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Monday, July 1, 2019

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

This post contains some spoilers.


Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult is an exploration of race, bias and power in AmericaIn this work the author attempts to paint a picture of a world based upon critical race theory in a way that is not just unconvincing but that in my opinion damages the entire book.  The strong part of this novel is its characters which are often portrayed in a powerful and complex ways. The book also has an interesting plot that is at times very affecting. This novel was first published in 2016. I recounted the story of why I choose to read it here.  

Ruth Jefferson is at the center of the story. She is an African - American maternity nurse who works in a Connecticut hospital.  Brittany and Turk Bauer are parents of a newborn, Davis Bauer, who is in Ruth’s care. The Baurs are hardcore, violent, white supremists. They bully the hospital into removing Ruth from the case because of her race. When the baby stops breathing, Ruth attempts to save him despite her orders. Unfortunately, the child dies and Ruth is unfairly charged with murder. Kennedy McQuarrie is her public defender attorney. The story is told in first person from three alternating points of view between Ruth, Kennedy and Turk.


Eventually Ruth goes in trial. Much of the narrative involves a learning curve for the characters. During the trial Ruth and Kennedy start off believing that most white people are not racist and that racism is a problem with a limited number of individuals. In the end, they both come to the realization that, at least in the world of this book, that racism is pervasive in society. Turk, who is shown to be a brutal thug throughout most of the book, eventually finds redemption. 

It is important to understand some of the tenets of critical race theory in order to comprehend much of what is underlying this novel. As of late I have been reading about this and related  ideologies and engaging in some discussions with strong adherents to the theory.  I cannot help to recognize how these beliefs are infused into this story 

The themes are fairly obvious, of course the white supremacy is terrible and it is a violent and hateful ideology. However, more importantly, though they do not initially believe it, Ruth and Kennedy both come to the conclusion that most whites are subtly racist. This soft racism is present everywhere and represents power.  Eventually Kennedy admits that most white people benefit from racism and that most whites are in some way racist. A key theme is that while most white people are not hardcore white supremists, their soft racism hold up white supremacy. As I understand it, these are key tenets of critical race theory. 
  
I am fine with books that advocate for particular ideologies, even if I disagree with those ideologies. What is a serious flaw in this book is that the author fashions a world in order to fit the theory. Most of the poor and lower middle-class whites are white supremists. Most of the upper and middle - class whites, including the sympathetic ones, are racially insensitive beyond all sense of credibility. The white people in this book cannot get through a single conversation with a person of color without making a racially charged comment. The author is attempting to illustrate subtle racism and soft bigotry.  The problem is that there is nothing subtle about the clueless white people in this book.  Obviously, there are racially insensitive folks out there.  However, every single white person in this book acts like they have no idea how to talk to fellow human beings who happen to be people of color. At one point, Kennedy is trying to reassure Ruth,

“I know. Listen, I’m going to do my best. I have a lot of experience in cases with people like you.” [Ruth] That mask freezes her features again. “People like me?”
  
Later a hospital administrator describes Ruth as “uppity”

For those not familiar with the American culture, these are obvious, racially insensitive gaffes that few people would use in conversation. The word “uppity” was a way to disparage African Americans who stood up for their rights that went out of style in the 1970s. I emphasize, there are undoubtedly white people who speak like this, but almost every single interaction between a white person and an African American in this book includes such dialogue. 

There are other unrealistic elements that are used to build the world within this book.  Just to name a few: the hospital risk management attorney is so incompetent that she actually advises Turk to sue Ruth, who is a hospital employee for his son’s death; The police conduct an investigation into the death of the infant without even trying to question Ruth.  Ruth’s medical license is arbitrarily revoked without a hearing. Turk is able to easily manipulate the police and the press and no one besides Ruth really questions his background or motives. 

