Carolrhoda Lab, 2015
I do my best not to judge people based on abstract categories, and I do my best to understand and to see the best in everyone even when they have fundamentally different beliefs than my own. Everyone has a history and their own unique series of experiences that lead to the building of their world view.
But racists. Racists to even the most casual degree. Those who think we should build literal and figurative walls to prevent immigration. Those who believe there are substantially more black men in jail than white men, not because of a broken system, but because more black men tend to be criminals. Those who feel the shocking number of black people who’ve been murdered by police are justified. Those who see all Muslims as terrorists. And those who don’t really believe any of the above but still find themselves pausing to think that maybe there is some truth to it.
Those people, I can and will not understand. I understand fear of the unknown and fear of change and the desire for security, and I understand how these fears and desires can lend themselves to putting others down and keeping them out. I understand the power of history and the extent of peoples differences and that we all can’t be expected to get along all the time. But despite all of that, no matter what explanation you have, I will always respond with what is to me the most obvious thing in the world: Kindness!!! And compassion!!! Always! The knowledge that life is unfair and that not one of us is ever more deserving of happiness and security than the other.
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez is a young adult historical fiction set in East Texas in 1937 featuring a cast of white characters, black characters, and one Mexican girl. Sometimes it takes a narrowing of focus to generate deep compassion. When faced with constant and widespread injustice, it can be impossible to not become hopeless and begin to see injustice as normal and inevitable. But when it is narrowed down to one place, one tragedy, one family, one girl, you can’t help but burn with compassion.
There’s so much I have to say about Out of Darkness, but when I turned the last page, what I found myself thinking about was this: How would one of those previously mentioned people react if they read this book? What if I found someone who supported the building of a wall, and got them to read it? Would they tell me it was a lie? An exaggeration? That things were never that bad that unfair that unjustified. Would they say, “I would never have done anything like that, but….”? Would they say that things were just different back then and not at all related to how things are now? Would they truly continue to believe that they’re on the right side of history? Or, what if this book was the thing that finally made them understand how real and painful and tragic racism is and how current events are unfolding in the shadows of this cruel, not-at-all distant past? The most important thing I have to say about Out of Darkness is that no matter who you are, you have something to learn from it. Please, do yourself a favor and find out what.