“THE STARLESS MIDNIGHT OF RACISM”
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.” Martin Luther King
Unless you have been in a coma, there is no escaping the racial divisiveness of our times. From college campuses to city streets, from cell phone videos to dash cam videos — the latest of a 17 year old black boy, Laquan McDonald, being shot 16 times by a white cop — we are a country with hard lines drawn between black and white.
In my new novel, The Earth Breaks in Colors, two eleven year old girls — one white, one black — are at first happily unconcerned with race. To them, black and white is literally only skin deep. History and the rage that smolders through generations hasn’t yet burned through their innocence. But no amount of innocence can keep the world from crashing through.
Three white men attack the black family and the two girls when they’ve gone out for pizza. Jackson Waters, the black father, kills one of the attackers. From that moment on, nothing is the same. The families unravel and the girls feel layers of history — both cultural and familial — rising up around them, changing everything they once thought was true.
In response to the criticism that he got for speaking at a Black Lives Matter rally, Quentin Tarrantino said that people would rather attack a celebrity for speaking out than deal with the actual problem at hand. There is some truth to that. It’s easier to get angry at him than to dive down into all the layers of racism that still exist. There are ghosts down there, as well as the sad truth that white Americans have still not made amends to black Americans who bear the scars of their ancestors and who know that the color of their skin can still ignite hatred.
In The Earth Breaks in Colors, Jackson Waters’ 18 year old son is the one who holds up a mirror to the fear and anger that drive those around him. He wasn’t the likeliest character in the novel to inhabit that role; it surprised me as I was writing the story. I thought at times about Rodney King saying, “Can we all get along?” as Los Angeles burned around him because the officers who beat him so horribly had been acquitted.
The only way we are ever going to heal is if we are willing to see beyond the anger while at the same time understanding why it exists. It is a righteous anger, and if we accord it that status, we’ll be able to envision a world in which it is no longer necessary. Martin Luther King was not without anger at the history that lived in his blood and the brutal prejudice he both witnessed and experienced in his life. Yet he said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
We are writing our own history every day. We are deciding what the final word will be. If it’s going to be hatred and divisiveness, then we will continue down a dark road until the shadows are so deep we’ll never be free of them. But if we decide instead that “unarmed truth and unconditional love” will have the final word, then that decision will be our beacon and will lead us through the darkness, even when the darkness feels like it’s smothering us.