Those of you who have read my books know that I often write about social issues, drugs and violence and racism. I explored aspects of racism, especially as it applies to the interactions of police officers with people of color in my Seasons Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season.
However, I barely scratched the surface of what it means to be on either side of that color line and try to be safe, let alone relate.
In her latest book, Small Great Things, Jodi Picoult does that admirably.
Jodi has a reputation for writing books about difficult situations and experiences and in her author’s notes for Small Great Things she shares what prompts her to write about difficult topics.
It is an attempt to shed light on things that some people have never experienced to help them become aware.
Twenty years passed from the time Jodi first thought of writing about racism to pen this wonderful book. Thinking about why it took so long and why she found writing a book about racism so different from those other books, she shared, “Because race is different. Racism is different. It’s fraud and it’s hard to discuss, and so as a result we often don’t.”
Jodi did extensive research in putting this story together, talking to many people of color to find out what it is like to be black and the differences between being black and being white – differences that go so deep that most of us on the white side of that line don’t even stop to think about them.
Things like the fact that we can go into a store and not have a sales person trail us because we might be a potential shoplifter. The fact that should we ever be arrested for a crime, we will probably not face the indignity of being thrown on the floor and handcuffed. Our houses won’t be routinely ransacked by police, nor would we probably face the danger of being shot on the spot just because of the color of our skin and the fear ingrained in the officer on the other side of that gun.
In the author note, Jodi writes that she expects that there could be push back from the book. She might have people of color challenge her for writing about something that they don’t think she has no right to write about. She will probably have white people challenge her for calling them out on their racism. But she concludes by saying,
“Believe me I didn’t write this novel because I thought it would be fun or easy. I wrote it because I believed it was the right thing to do and because the things that make us most uncomfortable are the things that teach us what we all need to know. As Roxana Robinson said, ‘A writer is like a tuning fork: we respond when were struck by something. If we’re lucky, we’ll transmit a strong, pure note, one that isn’t ours but which passes through us.'”
In the final paragraph of the author note Jodi writes,
There is a fire raging, and we have two choices: we can’t turn our backs, or we can try to fight it. Yes, talking about racism is hard to do, and yes, we stumble over the words – but we who are white need to have this discussion among ourselves. Because then, even more of us will overhear, and then – I hope – the conversation will spread.
I agree with Jodi. There is a fire raging. We see it every time a person of color is killed by police who react too quickly. We see it every time a city is looted and burned after such an incident. We see it every time a police officer is shot by a sniper.
There is no way to condone any of those acts. They are all inappropriate responses. But we most certainly have to find a way to do something about the underlying causes of those actions, or we are destined to repeat and repeat and repeat until….? I don’t know.
One of the things that Jodi challenges us to think about is our own racism. Like so many others, I was proud to always say I wasn’t racist. I have lots of Black friends. I believe in equality. I don’t see color.
But Jodi says we should see color. We should see it and respect it and understand it.
When I saw that message in her book, I thought of Mr. Charles. An elderly Black man I knew in Omaha years ago. He was my neighbor, a retired minister, and a very nice man. He once told me that he could not ask me to do something, like go fishing with him, because a black man could not ask a white woman. I was shocked. This was in the late 1990s, not the 1890s.
I had to stop and think about the history and the messages that he had been brought up with before I could fully understand.
Instead of hanging on to the narrow-minded messages we all grew up with, perhaps it is time that we took a step toward that person of a different color and tried to connect person-to-person with mutual respect.
What do you think? Do you consider yourself racist? Are you willing to take a long hard look at your attitudes and see where there could be change? Is there a need to?
And now, since I prattled on so long, I will leave you with a funny meme to start the week off with a chuckle.