Jodi Picoult Explores Racial Injustice In “Small Great Things”

Published in 2016

Kudos to Jodi Picoult for taking on America’s most entrenched injustice. and helping readers discover in themselves how he or she may perpetuate racial injustice. Small Great Things is sheer bravery by a white American writer.

This novel bravely goes where few white writers would venture without the risk of their white privilege bleeding through the narrative, or of committing cultural appropriation. Jodi tells us readers that is exactly why the original idea and partially written manuscript were put aside for more than a decade.

Before Picoult decides to take up the gauntlet, she joins a white privilege workshop to delve into her own prejudices, she gathers to herself men and women from the black community who speak the hard truth to her and help her understand her role in perpetuating injustice. She interviews reformed white supremacists. Picoult dives deep to show how racial injustice is sustained by a thousand small cuts a day, carried out by whites who are often clueless to their own complicity.

Small Great Things explores how racial privilege, even more than outright discrimination, pervades white consciousness.  A person may think “I’m color blind,” or “race makes no difference to me”. However, Picoult’s book reminds us it is easy to think that when you are a beneficiary of the culture’s every advantage.

Yet, Picoult also shows how “minorities” can play into perpetuating the injustice by remaining silent to hold on to tenuous advantages they may have and that are working to help them accomplish goals like owning a home and sending their child to college. The main character, Ruth Jefferson, demonstrates how that works.

Picoult shows in the character of Kennedy, Ruth’s public defender when Ruth, a respected labor and delivery nurse, is accused of killing the baby of a white supremacist couple. Prior to their son’s death, they demanded that Ruth, an African-American, be forbidden to touch their child (Davis). Ruth is removed from the family’s service after Davis is born. She is mystified. As one of the most capable nurses, she can’t imagine why they do not want her to help care for their son. Then she observes the tattoos on the father’s arm and head, and she realizes he is a white supremacist. As the story advances, Baby Davis is discovered to have an inherited disorder that contributes to his death.

By following the developing relationship between Ruth and Kennedy, Picoult takes  readers with her on the discovery of white privilege, peeling it back layer by layer until finally Kennedy is seeing it in herself. We also follow Ruth’s discovery that she has blinded herself to racial assumptions that arise regularly in her peers. Ruth’s determination to discuss the role of racial hatred in her case — a strategy strongly opposed by Kennedy — is a result of finally understanding her complicity in the persistence of racial discrimination by remaining silent.

The story of Turk Bauer and his wife Brittany, both white supremacists, brings to light the complexity of racial hatred. We learn the circumstances that led to Turk’s induction into the Aryan Nation. We  go to events where racial hatred is cultivated, taught to youngsters, and how it is organized across the nation. Inside Turk’s head, we see how he is influenced by fear and anger in his particular life circumstances. We witness Turk’s the awful suffering from the loss of his child. We see his humanity even when his beliefs and actions are despicable to us. Jodi is showing that racial relationships in America are complex and nuanced.

Critics have reviewed the novel’s sometimes cardboard stereotypes and slow action, but really, Picoult took on a monumental task as she worked through her own racial biases and white privilege, inviting her fans to do the same within themselves. This is how hard it is. Picoult is a skilled writer. We can give her a little slack if at times the characters may lack realism or the plot slows here and there. She took on America’s deepest wound, most entrenched injustice, and one that is still festering in the hearts of us all.  We must get at it in ourselves until we can live a free nation. Picoult offers us her experience as one way we might get there.

MORE RESOURCES FOR READERS:

Michael Eric Dyson: Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America

Watch Frontline: Documenting Hate which aired on August 10. It is a documentary of the white supremacists at Charlottesville, VA uprising over confederate monuments. It was so much more, of course. This ProPublica investigation helps us learn about how a permissive environment ushered  hate groups into the American mainstream.

Read Jon Meacham’s book “The Soul of America, the Battle for Our Better Angels”.  In the Introduction, Meacham compares Strom Thurman’s Dixiecrats to Trump’s nationalist movement.

Extremism, racism, nativism, and isolationism, driven by fear of the unknown, tend to spike in periods of economic and social stress — a period like our own. Meacham, p. 4 of Introduction.

POD SAVE THE PEOPLE

 

 

Into the vacuum: China

NX_whitehouseClimate change is real, advancing, and draining the world’s resources country by country–and causing tragic migrations of families across the earth in search of places where people will take them in. This is just the beginning of woes should the world’s leaders not act decisively to stem carbon dioxide emissions.

The spectacle of our times is awesome and terrifying. Anticipating the ascension of a world leader who denigrates science and promises to focus America’s interests inward, world leaders at the latest global summit to implement the Paris Climate Change Accord have already moved on without us. China quickly stepped in to realize the benefits of leading other countries toward a fossil free world community.

P.S. America: the green economy is leading in economic sectors as our new leadership prepares to dig more coal and suck more oil out of the ground.

Have we entered into a new paradigm of Selective Science? We believe in science when it comes to curing disease, or making weapons, or making us money. But, selectively we denigrate the agencies charged with studying and protecting the earth–the planet from which our lifeblood flows. Does that make sense, I ask you?

How would Americans feel if the world’s leading countries imposed trade restrictions on us for our irresponsible behavior? Tables turned? How would it feel to be the cause of suffering across the planet due to our lack of participation in reducing emissions? I hear a refrain, from another misled politician: Burn Baby, Burn. That will come back to haunt the source and us if we do not realize our responsibility to greater humanity and to our children and generations to come.

Americans must be vigilant like in no other time before in our history. We must oppose any policies that destroy the democracy and tear asunder our fragile international relations. We must recognize our responsibility to continue to be an integral member of the international community–especially now.

VITAL SIGNS OF THE PLANET

 

 

 

What about food supply?