This book is based upon a real - life incident. In reality, the African – American nurse was taken off of a case of caring for an infant because the white supremacist parents’ insistence. The baby did not have medical complications, did not die, and there were no charges filed against the nurse.  The nurse sued the hospital for discrimination and won her suit. I think that it is significant that the plot of this book took an actual incident, that did indeed involve racism, and changed it to fit with the framework of a particular belief system based upon implausible events.

Outrageous and bizarre things do happen in real life.  However, this string of implausible events mars the entire book. Realism is important in a novel like this. All these unlikely events help to build a world where everything conspires to oppress black people. The author is trying to show how racism and bias operate. Unfortunately, this cartoon - like world created here is no template for reality. This lack of plausibility destroys the novel’s themes, took out any suspense in the plot and hurt the characters. Once again, this version of the world is consistent with critical race theory which postulates that all structures in society are set up to oppress people of color.

Critical race theorists also argue that many, or all, social interactions promote oppression of the marginalized by the privileged. We see this in almost every interaction between a white person and a black person in this book. The theory labels these interactions “microaggressions”. Furthermore, according to theory, language is a major source of oppression, with the privileged unable to see or understand the oppression of the marginalized.  Thus, the importance to these conversations as part of the narrative. Another aspect of the theory is that many marginalized people are unable to see their oppression because they have been socialized to accept such. Hence, Ruth’s “awakening” and realization that prejudice has been around her all along as well as the nature of white people. The belief system postulates that almost everything that happens in society is a means to perpetuate oppression. Thus, the construction of the implausible reality in this book. Another aspect of various postmodern belief - systems such as critical race theory is that oppression, racism and bias is a zero - sum game. Thus, the privileged will need to give things up and lose some sort of benefit in order for real equality to happen. At one - point Ruth is talking to Kennedy and says,

white people would have to buy into being equal. Who’d choose to dismantle the system that makes them special?

Kennedy reacts,

” Heat floods my neck. Is she talking about me? Is she suggesting that the reason I won’t buck the system is because I, personally, have something to lose?

In the later part of the story the concept of white people needing to give up benefits for equality to be realized is mentioned several times. 

Finally, critical race theory leans heavily on what is being popularly called blank slatism. That is the idea that humans are entirely the product of culture and that there is no such thing as human nature. 

At one point Ruth is observing newborn babies and muses,

Babies are such blank slates. They don’t come into this world with the assumptions their parents have made, or the promises their church will give, or the ability to sort people into groups they like and don’t like….I wonder how long it takes before the polish given by nature gets worn off by nurture.

I strongly believe that racism and bias aimed at people of color is real. Racism is outrageous and unfair, deserves condemnation and drives justifiable anger. Furthermore, I believe that racism is one of the root causes of multiple social problems that disproportionally affect people of color. This is a terrible ill that society needs to combat.  It sometimes involves subtlety and complexity.  It is valid and important to examine it in fiction. This book does not do that, instead it creates a world to fit theory. I fear that folks who are skeptical about racism will read this book and become more skeptical. There are indeed many instances in this work of realistic racism and rings true. However, this realism is overwhelmed by the all the rest.

I am not unaware of potential arguments against my point about the reality described in this book.  I talked and read opinion pieces number of adherents of critical race theory and related  postmodernist ideas. A pure postmodernist argument would be that I am a white person and that I should have nothing to say about racism. This argument does not even bring up the issue of bias. Things like bias are beside the point, only members of certain races, genders and sexual preferences are capable of knowing the truth and are capable of discussing certain subjects. I have talked to read fair number of people who argue as such. 

A more coherent argument might say that as white man I am biased and cannot evaluate these issues fairly.  My response to this is that my arguments are based on reason. One must apply a little common sense as well as logic to this. If white people talked and acted the way they do in this book on a nearly universal scale one would have to be near delusional not to see it. In my workplace if anyone spoke like white people do in this book they would be told that they must stop.  If they continued they would be fired. The book implies that both white people and people of color who have not yet become “woke “and are blind to what is going on. This is an ad hominem argument that basically says if one does not agree with critical race theory, even if one is a Person of Color, that one is deluded. I could make such an argument to support almost any worldview no matter how preposterous. 

