Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Radical Equality

I became a fan of Sharon Draper when I read her book Out of My Mind earlier this year, but I didn’t know anything about her as a person (the copy of the book didn’t have an author photo).  Recently I wanted to refer to the book in a forum post and googled her to check a fact. I went first to an interview where someone asked why race hadn’t come up in the book. I thought that was an odd question, but it made me realize that race had never been mentioned. Then I clicked on another link and saw a photo of Ms. Draper and realized she is black. Then the question made sense.
But why should the book have to revolve around race just because she’s black? Ms. Draper was addressing an issue that confronts people of all races—the prejudice faced by a young girl with cerebral palsy—and giving the girl a racial identity would just have clouded that message.
Knowing this about her has made me even more of a fan. She is an example of the radical equality I dream of, where we don’t have to pay attention anymore to details like race, gender, or sexual orientation. Those things are immaterial; what matters is what kind of person you are.
American culture has made great strides in the last decade in recognizing the rights of LGBT people. But I dream of a day when no one has to “declare” their sexual orientation. In other words there is no “normal” sexuality that requires you to say “I’m not that, I’m this.”
Years ago SouthPark had an excellent episode about the end of racism. Chef, who is black, was angry about the town’s flag, which depicted a black man being lynched and white people dancing around the tree. The adults were confused about why Chef was angry—“this is our tradition,” they said—and the children were too…for a different reason. Chef realized that the kids didn’t see color—when one of them described the flag he said, “it’s a person hung from a tree and other people are standing around.” Chef realized his response had racism in it—it was all about color. The resolution was the flag basically stayed the same—a black person hanging from a tree and people all around—with one significant difference: the crowd is now multicolored and includes a black person.
One day we will all realize that everyone is radically equally human.

Update: my niece and I just read To Kill a Mockingbird, set in segregated Georgia in the 1930s. My niece thought that Calpurnia, the black cook/housekeeper, and Atticus were probably going to get married. By way of explanation she said, "The kids loved her!" I could see her struggling to understand as I explained why that marriage would have been unthinkable at the time. It was great seeing that the explanation made no sense to her.

No comments:

Post a Comment