I flew to California this summer and survived the flight by reading a big thick book: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. The book caught me, like the way we get a hitch to our voice when something hits us profoundly.
I thought I knew and understood about race. About how unfair racism is. About how I’m not racist, because I don’t see the color of someone’s skin.
For instance, I was talking to “my” Starbucks barista today about a man who had entered the café at 6 the previous morning singing a Broadway tune in a much too elevated mood for most humans at that time of day.
“Are you talking about Thomas?” Gary the barista asked.
“I’m not sure what his name is,” I answered.
“The Black guy,” Gary probed. (Gary, now that I thought about it, is Black.)
“Umm, sure.” I truly had no idea if the singing Thomas was black or blue or gray. I only remembered that he sang “The hills are alive” loudly and in tune.
So, I cannot be a racist. Right?
But Picoult wrote from a Black woman’s point of view in her novel, a viewpoint that startled me. That opened my eyes to racism from a Black women’s perspective, not from the perspective of a White woman who “doesn’t see color.”
And I now look at every Black person wondering, “What’s it like for you?”
Picoult’s quote within her end pages, which I now keep on my desktop, reminds me of the importance of literature, and of reading, and of being a writer:
“A writer is like a tuning fork: we respond when we’re struck by something…If we’re lucky we’ll transmit a strong sure note, one that isn’t ours, but which passes through us.” Roxana Robinson
Can you hear my fork?