A Fictional View of Race Relations
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This book tells such a painful story, it is hard to read. BUT, perhaps everyone should read it. It is about an eighteen-year-old biracial boy and a seventeen-year-old white girl who fall in love, who manage to sneak off to a cabin in the woods to consummate that love – wine included – and who get caught in the act by her very powerful step-father. The story is set in North Carolina. If we change this description and call him a “black man” and call her an “underaged girl,” and if we say the story is set in the south, we can start to see how quickly things become ominous.
Here are more damning things:
- The boy and girl – Xavier and Juniper – are new next door neighbors. Her step-dad, Brad, built a McMansion in an old neighborhood. They took down a lot of trees in the process and damaged an “historic tree” with a six-foot diameter in Xavier’s backyard. His mom, Valerie, is a professor of forestry and ecology, and is suing the builder and Brad, not just over one specific tree but over the principle of environmental protection, wanting to “force change to policy and practice.”
- Since this becomes a story of race, I should mention that Valerie is black.
- The girl, Juniper, has taken a purity oath at her church, which even included a Purity Ball where dads promised to protect daughters until marriage, and daughters promised to stay virginal until then. It sounded like a good idea to Juniper at fourteen but not so much at seventeen.
- Brad is a successful and well-known businessman who can call in favors from public officials.
In a critique of the book in The New York Times, reviewer Kiley Reid complains that Xavier and Valerie are “as white as [the author] can make them.” She also says, “Here, in this good neighborhood, it is not a tragedy that violence happens to black men, but rather, that it can happen to one of the good ones.”
I understand her point, but…
It is my belief that to reinvent ourselves, we need to take one step a day step in the direction of our new life. I even say that teeny tiny steps will help because they still move you forward. I am hopeful that the same concept is true for the reinvention of America in regard to race relations. The reviewer in The New York Times may have wanted a lot more out of this book, but I am pleased with any step forward toward understanding, and I don’t think this one was teeny tiny.
Because we come to like Xavier and Valerie, we are horrified by their situation. We are also informed by it. We then take our new knowledge with us out into the wider world, where we can apply it to a wider sampling of people.
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