This Week’s Word Is “Equality.”
It’s been a tough week out there. The murder of George Floyd has turned a spotlight on society and found it wanting. Protests abound. The level of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement is heartening, the volume of people decrying it, depressing. Social media has been a tough place to be at times; rage-inducing and bad for my mental health.
I say bad for my mental health. I’m possibly one of the last people who should be complaining. As an affluent white male, I read (and watch) the news as terrible, and whilst I can sympathize it is not an experience I can relate to. My input is not required. There are some small things I can do to help. Listen, educate myself, and call out racism when I see it. I can also use my small platform to raise awareness about black writers and gamers.
This has meant going down some horrible rabbit holes in the last week or so. Last week Games Workshop released a statement on tolerance and diversity, and unsurprisingly it brought out the worst of their “fan” base. These people dress up their prejudice in a fascinating number of ways; perhaps in an attempt to hide the truth from themselves, but they’re fooling nobody. Many people were trying to counter each ridiculous comment with reason and civility but it was like talking into a tornado.
Perhaps more distressing, and eye-opening for me were comments closer to home. Facebook posts on local groups, asking for support for the protests brought out so much bile and prejudice. These are from people I might pass on the street. Fortunately, nobody I know well espoused distasteful opinions, but in more than one thread in my feed, there were friends of friends, who if not being explicitly racist failed to recognize their privilege.
This week I have realized the size of the echo chamber I exist in. I have blindly assumed that most of the people who live around me share the same values. This is my privilege talking; assuming the world is better than it is because I have no direct experience of how terrible it can be.
Much of the ire directed towards the protests focussed on two areas. Areas that I think are difficult to unpick. First, how do the protestors expect to be taken seriously when they’re looting, and second, how can people gather in such large numbers in the middle of a global pandemic? The first one, in particular, is problematic. It gives something for right-wing commentators to latch on to. It makes for easy headlines and makes it easy to shift the narrative.
I went in search of information to help counter, the “criminal behavior is not acceptable” argument. Very quickly turning up this powerful piece of oratory. (If you haven’t seen it yet, the video contains strong language).
This! IG: kimberlylatricejones & djonesmedia pic.twitter.com/l8zX4CULEg
— Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) June 6, 2020
In that video, Kimberly Jones mentions Trevor Noah’s observations on the breaking of the social contract, which you can watch below.
Further investigation (I think a tweet from NK Jemsin, that I now can’t find) revealed that Kimberley Jones is an author. She has co-written the book I’m not Dying With You Tonight with Gilly Segal. The book wasn’t readily available in the UK in physical form, but I could download it for Kindle. I wanted to read this story, set against the backdrop of a riot, in the hope it might help me better understand the current situation in the US and to a lesser extent, the UK.
What is I’m not Dying With You Tonight?
It’s a slim novel that follows two female schoolmates, thrown together after tempers flare and bullets fly at a football game. The story follows them as they travel on foot across town, looking for safety. The narrative flicks between Lena and Campbell’s point of view as they try to traverse both the city and one another’s sensibilities.
What follows is a deft novel that examines, prejudice, privilege, and the importance of friends and family. The novel tackles, head-on, the reasons why looting is an inevitable outcome under current conditions. Whilst the police are involved, the novel does not bash them. Lena and Campbell’s attitudes towards the police, however, stand in stark contrast to one another’s, and the reader is able to join a few dots from themselves. The novel is incredibly timely.
I’m not Dying With You Tonight is a compelling read that is never preachy. There are things to learn from reading it, most notably, that nobody should presume to understand another’s situation. Some characters will surprise you in this book. Others will not, but that is sort of the point. There are points of conflict throughout, but complex relationships mean that sometimes doing the “right” thing is impossible.
I’m never quite sure if the world needs another “White man reviews a book about race,” post, but having read so many comments that have come from a position of ignorance this week, I wanted to promote this book. My reading novels isn’t going to change the world, but hopefully, it will help me understand it more.
After my interactions this week, I can’t help that feel that the people who really need to read books like I’m not Dying With You Tonight are probably the ones least likely to. Perhaps, if a few more of the commenters on Games Workshop’s page had read this book at an earlier age, they might understand the importance of not mocking the message. Perhaps those on my local Facebook would be less quick to judge had they exposed themselves to books like I’m not Dying With You Tonight.
If you’re only looking at the story from one direction, how can you possibly see all its dimensions?
If you’d like to pick up a copy of I’m Dying With You Tonight, you can so here, in the US and here, in the UK. Readers in the UK, might prefer to check out Nikesh Shukla’s Run Riot, which deals with many of the same issues, but is set in a British city. Do also check out this recent GeeKMom post about books by black fantasy authors.