I am also a diversity facilitator. Diversity programs have gotten a bad name in some quarters, perhaps because some of them now seem to be pushing some controversial ideologies.  I must note that the program that I am involved in is about celebrating diversity and not stereotyping people. It is also about letting everyone, with all types of opinions, express their views on these issues such as racism, sexism, bias, discrimination, etc. Our program is based upon rationality and ethics. As a facilitator I listen to the views of scores of People of Color every year. I have certainly taken these views into consideration when formulating my own opinions. I find that I my views are in line with the majority of people, of all backgrounds, that I have listened to. 
                                                       
As for critical race theory itself. I have major disagreements with it. There is no rational basis to contend that all white people are racist or that society is a network of oppression. This contention is partially based upon implicit bias studies, which have been more or less refuted in the past few years. 

I especially disagree with the belief that white people will be giving something up in order to alleviate racism. That is not how the world works. A society with less bigotry and bias benefits everyone. I also think that blank slatism is a denial of obvious aspects of human nature.  So much of what we do, good and bad, comes from our genes. I will have more to say about all this when I post about Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility

Despite my objections I want to note some very positive things about this book. Ruth, Kennedy, (despite her tendency to say idiotic things when talking to People of Color) and Turk are very complex.  The portrayal of Turk is near brilliant. His views and actions are shown to be monstrous. At the same time he is humanized as he is shown to love his family, is shown to be intelligent and shown to have had a bad childhood. I believe that his transformation is based upon interviews with real ex – white supremacists that Jodi Picoult engaged in. It is a believable change.

Jodi Picoult also inserts complexity into a lot of aspects of the story. Sometimes very biased characters often show surprising insight and humanity. Similarly, the African American prosecutor who leads the case against Ruth is shown to be bigoted towards African Americans who have light skin. The book is filled with such interesting nuance. I also found that Jodo Picoult’s portrayal of trauma and pain to be very effective and moving. There are several passages about parents who lose newborns that are heartbreaking.

I wrote in my introductory post that I expected to agree with this book’s main propositions more then I ended up doing.  I thought that the ideas here would be a little closer to traditional liberal and anti – racist ideas and less towards critical race theory. I generally will not dislike a book whose ideas that I disagree with. However, the distorted view of reality presented here a fatal flaw. It gets in the way of so much. With that, anyone who wishes to understand how postmodernism and critical race theory can be applied to viewing the world would be interested in this book. I think that it is a good way to understand these belief systems without actually reading theory. I found just reading about a world where all these ideas were bouncing around to be interesting. Whether one loves these ideas or hates them they seem to be gaining in popularity. It is not a bad idea to be familiar with them either way. 

40 comments:

mudpuddle said...

informative post... exaggeration to prove a point is as destructive as the original problem, imo... i am not sure i agree that racism has a genetic factor, but that it's instilled in societies is beyond denial. and the only way to alleviate it is mixing people of varying colors with one another i believe... proximity engenders truth? over time, as learning occurs, it would gradually vanish, possibly... but the chances of that happening are pretty slim, i guess... anyway, great post and thought-provoking...

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Muddpuddle. I tend to equate almost everything to our genes. However, I think a better society will lead to more people who express the more positive aspects of our genetics.

I completely agree. Mixing of races and ethnicities is one of the best ways to reduce bigotry. I do tend to be optimistic and think that is happening on a world wide scale. I think that there is less bigotry and hatred. With that, there are some nasty setbacks so sometimes it is hard to see.

I was just discussing the rise in interracial marriage in America. This is one of many really good signs.



https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/feb/21/whats-behind-the-rise-of-interracial-marriage-in-the-us

Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers said...

