Everything I read teaches me something. To be honest, sometimes it is a lesson not to waste time with mindless or inane writing. (Although sometimes that type of writing is a good escape.) More often, I take away new ways of thinking, notice a style of writing I like, or learn something about a person or a subject.
I am reading “Great Small Things” by Jodi Picoult. This isn’t the first of her novels I’ve read. She takes her characters on painful journeys of awareness with amazing gentleness. With this book, I appreciate the gentleness. It’s a hard book to read.
I won’t give away any spoilers, but on the surface, the book is about a black woman who is accused of killing an infant and is put on trial for murder. More importantly, it is a book about racism, discovery, injustice, and the complications that occur when we judge people because of appearance or beliefs. The world is not black and white. That is not a reference to skin color. It is a reference to justice and equity.
This book makes me wonder if I am an inadvertent racist. That thought disturbs me. A Lot. Scales have fallen from my eyes.
I grew up in a mostly white community. When I was young, I played with kids from the Native American reservation near our home. I played with kids from migrant farming families who traveled from Mexico to pick my uncle’s strawberries. I wasn’t aware of the differences between us. I was a kid. But my parents were aware of the differences and made sure to keep a distance. I just didn’t realize it. I wasn’t aware.
I lived in a house that my father built. Those girls I played with lived in reservation buildings or dormitories provided by my uncle. My family didn’t have a lot of money, but they had less. I didn’t care about material things when I was a kid. I cared about playing and imagining and being outside. I thought everyone was equal. But, I was naïve. I wasn’t aware.
When I got older, I was harassed because I am a woman. I was told I wasn’t qualified for a job because it would be distracting to the men working there. That was a huge insult and an injustice, but it is nothing compared to being told you can’t work somewhere or live somewhere because of the color of your skin or the way you worship or who you love. Because of who you are.
I am of Scandinavian descent. My skin is light. I have never been judged because of the color of my skin. I have never been afraid that someone would shoot me on sight or haul me off to jail because they assumed I did something wrong because of how I look. I can’t know how that feels because I’ve never been black or brown or male.
But, until now I haven’t thought much about white privilege. My family has struggles, and some of them are very difficult. I expect people to help when needed. Some people can’t expect help.
Jodi Picoult has made me face my white privilege. The only thing I can say to her is THANK YOU.
Can we end distrust of those who are different from us? Can we accept and appreciate the differences between us? Is there hope for us? I wish we could be color blind, religion blind, love blind. That isn’t realistic. We haven’t walked in each other’s shoes. But, we each have one heart.
We all have one heart.