Rising Out of Hatred by Eli Saslow

rising out of hatred

Derek Black has been nurtured from the time he was born until the time he went off to college to be the great white hope for the future of the white nationalist movement.  His father, Don, established Stormfront.com, the earliest and largest promoter of racist propaganda on the internet, and David Duke, his godfather, is the well-known KKK/Nazi politician.  Everyone in this underworld knows Derek and believes he will take over for Don and Duke, as Derek has already begun to co-host their radio show, assist with the website, and even help organize their annual conference.  But as Derek enters college, he decides to keep this part of his identity secret, interacting with the diverse students in his classes and activities, even while he maintains his connection with his radio show daily.  However, what happens very gradually, when Derek is later exposed, ostracized and then quietly invited to the regular Shabbat dinner of an Orthodox Jewish friend of his, begins the process of challenging his deepest convictions — and is absolutely stunning.

This true story has been featured on various podcasts (The Daily is one) and has been written about in various newspapers, so you may know the basic story.  Derek himself has written opinion pieces for the New York Times.  But in this moment of unleashing of hatred and bigotry, this story is a crucial one – and the details matter.  It is crucial because it shows how hatred has been simmering underground for so long among those who are living their very insular lives, among those who think only like they do.  And it is crucial because it demonstrates, most importantly, that if we look at those who think differently from ourselves as human beings, only then can we start to have a civil and respectful enough discourse to come together on ideas.

I am in awe of the courage of the students who showed friendship to Derek even after he was “outed” as the co-host of the morning show on Stormfront.  They stuck by him, braving the derision of most of their peers, showing steadfast friendship to the the hero of the dark side, even as he degraded their racial groups on his radio show, even as they questioned their own wisdom in doing so.

And I am in awe of Derek himself, who has truly shown courage in the thought and heart that he has put into his own journey.  It is so much easier to go along with what your family and community preaches and to stick to your original beliefs.  It is so much harder to go against your family wishes, to turn around what you’ve been taught is right, to go against your indoctrination and open up your heart to other ideas.

But I am also not sorry he has accepted his responsibility to go public with his journey, because he has to share with others that those narrow-minded, absurd ideas about white supremacy are just wrong – and that the harm they do to others can not, under any circumstances, be justified.

In this moment, this book is absolutely a MUST-READ!

Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall

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Olivia is determined to figure who is killing and disfiguring the wolves on her property and why.  She has her suspicions about it – the Phelps boys have always been evil, for example- but she cannot understand why.  Meanwhile, she has to go about her life, juggling her responsibilities of raising her grandson, caring for her insane mother whom she has always called Ida, running her grocery store, and maintaining her household, until her life gets completely turned around by her gradual discoveries from her wolf investigations.

The voice of the storyteller is Olivia’s and it is frank and raw and powerful.  Olivia lives in such frequently harsh conditions that her emotions usually must be kept tamed, but the heat of her seething anger sears the page.  She loves her father as fiercely as she hates her mother, and her world is build around this contrast.  She is smart but not educated and while she doesn’t give herself credit for having much, she manages to navigate complicated and even dangerous situations with strength and with heart.  She is a truly beautiful, strong woman character.

I think the way that racism and racial violence is woven into the story is extremely effective as well.  There is a building of very tender relationships between Olivia and some of her black friends, particularly of her best friend, Love Alice, as a preface to any of the tension.  When incidents do happen -or even threats of them-  then, it becomes all that much more personal and so incredibly disturbing.  It feels like my own family members have been affected when they are only fictional characters, because of this beautiful character development.  And the story builds into an incredibly suspenseful and somewhat complicated plot line – I literally could not put this book down!

This was a surprisingly excellent book – I very highly recommend it!  A new “must-read” for the blog!

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

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Wow.  I just finished this book and I’m still breathless…

Caroline is a young debutante who has given up her acting career to volunteer to help French families who have just come to resettle in NYC in the late 1930’s. Herta is an ambitious physician, one of the few women doctors, in fact, in Germany in 1939.  And Kasia is a teenager who, in 1939 decides she will join her crush, Pietrik, and deliver packages for the Polish underground, after the invasion of the Germans.  As you might expect, these very different women’s lives eventually intersect as the tragedies of the second World War drive them together.

What is most staggering is that this story is based on the lives of real people and real events.  Both Caroline and Herta were real women, individuals who exemplified the best and the worst that women could be.  And Ravensbruck, the Nazi concentration camp for women, was frighteningly real as well.  What fills in the connections between the two women is historical fiction based on years of research by the author to create a story that also illustrates the best and the worst that people can be.

The writing is excellent.  The way the plot is drawn, circling among the 3 major characters, is great not only in terms of fortifying the opposing narratives, but also in building up and then releasing tension as well.  When parts become almost too painful to read, the story switches back to a lighter mood to give the reader a much deserved break.  (What I always feel guilty about is that what I find too hard to read about – millions of people – literally, millions! – actually lived.)

What was most horrifying – and I hate to bring this up, but I feel compelled – is that sentences in this book that described Hitler were frighteningly identical to those describing our new president of the United Staes.  The ego, the destruction of anyone who disagreed with him, and the paranoia with which he reigned – it was all too familiar.  That is terrifying. But all the more reason to read books like this one:  ones that remind us how far people can really go.  It reminds us not to be complacent, because people in Germany thought that it could never happen there either.

This is a MUST READ, by any measure!

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

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Love seems to actually trump hate in this frighteningly timely novel by Jodi Picoult.   It begins when a Black labor and delivery nurse, Ruth, begins to care for the baby of a White supremacist couple and the couple insist that she be removed from their case because of her race. As it would happen, Ruth is alone with the baby when the baby stops breathing.  Should she touch the baby and save him, as she is trained to do?  Should she abide by the racist rules the hospital has imposed at the request of this repugnant couple?  What happens next sets Ruth and the couple and ultimately, Ruth’s lawyer, Kennedy, on a road to grappling with race as it is seen from all perspectives.

Little did I know that I’d be reading this amidst the worst campaign and most devastating election outcome in the history of the United States.  The spillage of racism, misogyny, and bigotry that has poured out of the mouth of the Republican party nominee and his bedfellows has unleashed the underbelly of this country and its darkest side.  The election result has spawned a crippling shadow over my whole universe and I know this has been true for over half of this country.  We are embarrassed to call ourselves American, as it associates us with this new, evil and mean rhetoric in the eyes and ears of the rest of the world.  This is not the country I have known to be the home of the free.

And so it was, amidst my deepest disappointment that has sent me into a physical nausea that I cannot shake, that I read how Kennedy, seeking to defend Ruth in her ultimate trial, really tries to understand the day to day psychological beating that Ruth endures as a Black woman in a white man’s world.   The small slips, the subtle differences in perception, and the more overt signs of difference from which Kennedy is protected because of the color of her skin.  And while the 2 butt heads, they also come together because of the genuine efforts to try to understand each other, which is the foundation of the beginning of actually understanding each other.

Unfortunately for this story, love trumps hate in sort of a too perfect way by the end, so that it becomes a little fairytale-like as an ending.  I pray for this country, though, that we can reach an understanding that even remotely approximates this ending – for the good of our present and the good of our future.