I have always been a die hard fan of Jodi Picoult. I started off with “My Sister’s Keeper” and I knew I had found an author whose books I can truly treasure. They are not the fairytale, romantic books, but talk of death, disease, court cases, despair, grief but at the same time, there is hope and love. The books being typically a 5 plus hours read, needs one to invest time. I was finding that a challenge since the past few years and usually restricted myself to books that could be read super fast.
But last weekend I had some leisure time as I was at the saloon and quickly downloaded one of her books so that I could read it instead of whiling away time on the mobile. And no surprises, the book had me captivated and I couldn’t rest till I completed it.
The book is about a nurse Ruth Jefferson who is a black woman, she has lived a tough life where she studied hard to live a life different from that of her mom who worked as a maid. She slogged to get through scholarships and passed out of Yale, graduating as a nurse. Despite the discrimination she saw around her, she believed that if she made a place for herself in this society, people who consider her as one among them. She works as a Labour and Delivery Nurse in a reputed hospital and struggles hard to bring up her only son Edison who is a bright student. She wants him to believe that he can truly achieve whatever he desires and the colour of his skin makes him no different than other white people around. She is dedicated to her job, an empathetic human being. A white baby dies under her care one day and the White racist parents sue her for murder. The book takes the reader through a journey of how Ruth and her son’s life turns topsy turvy in one night. She is sacked from her job, arrested for murder- it feels surreal sometimes how life is going on just as we planned so carefully and intended it to be and then one incident suddenly turns everything around such that we are left gasping for breath. A white woman Kennedy defends Ruth and while she believes she is not racist cos she doesn’t see colour, as the trial progresses she realises that passive racism is something she and most people are guilty of. When someone cracks a racist joke, you may not like it but not calling it out or despite seeing a lone person of color at your workplace you choose not to raise your voice asking the obvious question. The book beautifully explains why we need equity and not equality in the world, so that we appreciate our differences and are given the right opportunities based on our unique abilities. I wouldn’t delve too much into the book as I don’t intend to write a full fledged book review but I would highly recommend this for the excellent writing, strong storyline, the matured way in which it handles a subject so delicate.
The reason I could relate to this book so much was because I could draw parallels to me own life. I am not a black woman living in America but a dusky Indian woman living in my own country but would I say we are any less racist towards people of colour?
As I saw Ruth being passed over for something in life she truly deserved. how she had to work extra hard to prove herself compared to a white peer, the daily struggles she went through to put bread on the table and give her son a life that was different from what she lived, I could see my own life pass through front of my eyes. Albeit, struggles of a different kind than Ruth but growing up as a dark skinned girl in India is like growing up like the cursed child. Often compared with a fairer sibling and sighed upon “the girl should have been fairer, a dark boy would do but not a dark girl”, insensitive comments blurted by friends about applying some ghee on my lips so that they get brighter or how to avoid certain shades like yellow or black as they aren’t meant for dark people. When I kept hearing such comments from everyone around, it made me feel low, that I was inferior despite being intelligent, kind, smart, a reader, good at elocution, what mattered is I wasn’t beautiful. So I wasn’t going to have it easy in this world. I had to work extra hard to prove my worth, maybe I would never have boyfriend or a guy I like, because isn’t looks the first thing they go after?
It took a very long time to break this chain of thought, to get rid of the shackles and realise that beauty radiates from within- there is no set definition of beauty. It comes from what kind of person I am, what defines me and its certainly not just the color of my skin, my physical attributes, my hair, or my eyes. Its about how I think of myself, do I love myself enough to say that aloud, chase my dreams, be compassionate, follow my passion, how am I as a daughter, a sister, a friend? Can people count on me?
The transition took a lot of time and effort and there were bleak days when I thought perhaps I am wrong “The world still views beauty with a rigid pre defined set of lens” but I reminded myself fiercely that what matters is what I think, damn the world. Can I think loud and clear and believe what I think is true, love myself a little more each day, love myself they way I am , with those big and expressive eyes hidden behind glasses, for the glasses may hide beauty of my eyes but without them, I feel like I have lost my identity.
When I became a mom to a dusky little girl, I often worried and confided in my mom that I wish she doesn’t have to go through what we went through and thats when we realised we have to raise her strong- with a strong sense of self belief, self love, being comfortable in her skin and teaching her that she is much beyond her physical attributes. Teaching her that what makes her beautiful is how she treats people for thats what they will always remember and their perception of how beautiful or ugly she is will be shaped by these memories.
Its astounding sometimes how these things which are beyond our control take up such a significant place in our lives and the things that really matter and we are able to influence are overshadowed just because long long ago someone laid down some standards which everyone blindly decided to abide by. However there is always a first time, to defy these so called norms, break the shackles and set ourselves free, set our children free.
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6 thoughts on “Small Great Things-here is why as a dusky woman, I could relate to this book so much.”
Akshata, hugs from one dusky mom to another. You are not wrong in thinking about the treatment your daughter will be meted out, believe me they are in my thoughts since the day my daughter was born. In India where we are supposed to be wheatish and brown, being brown is a cause for concern and humiliation.
I love reading Jodi piccoult and this book does seem like a beautiful story. Lovely review too. Hope more and more people can write about color discrimination and spread awareness.
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I was looking forward to your comment Anshu. It’s appalling indeed and I could feel if so strongly when I read this book as it’s something we have no control over and who decided these standards anyway. Do read the book am sure you will love it
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It’s on my TBR, Akshata. I have to now!
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As a teenager, I suffered from a lot of complex as somebody who was not fair. I was that girl in my college about whom the guys in hostel discussed, “Tch! had she been a little fairer and good looking I would have definitely proposed her.” did not do much to lift my already dropped self-confidence. And then when I approached my mid twenties, I heard my father say to my mother, “Our girl is intelligent, educated and good looking. I don’t think we should have a problem looking out for a match for her.” I was appalled. Was my father crazy? I told my mom what I thought in a snide remark later. She smiled and tld me, the one who knows how beautiful your heart is will cease to listen to any other opinion.” That day and today, I have not allowed anyone to affect me atleast as far as my color was concerned. You will understand what I mean if you look at my mom-in-law. She is pure milky white 😉
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Teenage is the most vulnerable. Your dad’s words are indeed very powerful. Parents can have such s great influence on a kid’s self esteem.
Self – love is an art which should be cultivated and ingrained right from childhood. I remember one incident when I was in 10th standard , younger sister ( must have been 6 years-old then) of one of my classmates had come to our classroom during the recess, and she made a caustic remark ” I won’t talk to this didi. She is Kali ( dark)”. This dark-skinned girl was one of the most beautiful girls in our class. And I was aghast to see that even small children could pick up these biases. We our afterall products of our environment. It’s not only important but indispensable that kids are actively and verbally taught and told that everyone is beautiful as they are. Otherwise they will subconsciously assimilate so many negative thought processes automatically.
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