brushing the third act | 2019.04.21

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas | Review

Thomas, Angie_The Hate U Give

Publication: New York, NY : Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, [2017]

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Race Relations Fiction

Pages: 444 | 11 hours 45 minutes

Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook, eBook

Source: MCL

It’s a common screenwriting rule that if there’s a gun in the first act, then it must go off in the third. This mantra has as much to do with foreshadowing as with setting your audience’s expectations. On my second read-through of Thomas’s The Hate U Give, I realized she had set such a stage, incorporating all the props that she had perfectly situated around her characters with an almost guru-like subtly of foresight.

We learn early that the suspected “gun” in the car door of the book’s initial victim of racial violence turns out to only have been a hairbrush. With this as the setting, the weapon that is at last seen firing in the book’s third act is the voices of those repeatedly subjected to racial prejudice. The idea seems to become, then, that a person’s most valuable weapon is their ability to speak out against injustice.

The main character of Thomas’s book reminded me of my first (and only, as I guiltily haven’t re-read To Kill a Mocking Bird since high school) impressions of what Harper Lee was trying to expose about the ugliness of societal prejudices through her characters. Thankfully, Thomas is able to do this without the white-savior complex that Lee’s editors ultimately pushed for in their publication of To Kill a Mocking Bird. In both these books, however, there’s a tension set early that the audience longs to see manifest in the resolution of an explosion. Yet how can we explode toward such a resolution without more death resulting from anger’s fallout?

I loved the honesty Thomas’s story presents throughout the narrative when dealing with the often-at-odds demands for respect versus forgiveness. Her main character has to decide what friends really matter to her, and this beyond the color of their skin. In this way, Thomas shows both sides of prejudice, and how saying you’re sorry another person feels the way they do is grossly insufficient in the realm of coming to grips with true understanding and actual communication toward growth.

I hope this book is read and taught in high schools for many generations to come, since the world Lee was writing about has certainly changed, or at least is still trying to. I also hope our society can find ways to explode toward a culture where perspectives can be heard before the gun shots that have taken too many lives already.

striving for awareness| 2019.02.17

So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo | Review

Oluo, Ijeoma_So You Want to Talk About Race

Publication: New York, NY : Seal Press, Hachette Book Group, [2018]

Genre: Intercultural Communication, Racism

Pages: 248

Formats: eBook, Audiobook, Paperback

Source: MCL

Based on her title, Oluo’s purpose in writing this book seems clear enough. Her text reads somewhat like a guidebook for people who may not have had many firsthand interactions with racial issues (or who haven’t been previously aware of the racial issues they have already been a part of), and who want to realize the title’s pretty direct implication. To help her readers with this goal, Oluo tells the story of race within this book by using her personal experiences growing up and living as a black woman of biracial parents in the United States.

The real-life examples she gives are powerful, even as some of the stories may wander into the territory of being a bit uncomfortable for the white reader. On the one hand, I found the stories of Oluo trying to answer her white mother’s questions and “revelations” (emphasis mine) about race endearing, in a way, as the effort of trying to get something right when we’re talking about sensitive topics like race can be embarrassing at first, and hopefully the effort leads to productive results. On the other hand, I think a large part of why Oluo wrote this book was to challenge her readers to look at issues of race and racism even when they may be uncomfortable topics to face head-on.

In reading this book, I felt that discomfort. I am a white (and therefore inherently privileged) cisgender (another privileged position, which society is currently set up to advantage) woman. And I am privileged in so many ways because of my whiteness and because of my gender identity, even with all the non-privileged aspects that that third definition of my being (the sex I was assigned at birth) brings to the table. Oluo calls this type of awareness (or striving for awareness) “checking your privilege.” It can be weirdly cathartic to carry the victim-label (thinking of the many mantras of self-reported “suppression experiences” from white supremacy groups as an example). But Oluo seems to be asking her readers to look at all aspects of what it means to live in our current society. Through this type of open awareness, she challenges her readers to be honest about the complexity that is individual human existence while recognizing how the color of a person’s skin plays into all that they have or don’t have because of the prejudiced way our society is currently set up to function.

So after I took stock of my inherent privileges and dealt with my uneasiness at realizing that a good portion of my advantages in life are not advantages I’ve actually worked to earn, what else did Oluo’s story bring to the forefront? Her story reminded me that anyone not immediately seen by others as categorically white have disadvantages I will never know because of society’s continued prejudiced practices, and that my whiteness will remain a part of this systemic problem as long as society (with myself included in that society) refuses to recognize the manifestations, however subtle, and the root causes of racial prejudices.

In short, Oluo’s book reminded me that we as a species have a very ugly tendency toward deep-seated prejudice against anyone and everyone outside our “tribe,” and that we need to step up onto the stage of admittance before we can even begin to think about taking steps toward change. I learned I have a LOT to learn about intersectionality, and how this concept can bring better understanding to the individual, their race, and the multiplicity of other identities a person can (and has the right to) claim. I learned that being uncomfortable about the structure of our currently inherently prejudiced society (even if you or I may not feel personally responsible) is a needed first step toward driving change forward.

Lastly, and probably most poignantly, this book reinforced for me that the categorical boxes—-the stereotypes, really—-that we wrap around ourselves and others are really just illusions of a neat and tidy perspective on what is in truth very complex and messy aspects of an interracial-transgendered-cisgendered-gay-and-lesbian-black-white-brown-religious-atheist-and-it’s-really-none-of-your-business world. People are certainly much much more than the color of their skin, more than any of the categories we might be tempted to assign to them (especially without their permission). With all this in mind, I’m hoping to be able to focus more on the individual, seeing people through whatever intersectional lenses they want to claim as their very individual and personal identities.

Please note, the last chapter in Oluo’s book may be especially discomforting for some readers who are trying to reject the “categorically-boxed society” model. Again, I think this discomfort may be Oluo’s point in this book so that we can work on extricating the societal-driven prejudices in our midst. I’ll let you read it, however, and decide on your own.