I got into a lovely discussion/argument today over this seemingly innocuous post from The Toast; Books That Literally All White Men Own: The Definitive List. I argued with a bunch of dudes (Wednesday, amirite?) that this post wasn’t really funny as much as it was telling since the majority of white guys don’t read books by women. That’s a problem, obviously. Especially since the publishing industry still tends to only deign Serious Books About White Man Pain (TM) as “literature.”
The whole thing, while entertaining, also got me thinking about the cultural phenomenon of “The Bubble.” White dudes who are friends with white dudes who read books by other white dudes will go through most of their life thinking nothing of this, until they meet a feminist or non-white dude who introduces them to the wonders of Flannery O’Connor or Toni Morrison. It’s not that the white dudes reading those books–many of them classics, don’t get me wrong–are nefarious in any way, it’s just that they haven’t expanded their horizons out yet to the experiences and writings of authors who might not look, think, or act like them.
This is not something exclusive to white dudes, lest you think I’m being unfair to my light-skinned brethren. Plenty of white feminists spend their time reading nothing but writing by other white feminists (save for bell hooks) and neglect to work intersectionalism into their advocacy. It’s a problem. This problem is not one of skin color though, but proximity. It’s an issue of people being drawn to what’s safe, familiar, and reassuring. That’s why it’s called a bubble. Because bubbles create a barrier between you, and everything that threatens your way of thinking.
Modern bubbles look like this: Facebook friends that are 90-95% your same race, socio-economic level, religion, and political affiliation. News gathered from sites that subtly or explicitly skew to your political preference. Friends that look like you, vote like you, and have about the same level of money as you. Church all of the above.
Sadly, I don’t have much of a bubble (aside from where I get my news.) I used to have one, back when I was a normal middle-class, conservative Christian. Everyone I spent time with or talked to or chatted with online back then (this was pre-Facebook days, I’m old) thought just like me. But then I blew my bubble apart by A) becoming a liberal Christian feminist, and B) attempting to maintain relationships with my conservative Christian friends and family, and everyone else.
There are perks to losing your shimmery, translucent shield. Like, getting exposed to ideas that you would never otherwise encounter. Or, having your beliefs challenged and seeing them not falter, but strengthen instead. Sometimes you even get to effect someone, maybe even change their mind, who would not otherwise have encountered your views.
But being outside the bubble is hard. When you have friends that range from as far right and religious as you can get, to as far left and anti as possible, engaging can be exhausting. Sometimes I think of life outside the bubble as a kind of intellectual Mad Max-ian dystopia. Every idea and utterance can be perceived as a threat, every potential post or conversation a potential time-bomb. Sometimes you have to battle it out thunder-dome style, and sometimes you just high-tail it out of there and drive away as fast as you can (see, I can reach white dudes too.)
Bubbles protect you from all the discomfort that diversity brings. If that sounds wrong, it isn’t. Diversity is not bad. Diversity is good. It’s life-giving. It’s literally necessary for the continuation of species. But dealing with difference isn’t easy. It is uncomfortable.
Part of the discomfort I experience comes from the glances I get into the bubble that used to encase me. I might be outside now, but I can still see in, thanks to the window a lot of my conservative Christian friends have given me. And what I see really worries me. Far more troublesome than a bunch of white dudes reading nothing but Kerouac, is a bunch of white Christians talking to no one but each other.
The real danger is that, for most Christians, the idea of this bubble is not just normal, but Biblical. Instead of seeing their carefully crafted worlds as echo-chambers, they see their exclusion of everything “other” as the way God wants them to live. Where this once used to just be sad, in a Blast From The Past kind of way, has now turned frightening. Because now, in order to protect these ever-shrinking bubbles, some Christians have turned on those on the outside.
To keep their bubble from bursting, some Christians are trying to pass legislation to keep “outsiders” away–from their businesses, churches, and schools. Of course, the irony is that this is the exact opposite way of treating “others” that Jesus commanded. You know Jesus, He was the brown-skinned homeless dude who hung out with social outcasts, preached against wealth, and commanded rich people to give everything they had to the poor. That guy. His entire time on Earth was spent challenging the notion of “us” vs. “them” (gentiles vs. Jews) and encouraging those who wanted to follow Him to treat everyone with love. Jesus, who said, explicitly, that He came to fulfill all the laws that came before Him, and spelled out exactly what the greatest commandment was (spoiler alert: it’s love.)
That’s the problem of the bubble though. If you only ever hear Biblical interpretation and theology from people who think exactly like you think, you can miss the depressing irony in advocating for laws that discriminate against people in the name of the dude who commanded that you never discriminate. It’s like demanding laws to be passed against people asking for cloaks, in the name of the guy who said to give people who ask your cloak, and your shirt also. See why I’m so often annoyed at Christians?
Good news does exist though. Bubbles are not made of brick and cement. They are easily burst. It does not take a lot to step outside. To introduce yourself to someone who could not be more different from yourself, and invite them into conversation. It’s not hard to engage respectfully with someone who thinks differently than yourself, politically or religiously. And in the advent of Netflix, educating and exposing yourself to new ideas has never been easier.
This is my hope, today. That more Christians (and for that matter, atheists, Muslims, liberals, feminists, and every other -ist and -ism) would open themselves up to relationships with people across the aisle. Real relationships, where both parties listen and not just talk over each other. Because really, the root of almost all of our problems lies in ignorance, and lack of accurate information.
Which is why, keeping in that spirit, I’m going to go out and buy a book written by a white dude today. Fair is fair.