Whitewashing history

Whitewashing history

Not long ago, in a shopping centre not so far away, I found myself browsing the World History section of a large bookstore chain.

I was looking for a starting point on Indian (specifically Bengal) history, seeking first hand accounts of life under the British Raj rule and if I was lucky, some pre-colonial history too.

What struck me was the lack of Indian/ Bangla writers’ historical accounts of any period, not just colonial India. Of the 30 or so books on the shelf, only 3 were written by South-Asian or Indian native writers.

With limited local language skills, most of my research has to be in English. That’s my limitation and I both accept and regret that it will limit my ability to access a wider range of material.

That said, I was disappointed (but not surprised) in the bookstore choosing to stock Indian history books written from majority white perspectives. Later that day I hit up my trusty friend Google to search for Indian/ Bangla history books written by native historians or writers. Even the online store for that same bookstore stocked roughly 75% of Indian subcontinent history from white writers. Again, disappointing but not surprising.

For me it’s not just a matter of having more authentic historical sources for my own reading, but also for white people who are trying to educate themselves on the historical issues that still affect us today. To only read second hand, non-indigenous accounts will no doubt give them a distorted, whitewashed view.

What’s the point of my post? I don’t want this to be all ranty without proposing any solution… but I’m not sure what the solution is.

I don’t think that the change we need is solely at publisher level. While we definitely do need publishers to publish pieces from indigenous writers, we also need large distributors to prioritise indigenous voices for indigenous issues. There are many other ways to further the cause but I just don’t know enough about the literary industry to know of initiatives to support.

Am I over-simplifying things? Or are my expectations over-complicating it? I’m open to your thoughts on this. Get in touch, I’m all ears.

Twitter: @TasnimMUA | email: Tasnim@tcbeauty.co.uk

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