TSS: Small Island, Small World

sunsalon1This has been a strange year so far. Not only have I not had much time to post here, I have not had much time to read. Most days I get only about 20 minutes or so before bed, and that’s only if I can keep my eyes open that long. I did manage to finish a couple of books in the last two weeks, though, so that’s something…but not really given that one of them, Shanghai Girls, I started sometime last December. Ahem. And now I am trying desperately to finish C.J. Box’s Blue Heaven, which I actually started last summer. Anything to squeeze in a few more books before the end of March to at least attempt to meet my goal for the TBR Double Dare. Of course, this pressure is all internal. I’m happy about it actually, because it makes me focus where I should focus: on my own books.

As far as Shanghai Girls and Small Island, I can easily recommend both; however, Shanghai Girls is incredibly sad, and Small Island…well, racism is never an easy subject, ever. Both books actually deal with racism, and it’s ugly in both cases. And interestingly enough, although both books are set around the time of World War II, they both deal with subjects that are lately in the news every night: immigration and racism. It’s a pitiful fact that this is the case. While I realize we have progressed some, sometimes I wonder if the progression is real, or if people have just gotten better at hiding their prejudice. Or perhaps I should say, I wonder if people HAD gotten better at hiding their prejudice, because it seems to suddenly raising its ugly head in ways I could not have imagined a decade ago.

Shanghai Girls deals with the racism Chinese immigrants faced in this country in the mid-Twentieth century. Many Chinese came here looking for opportunities to help their families in China, and after the Japanese invaded China in 1937, many people came here to escape the war, only to find that 12 years later they would be unable to return to China under the Communists–and face suspicion here of being Communist spies. Hailing from Texas, I grew up around Mexicans my whole life. I moved to Georgia over a decade ago. As you might know, Georgia does not share any borders with Mexico. In 2010, someone running for state office promised to “protect our borders.” Protect them from what? Immigrants from Alabama? All those crazy South Carolinians? Perhaps they forgot, as well, that so much of our economy depends on people crossing the border to find a better life. They pick the fruit and vegetables sitting your fridge (or at least they did–Georgia farmers are now regretting their support of conservative candidates who promised to pass strict immigration laws, because they can’t find anyone to pick their crops). But fear is a powerful thing. Make people believe they are under a vast threat and promise you can protect them…like, say, telling the Germans that the Jews wanted to take all of their jobs, so that soon no Germans would be able to find work.

I bring this up because it illustrates a relevant point, both in the two books and in what’s happening in our country right now: people are driven and easily manipulated by fear. By fear of what, I do not know. I hear a lot of blathering about Christians losing their rights and being oppressed, when everywhere there’s evidence of the contrary. The white, Christian man seems to be having a heyday. If not, then how could laws be passed forcing women to have transvaginal ultrasounds? If not, then how could this bumper sticker be proudly displayed on people’s cars? If not, why do people want to build fences along the Mexican border? If not, why are there people who still insist that President Obama is a Muslim? (And so what if he was? What happened to religious freedom? If you’re so threatened by someone else’s religious beliefs, perhaps you should question what makes your own faith so shaky and threatened by the idea of beliefs that are different from yours.) If not, why did a white man in Florida shoot a young black man for walking down the street with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea? (And I promise you, if the shooter had been black or Hispanic, he would have had cuffs slapped on him faster than you can say “hoodie.”)

I tend not to talk politics with people in person, and I generally don’t say anything about it here on the blog either. But I am simply appalled, and I cannot sit still and pretend nothing is happening. I’m not interested in starting arguments or attacking parties (I believe there are racist liberals and progressive conservatives). I’m simply saying, by themselves, both of these books made me cringe. Given the parallels between what happens in these books set in the 1930s and 1940s and what I see on the news today…it made me want to crawl under the bed and not come out.

I’ll simply close with the wise words of Airman Gilbert Joseph, RAF in Small Island, and leave it at that:

‘You know what your trouble is, man?’ he said. ‘Your white skin. You think it makes you better than me. You think it give you the right to lord it over a black man. But you know what it make you? You wan’ know what your white skin make you, man? It make you white. That is all, man. No better, no worse than me–just white.’

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4 comments

  1. OMG – what fun! Thank you for sharing this – I can’t wait to read more. BTW – check out White Tiger for an Indian driver’s perspective. You won’t be able to put it down…

  2. Thank you for this post. I agree completely with your thoughts that there is still a long way to go towards ending all forms of oppression. I am always appalled, although I can’t say surprised anymore, at how people I’ve just met assume that I share their incredibly racist views just because I share their skin color. Just last night, at an event, I met a man who was lamenting, regarding Trayvon Martin, the fact that down in Florida “they’d find a way to put my man in jail somehow.” I was absolutely disgusted. I wasn’t about to get into it with him out of respect for my host, but I believe I made my opposition pretty clear.

    I hope that through literature people can expand their horizons and make connections between travesties that happened in the past and those that continue to happen everyday, but often I doubt it is the case. It seems that people tend to read a book through their preexisting frame of reference. Perhaps through blogging and actually discussing the ideas presented in books we can be exposed to differing viewpoints and actually grow as human beings.

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