Hello Brian, this was a very interesting post. I read the book a while ago, very conscious that although in Australia we have our own problems with race relations, we have difficulty comprehending the complexity of race relations in the US. (And this is exacerbated in my case by not knowing anything about critical race theory).
However, I would take issue with the idea that blending races is any kind of solution, and I hope you don't mind me addressing this...
We have two hundred years of such 'blending' here in Australia... forced through rape or through disruption of the male/female balance by frontier wars, or through a shocking program designed to 'breed out the colour' through the Stolen Generations, or more happily through a loving choice between equal partners... however it occurred/occurs, the history shows that the 'blended' descendants have then been offensively categorised into fractions ("half-caste" etc) and discriminated against on the basis that they have some proportion of genes that are Black. Conversely they have sometimes been accused of not being Black enough to qualify for benefits designed to reduce disadvantage. We also have a long and persistent history of White people hiding any ancestry that includes Indigenous people.
I think that the happy resolution of racism through a 'coffee-coloured melting-pot' (as the song says) is a fantasy. But it's not just that it doesn't end racism. I don't know what could bring about the end of racism but I think it would be a form of genocide if it could only be achieved by 'breeding out' distinctive races and their unique cultures, even if this were voluntarily achieved. Australia has the oldest living culture on earth, with peoples who have been here for between 60,000 and 100,000 years, and some aspects of their culture can only be passed on to initiated people who belong on that land. Now we are finding that some stories (e.g. of volcanic eruptions and other geological events) are supported by scientific evidence; research is showing that some medicinal uses of herbs are highly effective. We are learning better ways of managing a complex and fragile environment, and we are also belatedly recognising alternative ways of managing governance and justice. While I am not suggesting that we should preserve racial difference because we get something out of it, I would say that we have so much to learn from people of different races and cultures that it would be a tragedy and morally wrong to lose any of these distinctive cultures by 'diluting' or 'blending' them.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lisa - You raise some very important points that I was not thinking about in my awnser to Muddpuddle’s comment. I should qualify my response to blending of people when it applies to groups that are essentially already members of the same culture. The situation that applies in this book is applicable to that situation. It also applies to situations involving modern democracy and societies that are relatively non violent. I should also qualify it by stating that the best outcome is kind of a lumpy stew where the best aspects of individual cultures are still retained.

How other and very different cultures fare in the face of what I will call modernity, even when the modernity is in a fairly benign, is another issue. It is complicated and I admit that I do not have all the answers. There are multiple cultures that have been destroyed. Others that are obviously endangered. You have gotten me thinking about all sorts of issues now :) Maybe I will explore it further in future posts.

Brian Joseph said...

Some further thoughts. The conditions that occurred in Australia were not that different from those conditions that occurred in America and elsewhere. I think the problem was not that these societies were too open to mixing and assimilation. The problem was that these societies were prone to violence and bigotry. An important question is what do we do today? I do not think that we can be against mixing or assimilation if someone wants that for themselves. Instead, the best that we can do is to promote non violence, tolerance and celebrate diversity. I think that if society embraces these things, it will lead to the best chance that other cultures will continue to exist.

Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers said...

Yes, I think you're right about that. But I would go beyond 'tolerance', because I myself would not want to be tolerated, I want to be accepted, which is not quite the same thing.

Brian Joseph said...

Indeed!

mudpuddle said...

Lisa has a good point; we don't see it quite that way in this country partly because the enslaved Africans that were brought here had their culture destroyed by their overlords... so we deal with the remembrance of a liberated slave class and the consequential guilt. Whereas in Australia, an established culture thousands of years old was invaded by a desperate, power and wealth seeking force of indigent immigrants... two different scenarios, not to be compared, i think, and with different solutions, if any...

Kathy's Corner said...

Hi Brian, once again your posts are excellently written and this series you are doing is very thought provoking.

Regarding critical race theory I sense that though its a theory that predates Trump, Trump's election has put it on steroids. He knew there was a market out there for all forms of bigotry and he's continued to divide us ever since. And so some in response have decided generalizing right back about white people is the way to go. The problem is that while its true Trump voters are overwhelmingly white its also true that tens of millions of white people voted for Hillary and she won the popular vote. But also this whole oppressor/oppressed mindset falls apart when we realize that practically the entire country falls into at least one group that has experienced bigotry whether its by race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and if we all stop talking to each other we will make a farce out of what the founders had hoped we'd be.

