In Jodi Picoult’s Author’s Note to her new release Small Great Things (released today), she tells us of her desire to write a novel about racism. She tried once, but ended up putting that first one aside. She talked about her efforts to listen to others so that she could better understand their experiences. She also listened to herself and realized that she wasn’t as “blameless and progressive” as she thought.
She set herself the task of showing white people the disadvantages that black people have that make it harder to succeed, while pointing out the advantages white people have that make it much easier for them. The role of a white ally, she points out, is to find other white people and try to make them see that the advantages they have are sometimes because someone else did not have the same benefits they did.
It’s difficult to review this book without that basic understanding of her motivations for writing. I spent so much of my time reading it thinking, “I wonder if and how this will get people talking.” Then I worried about the repercussions for her and her career if it did get people talking. Now I’m beginning to think that was the whole point of the book. I needed to understand that one has to overcome that barrier to be able to fully enter into someone else’s experience. That’s empathy. That’s writing. That’s humanity.
I hope I get it now.