Another summer break has begun, and with it the arrival of a new edition of the essay anthology I use when I teach college freshman writing classes. Instructors use these anthologies to teach students how to compose and organize nonfiction writing for use in school, work and daily life.
The essays, used in classes as models, typically include a mix of well-known and lesser-known writers. Like every edition published since the early 1990s, this new edition offers a selection of writers that is ethnically diverse. I'm glad that has not changed. But something else that has not changed has me worried: Every minority writer is writing about being a minority.
I have browsed dozens of anthologies over the years and found almost zero exceptions to this pattern. Every black writer has a piece about the special challenges of being black. Every Latino writer has a piece on growing up Latino or speaking Spanglish. Native American writers lament their treatment at the hands of Caucasian police or describe journeys they made to rekindle their lost heritage. Chinese American and Korean American writers have pieces about the difficulties their Asian-born parents have living in America. And so on.
Please don't misunderstand me. I rejoice at these honest and exciting essays, and I teach some of them in my classes every semester. But it seems that writers who happen to be members of minority groups are getting pigeonholed. I think it has become understood and expected, at least by book editors and English teachers and perhaps by society as a whole, that minorities write about minorities and that white people write about everything else. With very rare exceptions, any essay about a nonracial issue -- such as history, politics, science or nature -- comes from a Caucasian. It is understandable why our textbooks would form this way. Many minority writers choose to write about minority issues; indeed, organizations such as the Black Writers Alliance have been founded expressly for this purpose. Textbook editors and publishers seem to assume this is all that gets written and all that anyone wants to read.