • Include QPOC in your conversations about LGBTQ+ issues.  Do you know how many trans women of color were killed in 2016? 2017? The past 48 hours? Do your friends and family know? Do not let another conversation about the Pulse shooting finish without someone mentioning the queer Latinx and black communities. Keep pushing when your white friends and families try to ignore or dismiss the issue. Be that person.
  • Show your support for Tee Franklin on Twitter and/or by pre-ordering her book Bingo Love. I’ve read the preview, and it looks fantastic!
  • Support queer creators of color by actively seeking out their projects.  I listed some ideas in a previous entry about prose books by authors of color, and there are plenty of other resources out there for finding books and comics by queer creators of color.
  • Let Marc Andreyko know that you hope future projects similar to Love is Love will be more inclusive of queer creators of color.
  • Buy and read Love is Love. Yes, it’s problematic, but it’s also a wonderful project for an excellent cause. We can acknowledge its racial bias while enjoying and supporting it for the good that it does.  Just make sure that when you discuss the book, you acknowledge the experience of QPOC and creators who were excluded. Do the work to make your corner of the LGBTQ+ movement inclusive, intersectional, and representative.
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Black Lives Matter 101 for white people

The following is an email I wrote to my (white) extended family and friends in July 2016. Unfortunately, the points I made nearly a year ago are still far too relevant

By now you have all heard of two incidents in as many days in which black men (Alton Sterling and Philando Castile) were fatally shot by police officers.  Yet Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are only the latest in a long line of black men, women, and children who were killed by police officers.  Tamir Rice. Sandra Bland. Eric Garner. Alexia Christian. Michael Brown. Trayvon Martin. Mya Hall.  Freddie Gray. Meagan Hockaday. And so many more.

In the cases of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, horribly graphic videos have surfaced.  These include multiple videos of the incident in which Alton Sterling was tackled, pinned to the ground, and shot at close range, as well as one video of the aftermath of the shooting of Philando Castile in his car, in which his girlfriend narrates what happened, watches him die, and is arrested along with her four-year old daughter.  I am not going to link to those videos here.  They are brutal and graphic and to watch them solely for the purpose of emotional reaction is voyeuristic and disrespectful to the victims.  That said, if you need to see them in order to believe what happened, then by all means go watch them.  The videos won’t be hard to find; they’re everywhere. Find them. Watch them. Understand.

 

Because we as white people need to understand what is happening. Our police officers are killing black people and this trend is not going away.
A study reveals that in 2015, police killed at least 346 black people in the United States.  (Click on “About the Data” at the top of the page to find detailed descriptions of their sources and how they defined their terms.)  From January 2013 to April 2016, police officers killed between 12 and 43 black people each month. Black people were three times more likely to be killed by police officers than white people were.  30% of black victims were unarmed, compared to 19% of white victims.  Importantly: when data was analyzed by city, numbers of black people killed by police officers showed no correlation to rates of violent crime.

 

So, the “Ferguson effect” (in which police killings are supposedly linked to increases in crime) is demonstrably false.
According to another study, police fatally shoot black civilians most frequently in cities where the black and white populations are close to equal but the police forces are primarily white.  By contrast, in cities where racial diversity in the police force accurately represents civilian demographics, these incidents are significantly less common. These factors influenced what the researchers labeled “(perceived) group threat.” Parentheses are theirs.
Perceived group threat.  Police in certain cities – in which black people are residents but not police officers – are considering black civilians to be a collective threat.  As a result, police in these cities are killing black civilians in greater numbers.  I should note again, these killings are not correlated with rates of violent crime.  Need more proof?  A writer for the Washington Post summarizes this finding from the FBI:

 

“In 2014, the suspects were black in only about 15 percent of homicides in which the victim was white, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Yet in cities where more such crimes were committed, killings of black civilians by police were also more common – although less so in cities where the make-up of the police force was similar to the population’s.

By contrast, there appeared to be no connection between killing of black civilians by police and the rates of homicides involving black suspects and black victims.

Uncomfortable yet?  There’s more.