Regarding Jodi Piccoult I haven't read her. I know she has gotten good reviews for her books and that the social protest novel has a very long and worthy history but its a mistake to create your characters to fit an agenda. I have stayed away from Wolf Hall for that reason. Hillary has issues with Catholicism which is her right but it resulted some say in too glowing a portrayal of Thomas Cromwell and too negative a portrayal of Thomas More and therefore though wonderfully written it suffers as an accurate historical novel.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks so much Kathy. The crazy elements on the left and Trumpism are definitely feeding off one another. Both the extreme right and left prod and prompt each other and work each other up.

As I mentioned. There are a lot of very good things about this book. I think that if it did not try too hard to make its point then it would have worked. With all that, a lot of people really liked this one.

I had not known that Wolf Hall was so agenda driven.

Judy Krueger said...

It is late. Perhaps I should have waited until tomorrow to comment. As you know, Brian, I am not a fan of Jodi Picoult, but your review gave me some ideas about why. I have read a few of her books and if I were to look back on them, she may have written each one under the influence of some social theory or another. That resonates with the uncomfortable feeling I get when reading her.
I am not familiar with the theory about racism that you mention. In fact, I don't have any answers except for me personally to accept people for who they are and do my best to practice that in my life. In my experience, just about any theory breaks down in day to day interaction with other human beings. As Lisa said, tolerance is not the ideal.
OK, going to bed now.

Carol said...

Brian, thanks for such a thoughtful & well-written review. Interesting to read Judy's comment above, too, about the social theory stuff in Picoult's writing. I'd been thinking of reading her book, 'My Sister's Keeper' & I always like to know if the author has a certain slant.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I read this when it was first released and although I was often mad as I read this one as a result of some of things that happened, I was still happy I read it. MY book group read it as well and it made for a good discussion.

James said...

Thank you for an excellent review and your thoughtful critical commentary. While I agree that there are people who are racist, I see this as a cultural phenomenon. In my own extended family there is an interracial marriage and we all are very much a welcoming and loving extended family. This has occurred in spite of our upbringing in a small Midwestern town that had very few minority residents and no blacks. I would like to believe this is more common than the reverse.
I was taught and continue to believe that I should treat everyone the same as I would like to be treated.

One comment I did not understand was "blank slatism is a denial of obvious aspects of human nature." Are you saying that some people are born with a "racist" gene?

baili said...

Very powerful and insightful review dear Brain

you are BRILLIANT with dealing such complicated topics and twisting ideas which give me dizziness even when i read them lol


when i hear or read such stuff (specially comments) it makes me chuckle

i immediately find my self somewhere above looking at world that seems to be in wrong hands

i am sorry that i cannot share my thoughts that are hitting walls of my head because i love you all ,i hope you do either my precious friends!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Judy - I have not read any other bilks by Jodi Piccoult. You are getting me to wondering what her other books are like. Perhaps she gets too emerged in these theories throughout her writings. . I am fine if an author wants to advocate for a particular belief system. I think that they would make a stronger case if they were more grounded in the real world.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Carol - I think that the author is admittedly very much part of the American left. So am I. Either way, one will not get a middle of the road view of things in her writings.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Diane - Much of the discrimination and bias portrayed in this book is anger inducing. Some of it is realistic and is the kind that needs to be confronted in real life. I fear that the unrealistic elements here might lead to these real issues being obscured.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks James - Indeed, Though I sometimes complicate it too, in the end it is about accepting people as they are.

My view on genetics and behavior can be encapsulated in The Blank Slate. In the book Steven Pinker relies heavily on studies involving identical twins, sometimes separated at birth. Though I do not believe that there is a racist gene, I think a combination of genes can predispose some people more to racism, some people more to tolerance. However, environment then comes in. When society is less racist it is less likely that the tendency to be racist will express itself. It is kind of like heart disease, some people are predisposed, but a healthy lifestyle can still prevent the heart disease.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Baili - Some If this stuff does make one head’s spin. I think that you should always feel free to agree or disagree here. As I have written before, no two people are likely to agree on all these issues.

