Recently, I published my first book. It was a collaboration with my friend, Lynn, from high school.
We grew up in the same town and our upbringing was that of small town Michigan. We shared that similarity with many towns in our beautiful state.
But that is where the sameness ends.
You see, Lynn is African American and I am not.
Last night, my daughter called. She said the book had made her uncomfortable in many ways. She thought it spoke of white privilege and felt that it roiled up feelings of dismay that I could have thought or written a book this way. She said it had made a friend of hers feel awkward.
I was ecstatic.
First of all, the book is fiction. But it is real enough to cover a bevy of topics that really were indicative of the times.
I was happy that it evoked deep feelings for them. Books should do that.
My discussion with her assured me that her dad and I had done something right when it came to the treatment of other people. She was outraged and concerned that the times written (65-75) are the way things actually are now; that nothing has really changed.
Children are shaped by what they learn from their parents and their community. They certainly do not form opinions of prejudice and racism at birth. It is NOT an inherent trait to put people on different levels of privilege when you are born and often, those examinations of self don’t take place until much later when people begin the questions inside themselves. Sadly, those lessons are in evidence much too early in life.
This book was an undertaking that both Lynn and I knew would be difficult. It takes the childhood vision of how human interaction works and shows how innocent young children model what their parents do because that is ALL they know.
In the book, I tried to convey the levels of prejudice first with Mexican workers, the wealthy family down the street, the gay couple who lived in a cottage out back, the families who lived just a street over, the abuse of a young women in a teenage relationship, with the predominant thread being racial bias.
In our many discussions, Lynn and I knew there was a division going on in our small town, but we also were oblivious to the depth with which it ran. We did what we knew.
As educators, we are shaping attitudes.
Words and actions matter.
Our own awareness of the awkward way we feel when someone is treated differently or more poorly than they deserve needs to be pointed out as it happens.
I wrote this book with Lynn to help people understand that even when a friendship is forged, there is often a significant abyss based upon the initial teachings of family and community. Not everyone shares the basic fundamental beliefs. Most of the time, these beliefs are overlooked. People don't like to start things and many would like to go back to the way it was all those years ago.
But righting wrongs can't be done overnight. Long entrenched in the roles taught by a family, community or world, we must educate with our actions. All. The. Time.
I applaud my daughter for her ability to feel the empathy needed to walk forward with this knitted acceptance.
The book “The Dark Side of Heaven” is available on Amazon.
Thanks for listening.