“Why is my curriculum white?” A question that many students across the UK have been asking for years has finally culminated in a movement known as “decolonise the curriculum”. Simply put, this is a movement designed to reduce unnecessary euro-centric influences in teaching and increase the diversity in literature.
It’s time our curriculum reflects the diversity in our heritage, experiences and environment.
The next question you might have is, where do I even start?
Starting at an academic level may be difficult, so let’s bring it one step lower to your non academic reading. There are so many novels out there told from unique cultural perspectives and written by authors who themselves want to challenge the euro-centric dominance on literature. I have a few recommendations:
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
“It is a story about the childhood experiences of fraternal twins whose lives are destroyed by the “Love Laws” that lay down “who should be loved, and how. And how much.”
You wouldn’t think that a slight disruption in these simplistic “Love Laws” would do much harm at all. However, Roy takes us on a heartbreaking journey over 3 generations in 1960’s Kerala that shows the consequences on families when people chose to defy the hand they’ve been given. It’s brilliant how Roy talks about cultural issues in a way that makes this novel relatable to readers who aren’t familiar with South Asian culture.
The trope of ‘forbidden love’ is given a new dimension when Roy writes about an inter-caste relationship and a relationship that defies religious restrictions. The twins jealousy of their half white cousin Sophie is a nod to the rampant colourism in South Asia and the fascination with the Western world. You’ll encounter a lot of other familiar themes in this story but through the lens of a different culture. I think someone outside of South Asian culture would find this book even more devastating than I did.
*Trigger warning, this book contains a description of sexual assault
Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid
“The story begins in medias res: the eponymous Lucy has come from the West Indies to the United States to be an au pair for a wealthy white family”
Don’t let the simplicity of this blurb fool you, this book is jam packed with complex themes and a really intricate story. The titular character “Lucy” is opinionated and decisive. She makes no apologies for her internal critiques of her employers’ lives and is determined to break free from her controlling mothers influence. You as a reader constantly question, are we supposed to be rooting for her?
We struggle to understand why Lucy pulls away from her employer Mirah who seems to have Lucy’s best interests at heart; until you realise that Mariah’s subtle white saviour complex underpins every interaction between them. Lucy might come across as behaving unfairly towards her mother, until we learn the resentment brews from a lifetime of feeling second to her male siblings rather than teenage angst.
It’s a short read but one that really explores the insight of the struggles of assimilating into a new culture while dealing with unresolved issues back home.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold
It tells, in the form of a pseudo-journalistic reconstruction, the story of the murder of Santiago Nasar by the Vicario twins.
This story begins at the end, on the morning of the death of Santiago Nasar. This story is told in a nonlinear style so we truly get a complete picture of how chaotic this entire situation is. Why was it, that despite the whole town knowing Santiago Nasar would die come the morning, did no one warn him? The answer is far from superficial. After Angela, a recently married young girl, is discovered to not be a virgin on her wedding day, she names Santiago as the man who is ‘responsible’ for this. This sets off a chain of events in which we unpick the subtle racial tensions, internalised misogyny and religious conflict that leads to the tragedy in the small town.
The original text is written in Spanish but it’s been widely translated into many languages while still remaining a well written novel. It’s also a short read, technically classed as a novella but a really good gateway into reading more diverse stories!