Brian Joseph said...

Just a follow up on what you wrote Kathy. I completely agree that many people have faced all kinds of discrimination and bias. The critical race theorists do try to address that by saying that most of the time race overrides everything else. I think that we are all a combination of advantages and disadvantages, facing racism is one of the things that can be a disadvantage.

Kathy's Corner said...

Hi Brian, Agree. There are many kinds of discrimination out there but racism is different and if you are white you often don't see it. Over the years I've gone for job interviews and never had to give the color of my skin a thought as to whether it would deny me the job. Same thing about the police. I''ve never had to be afraid but if you are black we have seen time and time again on the news videos of police brutality. And many other types of discrimination if you are black subtle and unsubtle that if you are white you never experience which is what is meant by white privilege.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Kathy - So many big, hot button issues! I will just say that I prefer the term bias to privilege. Robin DiAngelo is now contending that White Privilege is active participation in racism that all white people engage in. I’ll be posting on her book in a couple of weeks.

Sharon Wilfong said...

I don't mean to gush, Brian, but this is a simply superb post. You really excelled yourself and that's saying a lot because your posts are always absorbing.

I did not want to read your post at first because I really cannot stand Jodi Picoult. I feel she panders to popular, trendy cultural attitudes and your review only reinforces that.

How's about she's a white woman so how does she presume to be spokesperson for people of different races? See? You can't win in identity politics.

I do not believe that white people benefit from racism. Racial division makes all of us poorer, as human beings, as intelligent people able to comprehend, think, value, love....all those things that make life worth living.

Also, racism exists on both sides of the fence. I taught at a predominantly black and hispanic school for nine years. Half the teachers were black and the principal was black. There were times when I was discriminated against.

If I disciplined black children I was accused of racism, even if these children were discipline problems in their home room and their teacher, who was black, was also disciplining them.

The principal would always side with a black teacher, which happened in my case when a teacher accused me of something. They both screamed at me in her office for an hour. I never even got a word in edge-wise.

White teachers were told to deal with problems in their room. Black teachers were allowed to remove children who were acting out.

Now does that mean all black people are horrible? No. I live in a neighborhood that is equally divided up between white, black and hispanic neighbors and I love my neighborhood.

I also loved the kids I taught, even the ones that were problems. My life was richer because of the different cultures I came into contact with. Including, I should say black and white children coming out of impoverished backgrounds, which is another culture by itself. I loved those kids so much.

Segregation creates a poor society and I hope as time marches on it will become a thing of the past.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks so much Sharon.

Though many of the extreme identity left do say that white people should not say anything about racism I must grant that Jodi Piccoult did not make that one contention.

The whole idea that white people benefit from racism is so faulty.



Sorry about your experience at that school. There is racism aimed at white people. I had a family member who was the target of a violent racist assault. I find that when it comes to this stuff aimed at white people, the worst of the right tries to exaggerate how often it occurs and the worst of the left tried to minimize and sometimes cover it up or blame the victim. I am with you, the best answer is to try to appreciate everyone and not stereotype. Loving everyone people despite flaws is the way to go.

JacquiWine said...

While I've never read this author, I'm aware that she often tackles controversial issues in her books. This sounds like a suitable read for book groups, something that offers much to discuss.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jacqui- Indeed. Though I have never been part of a book group, I think that one where people were not afraid to express opinions, would eat this up.

Tracy Terry said...

Hmm! Interesting. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this author as whilst I think her books tackle some very 'difficult' topics that many of us don't want to think about I do find her work formulaic.

This isn't one of her's that I have read and to be honest I've passed it by in many a charity shop (the shelves of which always seem full of her novels). Am I any more tempted given this, your excellent, considered post? You bet I am.

