By Elizabeth Wright
I just finished Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. Read a synopsis of the novel here.
I’ll just say this: it’s fan-freakin-tastic.
This story is not only about the varying types of racism that black folks face, but, it is also about Ruth’s lawyer, the “definitely not” racist white woman Kennedy McQuarrie. Kennedy confronts her white privilege head on and learns that using her privilege for good is not about speaking for people of color, but (in her case), using her knowledge of the judicial system to give others a platform to tell their own story. Picoult depicts varying types of racism including systemic racism, neo-nazi groups, internalized racism, and microaggressions. The heart-wrenchingly wonderful parts of this book included characters who had no choice but to come to terms with their own racial biases and racial identities.
This novel allows the reader to recognize and understand different perspectives and aspects of racism. For example, Picoult used an analogy of how the world is a puzzle, and how we should change the puzzle rather than the pieces.
“What if the puzzle of the world was a shape you didn't fit into? And the only way to survive was to mutilate yourself, carve away your corners, sand yourself down, modify yourself to fit? How come we haven't been able to change the puzzle instead?”
-Jodi Picoult, Small Great Things
As a teacher, I often think about this quote in my practice. I think about how often kids, especially kids of color, have to change who they are in order to fit into the “puzzle” of school and society. For kids, school is where they become who they are and where they learn who the world expects them to be. I often feel that almost everything we teach them in school is against who they truly are; which brings us back the the crucial question: what is school for?
What is school for? To prepare citizens for jobs? College? The military? To learn to work collaboratively? To perpetuate a sense of nationalism through a one-sided history lesson? To question and never stop questioning the things going on in our country and in the world so we can always get better? Is school for the good of the whole or the good of the one?
I believe school should be a place where students and teachers work together to make the world better by learning how to care for one another, learning how to stand against injustice, and to practice solving problems. In order to get this work done, we need to acknowledge all parts of our country’s history: the ugly parts and the beautiful parts. There is power in truth and honesty. For too long, we’ve been dishonest about our history and we haven’t allowed our kids to be their true selves. If we could value truth and honesty in it’s most raw form, we’d begin to change the puzzle.