With all the furor over banning books, forbidding ‘Critical Race Theory’ and the Republican campaign against thought, I decided to celebrate Black History Month by doing one of my favorite things; reading.
I learn more by reading fiction that non-fiction, and one of my favorite authors will back me up on that. Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, the Colombian Nobel Laureate said that “Fiction is a way of telling more truth than you can by simply sticking to the facts.” He was a professional journalist before he ever published a novel, so I’m holding him out as the gold standard.
Fiction is also a way of answering the questions we had not even thought to ask. Because we don’t even know what we don’t know.
The way that my own life has been enlarged and enlightened by James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith, Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Alice Walker, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler can’t be presented as a list of facts. Add in August Wilson and Lorraine Hansberry writing for the stage, and it is as deep and rich a curriculum as could be offered at any university. And of course, Maya Angelou, and of course Colson Whitehead, and of course Ntozake Shange. I could not even be who I am today without the influence of these authors.
With today’s headline in the Los Angeles Times about “Horrific Allegations of Racism Prompt California Lawsuit Against Tesla” reading American history might leave you with the false impression that all this is, y’know, history. It’s not.
Fiction allows for the total empathy of seeing from behind someone else’s eyes, walking in their shoes so completely you can feel the weave of their socks – or the blisters rubbing from the lack thereof.
Cultural evolution is what makes revolutions happen. As people privileged to have a public library, no school can ever limit our choice of reading material. And I’m not saying that reportage isn’t important, or the non-fiction isn’t crucial stuff. But we process data and stories in different parts of the brain. When we read fiction, we take it in, and we keep it.
Whoever thinks they are shutting off the intellectual flow by banning ‘critical race theory’ has to come up to the reality that those of us who truly enjoy walking in someone else’s shoes will continue the journey. Keeping those roads open isn’t just an important job, it’s a joy.
As I continue on my own humble quest to be more conscious, I love to linger in stories of lives that see things differently. Black authors give me the gift of feeling what it is to walk through the world with a different complexion, and the problematic politics our culture has put on that.
Fiction can give so much more than a set of facts. Try on some different shoes, and stroll towards the horizon.