When I leaned over and touched your shoulder yesterday and said, “How about Joe Biden? A pretty good alternative, right?” I was truly thinking that you would be able to get behind a guy who is from a working-class background and has worked with the legislators in Washington to get laws passed and changes made for real people. I knew you probably voted for Trump in 2016 because, well, Hillary wasn’t your… But I guess I thought, that the past four years had shown this president to be a dishonorable and amoral bully. Someone you, in your heart of hearts, wouldn’t and couldn’t care for.
So when you said, “This president has been good for my 401K,” I was, well, a little shocked. I mean I know money in the bank makes a difference but didn’t you have any money in the bank before 45? Didn’t we have a President from 2008 to 20016 that pulled us out of the sub prime disaster, avoided an Ebola outbreak and got the economy going again? As we talked, you said, “This president is tough. He doesn’t give our country away.”
I think I sighed and looked sad.
“Are you going to cancel me out because I’m voting for Trump?” you asked.
Of course not, I love you. And because I love you, my friend, I am going to take the delicious risk of telling you what I think and feel and understand.
As a writer and teacher of children’s books, there was a seismic shift in our industry in 2008. A grassroots organization called WeNeedDiverseBooks surged into being, calling for more diversity across the board: From characters in books to the authors who write those books to the editors at publishing houses who acquire those books. Shortly afterwards, another surge called #ownvoices came into being which basically called for books about, for instance, Black people to be authored by Black authors. It called for a kind of authenticity and more importantly, it called out publishers to acquire more books from Black, Brown, Native American and LGTBQIA authors and not give advances to white authors who were trying to populate their books with diversity in answer to this sea change.
It was a chilling moment for many white authors. What? Isn’t my imagination my license to drive? Didn’t Buddy Guy, the famous blues guitarist, say, “All you need is five fingers to play. The guitar don’t know the color of my skin.”
I felt pushed out. I felt like I didn’t belong. White writers were targeted for writing one dimensional (read: demeaning) characters of color. White writers’ voices were being questioned for their authenticity. White writers didn’t receive as many book contracts and advances. White writers couldn’t write anything they wanted. It has been, to put it lightly, a very bumpy time.
We all love the idea of equality until it hits our bank accounts, right? Then it feels unfair and unjust and “I didn’t do anything wrong.” I mean I’m a good person, why am I bearing the brunt of this problem? Yes, we are all good people but I had to take a big step away from my feelings to be able to see what WeNeedDiverseBooks and #OwnVoices is trying to accomplish.
It is this:
If we have more diverse authors writing more authentically diverse books, then we will have more diverse populations reading and resonating with those books. If we have a more diverse readership who feel like their stories are being told and told correctly, then we will have more readers in the world and, possibly, a more educated world. If my bank account has less in it but the result is more kids reading because they have access to more authentic books with characters who look like them then I have indirectly made an investment in a better, more educated world. If, in one generation, we have more kids who are looking up to authors who look like them as role models, then I say yes to this shift. If that goal is where we are headed, then I will be okay with stepping aside so more books by diverse authors can be published. Why? Because more readers and more stories make a better world.
Does it mean I will stop being a writer? No, I love writing. I can’t stop. Does it mean I won’t have diverse characters in my books? No. But I will have to work harder to make them real and authentic and NOT a one-dimensional place holder. Does it mean I won’t feel jealous and resentful and worried that I won’t have enough? I probably will, but at the end of the day, I know in my heart, it’s the right direction to take to undo years systemic racism.
All of which is to say, John, I understand the security you feel in having more money in your 401K but step back, look at the inequities we have kept in place, look at how these inequities keep us all scared by scarcity and scared of one another. I think 45 preys on that fear and promotes it. I think his idea of making America great again, is a secret message to turn back the clock when we didn’t have to look at pollution or racism or sexism, when my father’s generation could pursue a so-called American dream with no thought of any else’s well-being except his own and his family’s.
We can’t pursue that dream anymore. As this pandemic has proved beyond a doubt, we are so very connected. We are one world. We have to watch out for one another. We have to keep one another safe. That’s why I’m voting for Biden and I feel excited by that choice on the ballot.
Sure, he’s not perfect. And the relief from the disaster we are currently experiencing will take time. But to watch a man run our country with trade wars and threats and withdrawing from agreements like the Climate Accord and abandoning international organizations like NATO which hold us to a higher ideals is perverse. And really, John, if you’re counting on him to run America like a business, his record in that arena sucks. Trump hotels. Trump University. Trump Casinos. You would be appalled and I doubt you could work for a person who ignores contractual obligations and walks away.
I don’t know if this letter will make a difference to you or, if in the quiet of the election booth, you might change your mind and vote for a more decent human.
In the end, what makes a difference to me is that that you know me better.
Your dear friend,
*As the youngest in my bio-family, I was preverbal for many years. My sisters and my parents were a walking, talking tribe. Paragraphs and sentences ahead of me. Consequently, I became an exquisite listener. I didn’t speak up. I didn’t practice trying out my thoughts because I didn’t want to embarrass myself by saying anything less than perfectly. To express myself, I became a writer, carefully crafting thoughts and sentences and putting them out into the world. But even in that arena, I have been tentative. This series, for however long it lasts, is about me speaking up and thinking out loud.