“Changing climate equals changing water” is the phrase that many water and climate experts in the southwest are using today. As the temperature increases, and less rain falls, soils are depleted of moisture in a cycle that turns healthy soil into barren landscapes.

The seeds that we use, the means of careful water use to grow them, and the quality of the fruit and legumes produced are now in a precarious time when climate is less certain. Seeds that are specifically adapted to a region with long genetic history may become more important due to their unique resiliency to heat and drought.

Our commercial, industrialized food system is highly dependent on predictable conditions not only in the agricultural fields but also in the transportation systems that now intersect with a global market system. If too hot, planes may not be able to fly; if sea level rise or large storms destroy ports, cargo ships are not able to pick up or drop off cargo. When food is not shipped in a timely manner, it can rot as it sits in place as with fresh fruit and vegetables.

In Threshold, Ed Flanagan, food bank operations director and climate change denier, has to confront his beliefs as his normal food supply sources are in turmoil.

The dependable food supply we are accustomed to in developed countries is at a threshold with current and predicted climate change realities.  Protecting our food supply personally, nationally, and internationally should be part of the work we all can do to build resilience to changes in our climate.

 

What is GRACE?

In my new novel, Threshold, Dr. Carla Conner is a climate scientist who is part of the GRACE team.

GRACE consists of two identical spacecraft that fly about 220 kilometers (137 miles) apart in a polar orbit 500 kilometers (310 miles) above Earth. GRACE maps Earth’s gravity field by making accurate measurements of the distance between the two satellites, using GPS and a microwave ranging system. It is providing scientists from all over the world with an efficient and cost-effective way to map Earth’s gravity field with unprecedented accuracy. The results from this mission are yielding crucial information about the distribution and flow of mass within Earth and its surroundings.

The gravity variations studied by GRACE include: changes due to surface and deep currents in the ocean; runoff and ground water storage on land masses; exchanges between ice sheets or glaciers and the ocean; and variations of mass within Earth.

Dr. Connor is also a member of the Colorado River Research Group.

In these two capacities she is aware of the shrinking reservoirs for Colorado River water which supplies 40% of Tucson’s water supply. She is very concerned that the “powers that be” react sufficiently to avoid a water crisis.

Our Military is Well Ahead of Congress on Climate Change

U.S. Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit unload food and supplies to Pakistanis in support of the flood relief effort in Pano Aqil, Pakistan, Sept. 11, 2010. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jason Bushong/Released)
U.S. Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit unload food and supplies to Pakistanis in support of the flood relief effort in Pano Aqil, Pakistan, Sept. 11, 2010. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jason Bushong/Released)

Tonight 350 Pensacola brought Brigadier General John Adams, Ret. to describe how the military is involved in preparation for the consequences of climate change. Among them are sea level rise, food shortages, migration of large groups of people from countries destabilized by climate change impacts, and larger and more powerful storms. See this link to The Center for Climate and Security.

General Adams reviewed changes in the Arctic that will eventually keep it open (free of ice) for global trade and military maneuvers for as much as six months out of the year. Arctic Patrolling is now another security responsibility of the U.S. Military.

Where troops train and in major ports that harbor military ships, adaptations must be made now because the infrastructure take years to develop. We are likely to see relocation of military bases–which will also impact communities that rely on the economic income from their presence. He mentioned Norfolk bases as likely impacted. Pensacola Naval Air Station (PNAS) will not be impacted because Hurricane Ivan destroyed coastal infrastructure which the Navy decided not to replace. PNAS is the home of Naval Aviation, the main activity that will not be affected by sea level. However, it is subject to stronger than normal storms as is our whole coastal area.

General Adams explained that the drought in California and other areas in the Southwest is making it impossible to conduct troop training (major fires and the risk of setting off fires from troop fire) and these conditions are likely to drive base relocation.

General Adams began by describing climate change as a global security threat. Adams is the CEO of a global security consulting firm, Guardian Six. They have an impressive team assembled to analyze security risks for clients. He speaks from experience and current projects his team is conducting around the world to assess security risks.

As General Adams focused his comments country by country, targeting regions most vulnerable to climate change impacts, it was obvious that national security will be greatly affected, if for no other reason than troops deployed for disaster relief will take the focus away from national security activities. While only 17% of the world’s land base will be subject to sea level rise world wide, 50% of the world’s population lives in those regions.

The military looks at climate change from a risk management perspective, Adams explained. We plan for the worst case scenario, expect the most likely outcomes, and then hope for a better future. This is a cautious approach, but proactive, accepting the facts – the science – to plan for any future contingency. 

A participant asked the General how the military manages to act proactively when half of our congressional representatives do not even accept there is such a thing as climate change. He answered military leaders just go about the business they are charged to implement. We strive to speak truth to power, but in the end the military has to protect the nation. That is our mission.

A special concern of mine is local, national, and global food security. Hunger and poverty drive insurrection, wars, migrations. We know this. I do not believe most Americans are paying attention to the fraying food system in the U.S. General Adams explained that over the next six years, it is projected that million’s of acres of California’s farming operations will come to an end due to the long-term drought and heat.

The NOAA satellite system known as G.R.A.C.E. – gravity measurements of the world’s aquifers by changes in the mass of water in aquifers that underlay the world’s vast agricultural areas – shows the shrinking mass of available fresh water for food production. The Ogallala Aquifer is one of them. It underlies the U.S. Great Plains under 8 states. It has been in a state of overdraft. Its recharge is from rain and snow melt.Drought and overdraft could see this major source of water depleted in just a few years.

We would all do well to act as our military and start planning for the worst case scenario in order to ensure good outcomes down the road. I will continue working with my own local, state and federal representatives to move in that direction.