“Hey,” said Annie Kelly this morning on my WhatsApp. “I just read your Books post, have you read Such a Fun Age?”
Oh my god, I did. I did! I did read Kiley Reid’s recent masterpiece – you probably have too as it has been celebrated pretty much everywhere. I just clean forgot to include it. I blame my post-migraine brain, also I am generally inept. But maybe something else is going on. Maybe I am so envious about how brilliant it was I just can’t bear to have it in the forefront of my mind. A bit like Fleishman Is In Trouble. Argh! My eyes! The light shining from it is too bright! Put it away!
But of course, of course you must read Such A Fun Age. It’s absolutely terrific – fun and funny and reads almost like a thriller while also being a really clever hand-on-chin-fingers-drumming look at class and race in contemporary America.
I won’t give you a synopsis because I never think they’re that helpful in deciding whether or not you want to read a book. But I can tell you this: there are no sad children or gruesome stuff. I laughed out loud many times. Perhaps my favourite bit is where two characters sit and argue about who is the most racist. Answer? Neither of them is at all. Or they’re both as bad as each other? Discuss.
It also made me feel a but neurotic and hunted about the question that niggles at me, which is: Am I Secretly Racist? I don’t think I am. In fact I’m very confident that I am not.
But in the last ten years I have, rightly or wrongly, received the message that I am racist without knowing it. I have been told that I am racist deep inside, “institutionally”, in my unconscious – just because that’s the way of the white Western world. It’s almost got nothing to do with me or my personality, it’s just the way. Like a piece of code written into a website that you cannot excise. So am I? Or not? I mean I really, really don’t think I am. But who the hell am I to say that.
And while I am worrying so much about this, am I wildly and horribly overcompensating in the meantime, just like one of the characters in Such a Fun Age?
Anyway, all of this is my problem and mine to navigate. What I’m trying to say that this is not only a funny and generous book – like only the very best books, it makes you re-evaluate yourself for better or worse.
What the hell will Kiley Reid do for her next trick? I can’t wait.
sheila birch says
Right I’ll get that too! French exit is on the way, bought The beginners Goodbye from the charity shop simply because it said Best Seller.. and I recognised I’d read this author before Ann Tyler. Well I was right I had read her before ….. I’d read The Beginners Goodbye WTF….
It’s me age
I read an Anne Tyler for the first time recently and it was so good, and yet I’ve been bypassing her for years. I’ve just begun A Spool of Blue Thread.
My favourite. Her books are so warm.
I was so paranoid about this I did all the unconscious bias tests, which told me I’m not racist, but am biased *towards* older people! Who knew. https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html
sheila birch says
Lol I’m an old people …
if you’re lucky you’ll be one one day … but I know what you mean, they all look so miserable (not intentional your face drops) and they drive yay tooo slow
No, not against older people , towards older people. I.e. I am biased against younger people.
Lesley Somerville says
I just listened to a very good podcast on the subject of ‘woke’ and how it is influencing politics and debate. It’s on TRIGGERnometry and very thought provoking. I think it’s an important subject and worry that debate on issues like gender, race, culture and so on is being stifled. Inevitably this is leading to the rise of populism. It’s worth a listen.
I think it’s worth saying that humans are innately “groupish”, to use Jonathan Haidt’s description from his brilliant “The Righteous Mind”. Ie, we prefer people from our own group. So, I guess all humans are a bit racist.
However, thankfully, we are not particularly choosy about our ‘groupishness’. That is to say, we can be groupish about our (mixed) football team or our (mixed) bookclub or our (mixed) neighbourhood…
Groupishness has got a deservedly bad rep because it has so often been linked to excluding people based on race/ colour/ class. But Haidt provides lots of good evidence that there’s nothing that says groupishness HAS to be about race/ colour/ class. It could be blue team or red team etc.
If you accept that humans are groupish, then the key is to find an acceptable outlet for this instinct. This gives me hope that we can find something to be groupish about that supercedes the usual negative and harmful in/ out criteria. Don’t know what but hey…
I think there’s so much woke stuff around telling us all to be colour blind whereas what it does it creates the opposite effect. It was almost insinuated that if you voted Brexit you were thick, stupid and racist. I don’t listen to the BBC news now or listen to people who are woke.
The racism point is tricky. I think it depends what you mean by racist. I don’t think that I consciously making choices which are driven by negative feelings about people’s skin/ culture etc. However, I think it is unlikely that I would be immune from the unconscious stuff which is revealed by most proper studies into unconsicous bias. A
And we don’t just have negative things hardwired in but we also have assumptions about all sorts of things which also act as barriers to people e.g. who is most suited to being a leader (a slightly older, white man), what does a genius look like? (probably the famous picture of albert einstein with the big hair- again white).
A neuroscientist friend said to me that white people have to accept the evidence that they probably do have irrational colour based prejudices and stop trying to live in a colour blind world and accept we need to increase our own awareness. If a black woman hasn’t been promoted in your company – work out why and then try to decide if any of the evidence is flawed etc..