 

A study conducted in November 2015 revealed “evidence of a significant bias in the killing of unarmed black Americans relative to unarmed white Americans” from 2011-2014. Specifically, “the probability of being {black, unarmed, and shot by police} is about 3.49 times the probability of being {white, unarmed, and shot by police} on average.”  This racial bias was found to vary significantly by county, “with some counties showing relative risk ratios of 20 to 1 or more.”  This relative risk was greatest in large cities with “low median incomes, large populations of black residents, and significant income inequality.”  Again: “There is no relationship between county-level racial bias in police shootings and crime rates (even race-specific crime rates) meaning that the racial bias observed in police shootings in this data set is not explainable as a response to local-level crime rates.” (Emphasis mine.)
With that out of the way, we need to talk some more about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
By now you know the stories: Alton Sterling was selling CDs outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge when he was shot in the chest and back by a Louisiana Police Officer.  Philando Castile was pulled over for a broken tail light and then fatally shot – with his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter in the car to witness the whole thing.
Maybe you’ve witnessed the heartbroken friends and family: videos of Sterling’s 15-year-old son breaking down on national television, Castile’s mother reporting that she was not allowed to identify his body and she did not know where his girlfriend – who had livestreamed the aftermath of the shooting, including her own arrest – was (she was not released from police custody until the next morning).  I’m not linking to those videos here.  Again, it’s voyeuristic to watch them simply for the emotional reaction; again, if you need to see them to believe them, you can find them easily.
The anger and grief and shock that these people are experiencing cannot be understated and should not be ignored by anyone with a modicum of compassion. These people are furious, I’m furious, and you should be too.  If you’re not, it’s long past time to start asking yourself why.
We’ve already started to learn about the backgrounds of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.  Alton Sterling has a mugshot and a criminal history. As Justin Cohen says in his article:

“…the media will outline the various ways in which the victim behaved inappropriately in the past.  None of this matters, and it certainly does not change the fact that the police killed the person outside of any legal process. I smoked pot when I was in high school, for example, and if the police used that as justification to murder me, that would be ludicrous.”

Whatever you want to say about Alton Sterling’s criminal history, it has nothing to do with the specific incident in which he was shot and killed by police. Using his criminal history to justify not feeling bad about his death implies that he deserved to die because of his past crimes.  That is not usually our intention when we refer to these criminal backgrounds, but we use excuses to make ourselves “feel better” about what happened, and the implication is the same.  This is not okay.
Tom Winter of NBC News has already pointed out, via Twitter, that Philando Castile had been pulled over by police 31 times since 2002 for traffic violations. Think about this one for a moment.  Traffic violations. If you are going to argue that traffic violations – even a high volume of them – can ever justify killing someone, then it is definitely time to stop and think.  Examine where that comes from.  Ask yourself if you would feel that way about a white victim with a similar traffic record, and be honest about your answer.
We as white people can ignore racial injustice because it doesn’t directly affect us.  If I’m pulled over for speeding, I do not worry that I’m going to be shot.  Nor does police violence feel like a particular danger to me when I’m walking down the street.  If I want to, I can ignore what’s happening to black people in our country because it doesn’t impact my life.  Meanwhile, acknowledging it – understanding that the institution which is supposed to serve and protect me is committing constant system-wide injustice against people whose skin is different from mine – is deeply uncomfortable.
I am not suggesting that white people honestly believe that a black person deserves to die because he (or she) is frequently pulled over for speeding.  I’m saying that we frequently use whatever excuses we can to justify these deaths.  Michael Brown was “a thug,” Sandra Bland shouldn’t have talked back, and Tamir Rice should not have been allowed alone in public with a BB gun.  We are smarter than this, and I sincerely hope we have more empathy and compassion than this, but thinking critically about these situations reveals truths that are deeply unsettling.  If this system has been so biased for so long, who are we for allowing that to happen?  Who are we for being complicit with and benefitting from a system that disproportionately kills people based on race?
The answer is uncomfortable, and on some level I understand why we want to avoid it.  But this is happening, and it will keep happening if we don’t allow ourselves to be uncomfortable with it.  After admitting to ourselves what is truly going on, we will feel guilt, rage, grief, shame.  We’ll feel uncomfortable, unsettled, less secure in our country.  We may feel frustrated and helpless.  All of that is okay.  If we don’t let ourselves feel these things, our system will never change.  We will continue to be complicit, and these deaths will keep happening.

