Friday, April 3, 2009
Diversity roll call: My response
My answers to the C.O.R.A. Diversity Roll Call questions. (Want to play? Answer these two questions on your blog this week and add your link, or answer in the comments.)
1. Which is the character who's the most different from you? (And how? Use this as an excuse to tell us your own background and anything else about yourself that's important to your self-identity).
The character who first came to mind was Chief Bromden from Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. He was a huge half-Native American man, I'm a petite caucasian woman. He was a man of few words, taken for a deaf/mute for years; I'm pretty chatty and don't identify as having any particular disability. He was in a mental institution, I consider myself to be fairly steady in that arena. I remember feeling empathy for the Chief, and yet his skewed world view jarred me.
Thinking about the Chief made me think about Junior, the main character in Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Junior is a Native American teenaged boy who feels stuck on the reservation. When he decides to attend high school in a local town, it's a huge undertaking. When I was a teen, I felt like I could live anywhere, go anywhere, be anything. The sense of freedom I was raised with is something I took for granted throughout my childhood and, admittedly, still do today.
Junior is an artist who loves basketball; I'm not and don't. He's also in frail health, while I've always considered myself pretty robust, health-wise. His family and community is tortured by alcoholism and hopelessness, and the fact that he survives at all, much less thrives, seems a miracle by the end of the book. I had a hard time connecting to Junior. In fact, I didn't review this book when I read it last summer, because I didn't know how. I realized that my difficulty with it had more to do with me and my privileged place in the world, than with the book itself.
2. Which is the author (this could be fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc.) who is (or was) the most different from you?
When I read Alex Haley's Roots, I was 13 years old. I'm sorry to admit that as a girl I had shied away from books with pictures of black characters on the cover because I didn't think they were written for me. Haley was the first author whose skin color I was aware of as different from mine. So, me: white girl from the midwestern suburbs; Haley: African American man my grandparents' age. At the time, that was profound.
I still remember the moment I finished the epilogue, sitting on my grandparents' deck in California, awed by Haley's ability to make a world that had been so far outside my realm of experience, real for me. All the controversy I've read since then about how much truth may or may not be in Haley's story has always been overshadowed by that fact.