Scribbling For Change: Activism and Writing Working Together - Thee Sim Ling
As more and more people are aware of social issues and injustice in society, there has been a rise of activism and advocacy, especially among Generation Z youth. Many activists calling for change have written books, and many writers are activists discussing causes in their work as well. As a writer and Gen-Zer passionate about causes such as social justice and disability rights specifically, I am interested in the ways art forms such as writing intersect with changemaking.
Art has always been connected with diversity, inclusion and political action. Perhaps this is because artists themselves. People who are heavily invested in the arts have creative minds, often thinking outside the box and going against the grain of social norms. The unorthodox way has always been a hallmark of famous artists, who will be remembered for centuries because of their unique stories. Artists also defy societal expectations. For example, people in the arts industry contend with an unstable working environment, where a paycheck may not be guaranteed every single day. Furthermore, art is a safe space for people in marginalised communities to express their thoughts and opinions while spreading awareness of problems invisible to the advantaged majority.
Writing has interacted with many social justice causes. Feminist authors have picked up their pens to fight against the patriarchy, misogyny and societal barriers that do not allow women to fulfil their dreams. Malala Yousafzai, a youth activist for female education, wrote her groundbreaking memoir I Am Malala after she was shot by the Taliban in a school bus and became the youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Similarly, Chanel Miller, a writer and artist, used her words and illustrations to empower survivors of sexual assault and spark a national debate on rape and sexual misconduct on college campuses in America. Initially known by an anonymous identity, her victim statement went viral and she eventually made her name known with a memoir aptly titled, Know My Name.
Police brutality and the Covid-19 pandemic’s exposure of social inequality has turned the spotlight on racial justice and #BlackLivesMatter. Angie Thomas wrote her debut novel The Hate U Give centering on racially-motivated police violence and a Black teenager’s journey to get justice for her childhood friend wrongfully killed by a white police officer. She wrote it with her experiences of growing up witnessing drug dealing and gun crime in mind. With hate crimes soaring against Asian Americans due to the coronavirus, there has also been a need for books that detail the experience of living as an Asian American. Nicole Chung wrote a memoir All You Can Ever Know about being a Korean girl adopted by a white family and raised in predominantly white Seattle. Other people of colour have also been writing books about their lives. Diane Gurrero, a well-known actress, wrote the memoir In The Country We Love: My Family Divided about being a fourteen-year-old alone in the US after her family was deported. She talks about the struggles of Latinx immigrants fighting for legal citizenship and how undocumented immigrants really live. Indigenous Americans should also not be forgotten. Tommy Orange, a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Nations of Oklahoma, wrote his debut There There which focused on a large cast of Native Americans living in Oakland, California.
LGBTQ+ authors are also carving out a space for themselves in the literary arts, and many of them tackle intersectional issues within the community. Author and cartoonist Alison Bechdel has written two graphic memoirs, created a long-running comic strip, and invented the groundbreaking Bechdel test to measure the representation of women in fiction, with three simple criteria: There must be at least two women in a story, who talk to each other about something other than a man. She came out as a lesbian at 19 and has said that “the secret subversive goal of my work is to show that women, not just lesbians, are regular human beings”. Luis Negrón wrote the short story collection Mundo Cruel which talks heavily about Puerto Rican gay culture in Santurce, as well as editing an anthology of queer Puetro Rican writers.
Finally, let us not forget disabled writers. Even though they may still not be visible in the industry and mostly overshadowed by non-disabled writers writing about disability topics, there still is an immense number of talented writers out there. Keah Brown, a writer and journalist, created the hashtag #DisabledAndCute to promote body positivity among disabled people and wrote a memoir The Pretty One about her life growing up Black and with cerebral palsy in America. Alice Wong, an established disability rights activist who founded the Disability Visibility Project, edited an anthology of essays by disabled activists and personalities.
There are so many more books out there that combine the power of activists with the magic of wordsmiths. Why not pick one up now?