 Philando Castile spent 10+ years working for St. Paul Public Schools, the most recent two years as a supervisor in their cafeteria.  One coworker is quoted in this article as saying:

“Kids loved him. He was smart, over qualified. He was quiet, respectful, and kind. I knew him as warm and funny; he called me his ‘wing man.’ He wore a shirt and tie to his supervisor interview and said his goal was to one day ‘sit on the other side of this table.”

He’s gone now.  His students, the ones who are old enough to understand, are mourning.  A four year old black girl learned firsthand that this is what police officers do to black men.  Friends and family and coworkers are grieving just as friends and family and witnesses are grieving for Alton Sterling. They are shouting that enough is enough.  As white people, it is long past time for us to listen.

Don’t just take my word for it.  Read, watch, educate yourself in whatever way you can.  Open your eyes to what’s happening and understand.  As white people, we have a choice to look the other way, and as long as we keep making that choice, the racism in our system will not change. Black people – men, women, adults, children, LGBTQ+, straight – will continue to be killed by the system that is supposed to afford them the same protections that it affords us.
Another email I wrote, to the same group, a few days later.  The first part is a response to comments about the Dallas Police shootings that took place shortly after Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were killed.
The Dallas Police shooting is also an important story and definitely needs to be included in the conversation.  We need to condemn these attacks and feel sorrow and compassion for the families and friends of Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarippa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens just as we feel for the family and friends of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.  We are human. We have space to mourn all of them and condemn violence in all its forms.

That said, we need to be very careful that we do not allow our outrage and grief at the Dallas shootings to overshadow our reaction to police brutality against black people across the country.  Obviously, the Dallas Police were not involved in the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling any more than those two men were involved in incidents of black people killing cops.  As I said, we have space to be angry for both, and we should not attempt to diminish or simplify our anger by using one tragic incident to justify another.

 

The difference is that people who kill police officers are severely punished, while historically the reverse has not been true.  This should not affect our emotional response to the tragedy of either situation, but it should color our desire to get involved in the outcome.  If nothing else, the violence of this past week shows us that this cycle will keep happening unless something drastically changes.
Another point I want to address: the conversation about Philando Castile’s traffic record is relevant outside of the context of his shooting, because black drivers are pulled over far more frequently than white drivers.  Even something as silly and innocent as playing the game Pokemon Go is more dangerous for black people or other people of color.  So while Philando Castile’s laundry list of traffic violations has no place in discussions about his death, it does need to be included in the conversation about injustices that black people face every day in America.  All of it needs to be addressed if we want to see change.
This is still relevant.  In a recent entry, I suggested some ideas for fighting oppression and injustice in a post-Trump America. I won’t repost them all here, but I will include this one: the homepage of Black Lives Matter movement, which outlines their mission and aims.  Read about BLM directly from the women who started it instead of the myriad of politicians who are framing them in different ways to suit their own agendas.

In conclusion, as I stated in my original email to my family:

 

Think. Listen. Acknowledge. Be uncomfortable.  Maybe then we can find a way to put an end to this.

 

Books by people of color: A rec list

In early 2016 I realized that the overwhelming majority of books I had read were written by white authors. It was one of those “duh” moments that formulated my privileged-white-person-becoming-aware-of-pervasive-systemic-racism process.  To some extent, I blame American public schools, the media, and the publishing industry, but the bottom line is that I had neglected to examine all of the ways that white supremacy has seeped into the cracks and seams of my life.  So, I made a resolution to only read books by authors of color for a year.

I highly recommend that other white readers do this: if not a full year of avoiding white authors, then a close examination of the diversity of the authors you’ve read and conscious effort to expand it.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: listening to people of color has never been more important than it is now.

I’ve created a list of some of my favorites.  I did my best to include a variety of genres, but there are definite trends.

Feel free to add your recs if you have any!

Nonfiction – Essays

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

This is a collection of thoughtful, well-written, and occasionally hilarious essays on gender, race, sexuality, body type, higher education, and Scrabble. Anything by Roxane Gay is worth a read (I’m currently reading Difficult Women, which I love so far), and this award-winning bestseller is a fantastic place to start.

