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  • Writer's pictureHelen

I want to but I don't know how...

A white woman writing about racism is dangerous. A black woman writing about racism is also dangerous. But a white woman and a black woman writing about racism together - that is fascinating. At least it is when Christine Pride and Jo Piazza do it. I’ve just finished reading their new novel, ‘We are not like them’. It explores the lifelong friendship between two women, one white, the other black.

Perhaps most importantly, this is a rare but authentic exploration of close female friendship! Like many other girls growing up together, ‘besties’ Riley and Jen had shared so much - their wishes for fancy sweatshirts and more grown-up bodies, their crushes and relationships with boys and men, their dreams about ’what we would do, who we would love, how many kids we would have’. The only thing they didn’t talk about was their racial differences.

And then, in their 20s, an eye-opening event suddenly shook their relationship to the core. It forced both of them - and their readers, including me, to face some realities they hadn’t articulated quite so clearly before.

I won’t say more - just read it! This is a book which is not afraid to go the distance with some very difficult questions. Not surprisingly, the treatment of the white and black perspectives is even-handed.

Naturally, I had all sorts of curiosities about the process of writing this book - not least that I live and sometimes write this blog with someone who is very different from me!

YouTube obliged with an hour-long interview with Christina and Jo - the two authors. They explained that their book is not autobiographical. The two women had first met as adults when Christine became Jo’s editor and they struck up a close friendship. Eventually, they decided to write the novel that became ‘We are not like them’ and chose as their motto ‘humanity and nuance’.

As they discussed their story and edited each other’s writing, the exploration of their own humanity took centre stage . The women talked about what sometimes seemed like the impossibility of continuing their friendship as they delved into their own attitudes, perspectives and prejudices. It was not an easy process but they were committed to it. ‘As time went on, they said, they developed the habit of telling each other, ‘I need some grace here’. And slowly, they were increasingly sure that they would get it.

Since its publication, the book has gone far beyond what the authors describe in a ‘note to the reader’ as ‘a deeply personal and...urgent mission - to depict a richly layered friendship between a black woman and a white woman as they reckon with all the ways that race can divide us despite our very best intentions’. Inter-racial book groups have developed and reported back to the authors their own difficult but vital conversations. A quiet network of people who share the authors’ mission to overcome racial divides is developing. Christine and Jo reckon they are on to something: they’ve discovered a methodology of dealing with difference that can be applied in other relationships - in marriages and at work.

In the interview each of them was asked what was the greatest lesson they had learned while writing the book. Jo said: ‘I’ve had to get over my fear of talking about race....I had no muscle to talk about it, I had no shorthand to talk about it. I had to realise how much privilege I had had in my life to not have to think about it and not to talk about it’. Christine said: ‘I had unfair assumptions about white people not talking about race, I thought they just didn’t care...and they thought it was easier to turn away...Now I’m understanding that they really want to. They just don’t know how....’

So if you’re black or white and you want to talk about racism but don’t know how - this is a must-read!

And here's the YouTube link

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