Thanks not only for such a thought provoking post but this insight into yourself.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Tracy. I tend to go head first into controversy :) I have not read any of her other books. I am definitely to the left but I like intellectual honestly. I would love to know what you thought of this if you read it.

thecuecard said...

The book's depictions seem over the top in various respects ... as you note. I don't think all whites talk or think or feel like that. It appears the story needs more nuance in regards to whites, class, & education. Soft racism is definitely out there -- and should be dealt with & talked about etc. but perhaps blanket depictions aren't the strongest way to go about it .... I have not read Picoult.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Susan - You make very good points. The book could have been so much better had it delved into the complexities that you mentioned.

Suko said...

Brian Joseph,

I have read some of Jodi Picoult's books, but I haven't read this one. The book sounds powerful. White supremacy and racism are terrible. My favorite line in this post is:

"A society with less bigotry and bias benefits everyone."

It's too bad that the book's not more plausible, although you do note some positive things found in this book. Your commentary is interesting and insightful, as usual.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Suko. I think that less bigotry improves society in a lot of ways. These improvements help to create even less bigotry. This is something the Steven Pinker calls virtuous circles.

Susan Kane said...

Excellent post. In reading such intense books, I find my opinions flip flopping, ultimately not knowing if my interpretation is true to myself.

Growing up in a white bread rural community, there were no blacks or any color. In fact, my brother who still is in the area, told me of a black female co-worker who drove through that area on the way to a meeting many miles away. A pickup truck with a rifle in the gun rack followed her until she was out of the area. And this was in the last decade.

"You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught."

Read more: South Pacific - Youve Got To Be Carefully Taught Lyrics | MetroLyrics

"

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Susan - You raise a good point. I live in a very diverse place and always have. Things are certainly different in other places. However, this book took place in Connecticut.

I love those lyrics! With that, perhaps a bit of blank slatism there :)

The Bookworm said...

Hi Brian, I've seen this book around before. I know this author writes about controversial issues and it seems like her books make for interesting discussions.
It's too bad she wrote some of the characters here as being that clueless. Unfortunately one of my neighbors recently made a comment that reminds me of the characters you mention in this book regarding the subtle racism.
Great commentary as usual. Happy weekend!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Naida - People do make insensitive comments. Sometimes it is racist at the root of it. I have heard people call things subtle racism when it was outright racism. With all that, critical race theory is more then just about subtle racism.

Brian Joseph said...

Just a follow up. I think that a analysts of subtle racism would be in line with a traditional anti - racism message. However, the message here, with is based upon critical race theory, goes well beyond that and contends that all white people are racist and uphold white supremacy.

HKatz said...

It's not surprising how when focusing on individual characters, writers can make them quite complex, but as soon as they start trying to fit the narrative to a theory, things become unrealistic or overly simplistic.

I don't have a well-developed understanding of critical race theory, but what I've seen of it strikes me as largely a hopeless venture, in the sense that you have certain groups going around in perpetual guilt and others in perpetual offense, and what are the genuine remedies, if anything can be easily construed as racist? What does a good society look like? And how do you account for complexities, such as differences in socioeconomic class (do class and wealth ever get analyzed intelligently, or is it just the caricature that working class whites must be racist?)

I forget where I read this, but someone else pointed out that calling people privileged for enjoying basic human rights and decent treatment isn't a good idea, because basic human rights shouldn't be a privilege, they should be the norm. Rather than taking things away, keep building people up in terms of their rights and their dignity.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Hila - I agree with your criticism of critical race theory as well as your point about the term privilege. Equality has nothing to do with people losing privileges.

You raise a great point about these theories disregarding class. Helen Pluckrose is a critic of these theories and is writing a book on them. As per her Tweets, several theories, such as critical race theory and postcolonial theory started out as hybrids between identify focused and Marxism. This fits with my readings on postcolonialism. Obviously, the Marxism part was concerned with class. In recent years however, the identity focused part has completely pushed out the Marxism. This fits my observations of what is going on currently. The latest trends in these postmodernist theories show no concern for poor white people.