Ljeoma Oluo’s articles

Okay, you caught me. Two items on this list aren’t physical books. To my knowledge, Oluo hasn’t published anything off the internet (except for the Badass Feminist Coloring Book, which I discovered while researching her and will be placing on my wish list right…now.) Nonetheless, her writing is too important to exclude, especially now.  I specifically recommend “Welcome to the Anti-Racism Movement” and “When a Woman Deletes a Man’s Comment Online.”

Nonfiction – History

God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 by David Levering Lewis

This one was obviously written for people who either read about history for a living or want to read about history for a living. I am not one of those people. Still, it was worth pushing through the dense material in order to see a perspective on Medieval Europe that we never got in my overwhelmingly-white American public school.

Nonfiction – Memoir

The Other Side of Paradise by Staceyann Chin

Staceyann Chin, a lesbian speaker and activist from Jamaica, describes her childhood, biracial identity, adolescence, coming-out, and emigration to the United States.  Her story is emotional, charming, and powerful, and the audiobook – which she narrates – absolutely blew me away.

Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

This memoir was published long before Obama ran for president, and it beautifully outlines the way that his biracial identity and early activism uncovered complex issues about American race relations.

Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching by Mychal Denzel Smith

I think, at a minimum, every American needs to read or listen to this book. Smith uses his life experience to illustrate hard and complicated truths, not just about the experience of black men in America but also the experiences of women, LGBTQ+ people, people with mental illness, and people with multiple marginalizing identities. There’s an audiobook narrated by actor Kevin R. Free, and it is phenomenal.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

A lawyer in Alabama who started a non-profit organization to provide legal counsel for Death Row prisoners – among a myriad of other things – Stevenson uses tragic and horrifying case examples to highlight the cruelty and racism in the American criminal justice system. This is another book that all Americans – especially white Americans and/or people who feel complacent with our justice system – need to read or listen to. (Stevenson reads the audiobook.)

Fiction – Non-speculative

Trumpet by Jackie Kay

A famous jazz musician dies, and his death reveals to the world that he was transgender in an age when trans* issues were even more poorly-understood than they are today. The book uses alternating points of view between between the late musician’s wife, adult son, and people with varying degrees of involvement in his life in order to weave a tragic and heartwarming story.

Burnt Shadows by Kamala Shamsie

I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Kamala Shamsie (see also: In the City by the SeaKartography), but this one is my favorite. It follows a survivor of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki as she transitions from houseguest in a British home in Delhi, to refugee in Pakistan, to wife and mother in Karachi, to elderly woman watching New York City struggling to recover after 9/11.  There is love and tragedy and destruction and the sense that everything is endless and cyclical.

(Kamala Shamsie is my former creative writing professor, which is how I found out about her. I wish she were better-known because she is a fantastic writer with important things to say, especially about politics in the Middle East and the USA.)

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

Tragic and complex and layered, this series of interconnected anecdotes centers on two Native American families living on a reservation in North Dakota.  The book meanders between time period and point-of-view as aimlessly as many of its characters wander through life.  Several of Erdich’s other books are on my to-read list.

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

This is a good one for people who like unreliable narrators and hazy, ambiguous non-solutions to mysteries (I’m told that many of Ishiguro’s books are like that, so check him out if that’s your thing).  Slightly creepy, it’s a beautifully written study of mothers and daughters in post-WWII Japan and beyond.

Guapa by Saleem Haddad

A man in an unnamed Arab country narrates the 24 hours of his life after his grandmother discovers him and his boyfriend in bed together.  As he attempts – and fails – to go about a normal day, we see commentary on politics, society (Arab and Western), marginalization, and family secrets, all through the eyes of a traumatized man trying to redefine himself in a world that consistently fails to understand him.

Fiction – Spectulative (Sci Fi/Fantasy/Magical Realism)

Parable of the Sower/Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler

Anything by Octavia Butler is necessary reading (I read and loved Kindred, and the rest of her books are on my to-read list). She was woke before most white people knew woke was a thing, and she used sci fi/fantasy to illuminate difficult truths about racism, sexism, and classism in America. These two books, about a new religion fighting to emerge in a harsh, dystopian America, are beautiful, tragic, and surprisingly prophetic.  The second book in particular has some frightening parallels to our current political environment.

