I’ve been struggling with what I should say about recent events in this country. I know that a lot of my readers turn to my books to escape from the real world, so the last thing they want to hear from me is stuff about the real world. I also don’t want to make these issues about me or come across like all those “we’re here for you in these uncertain times” e-mails I’ve been getting from every company I’ve ever given an e-mail address to. I use my online presence to promote my books, and I don’t want to use other people’s pain to promote my books.
At the same time, silence is cowardly. Some issues are big enough that you have to speak out. So, on this occasion, I’m going to let the real world intrude.
I like to think of myself as someone who isn’t racist. I’ve always had a fairly diverse group of friends, which is one of the benefits of growing up on military bases. I liked to think that everyone was pretty much alike inside and we were all equal.
But the fact is that the world treats us differently, and we have to acknowledge that in order to change it. My big wake-up call came when I tried to watch the movie Hidden Figures on HBO. I couldn’t deal with the opening scene, in which the women were confronted by a racist cop. I got so infuriated on their behalf that I was actually shouting at the TV. I wanted to throw things. I wanted to hurt him. I had to turn off the movie because my blood pressure was spiking.
And then it struck me: I didn’t have the strength to watch a movie about that treatment. Just imagine what it must be like to have to live it — all those daily indignities of dealing with people who regard you as lesser. It has to take so much strength to not be exploding with rage all the time.
It would be nice to say that things have changed since then, but clearly they haven’t, and what we’ve seen has to be the tip of the iceberg, given that this is how some police officers are acting when they know they’re being filmed, when there should be heightened awareness because of so many other recent incidents. That suggests they don’t fear the consequences, and that means there’s some rot at the core for them to feel safe acting that way in public view. I have friends who are cops or former cops, and I know that there are a lot of good ones, but the fact that there are those who fearlessly act this way in public suggests that there’s not a lot of peer pressure to the contrary. Things have to change, at the very least to the point where police are afraid to be brutal to the people they’re supposed to protect because they know there will be consequences. I don’t care what crime has been committed, the police are not judge, jury, and executioners.
It’s alarming how similar today’s world is to the Gilded Age era I researched for Rebel Mechanics. We still have so much systemic inequality. I wish I could make everything better. In the meantime, I’m trying to listen and learn so that in my own interactions I can do better. And I vote. I would encourage my readers to do likewise.