The Fifth Season/The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

The first two books in what is so far an incomplete series, these novels represent epic fantasy at its finest.  My words can’t do them justice, except to say that Jemisin 110% deserved the Hugo award she earned for the first book.  She is another author with several books on my “to-read” list. The audio books, read by Robin Miles, are also mind-blowingly good.

Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan

Most people know Amy Tan from The Joy Luck Club, though I actually enjoyed this one more. This book fits the “magical realism” genre because the narrator is speaking to us not long after her tragic and sudden death, describing a group tour through China and Myanmar that goes horribly wrong in part because she isn’t alive to lead it. The Bonesetter’s Daughter is also a good real-world-fantasy book.

Infomacracy by Malka Older

In the somewhat-distant future, our political, social, corporate, and globalization systems will have undergone some massive changes. Two parts political thriller, one part biting social commentary, this book (the first in a yet-incomplete series) holds up a funhouse mirror to politics, capitalism, and the information age, showing us a caricature of where we could be headed.

Fiction – Young Adult

Akata Witch by Neddi Okorafor

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed the Harry Potter series. There is magic, detailed world-building, compelling friendships, and an emphasis on standing up for what you believe in, even when it’s hard, even when it’s terrifying, and even when you have virtually no idea what you’re doing.  (I also enjoyed Lagoon and Binti.)

The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Think Diary of a Wimpy Kid only far more profound and compelling, with an added focus on disability, segregation, poverty, death, and injustice to Indigenous people. At the same time, it somehow manages to be uplifting and occasionally hilarious. I fell head-over-heels for the protagonist and was genuinely upset when the story ended.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Another disabled-underdog protagonist with a sharp voice and compelling fish-out-of-water story; simply subtract the illustrations and add alternating points-of-view to create a more comprehensive look at this character’s life.

(If you liked one of the above two books, chances are good that you’ll like the other. Obviously, I highly recommend both.)

Shadowshaper by Daniel Older

This urban fantasy condemns police brutality, white supremacy, cultural appropriation, and gentrification. The magic is fascinating, the world-building complex, the story twisting and mysterious.  The audiobook, narrated by Anika Noni Rose, is phenomenal to the point where I would almost recommend that over the written version.  Her performance adds life and depth to the characters, sweeping you along with every step of the plot.

If You Could be Mine by Sarah Farzian

A teenage girl in Iran is in love with her (female) best friend, in a country where being gay is a crime but being transgender is not. This book uses the forbidden-queer-teenage-love story (see also: Finlater by Shawn Stewart Ruff) to explore issues of sexuality and gender identity in a way that is thoughtful, sad, and surprisingly uplifting at the same time.

Short Stories

Happiness, Like Water by Chinelo Okparanta

A series of moving and beautifully written short stories about Nigerian women of different ages, classes, and sexualities.  I also enjoyed Under the Udala Trees, which is a full-length novel about a gay woman growing up in 60s/70s Nigeria.

Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin

Yet another fantastic author who has produced a bunch of excellent works, Baldwin is particularly focused on the intersection between the black male identity and the queer identity in America.

Karma and Other Stories by Rishi Reddi

I actually read this series of somewhat-interconnected stories a few years ago. Each story depicts Indian American culture in a different way, presenting the different struggles, losses, and successes that Indian people of multiple generations face in America.

The Water that Falls on You from Nowhere by John Chu

This one is actually a single short story, rather than a collection.  It’s available to read for free here at Tor.com, so I’ll let the story speak for itself. Check it out!

Honorable mentions: 

(books and authors I enjoyed but didn’t include because I had to cap this list somewhere)

Nonfiction: A Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Non-speculative Fiction: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Color Purple by Alice Walker.

Speculative Fiction: Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord, The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino,  The Between by Tananarive Due.

Young AdultWaters Between by Joseph Bruchac, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova.

Short Stories: Let the Dead Bury Their Dead by Randall Kenan, The Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Other authors to check out: Isabel Allende, John Chu, Toni Morrison, Gene Luen Yang, Malinda Lo, Salman Rushdie.

Authors I haven’t read but I’ve heard good things about from multiple and/or reliable sources: Shamim Sarif, Audre Lourde, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Junot Diaz, Nalo Hopkinson, Gabby Rivera, Zadie Smith, Manil Suri.

SUGGESTIONS FROM OTHER PEOPLE AFTER I POSTED THIS: