WHAT I HAVE BEEN READING LATELY
Deep Diversity by Shakil Choudhury, Between the Lines. Through experiments and learning experiences, Shakil Choudhury demonstrates that the problems of diversity are not ones that can be resolved with logic alone.
“Racially different people evoke an unconscious, emotional response.” This makes it easier to put people into mental categories like “potential threat”, “terrorist sympathiser”, or “female-hating”, etc. And this is why emotional literacy skills are so important to issues of diversity and difference, he writes in Deep Diversity. “If we do not develop these skills intentionally, we risk living our lives on autopilot, our choices and behaviours governed by unconscious habits.”
Mental shortcuts about social groups create problems as Choudhury points out, because important information is filtered out, supporting our already held points of view and discarding information with which we don’t agree.
Researchers from York University, the University of British Columbia and Yale studied the responses of people to an overtly racist incident and the experiment revealed that very often how we say we will respond to a particular situation is different from how we actually respond – contrary to our own self-perception.
“The frightening part isn’t just that no one said anything but that a majority of people chose to align themselves with the racist person,” says Choudhury. “If this was the response among a young, well-educated, diverse group, what conclusions can we draw about the rest of us? We are terrible at forecasting how we will act in situations. Even those who are outraged about a racist incident while reading about it or watching it on screen are not outraged in real time.”
In another example, a consultant hesitates to call an optometrist, one that comes highly recommended, because his business card is plain, unimpressive, and his name calls up an image of a “foreign”, perhaps unskilled man, an illustration of an “implicit” bias.
But there is hope. Prejudice and stereotypes are neural habits, “we are born with the bias hardware, while society provides us with the software” writes Choudhury. And so, habits can be altered. We can build neural pathways by creating a new association between a group we thought of as threatening.
Learning customs within ethnocultural groups is a good place to start, writes Choudhury, but may help reinforce stereotypes. And stereotypes are powerful enough to create self-fulfilling consequences. David Chariandy has written about lowered expectations from black males and Choudhury agrees. Where one is placed affects one’s behaviour and thus the outcome of their efforts.
The book is a combination of personal insights, research studies, anecdotes as well as scientific information. Tilting towards or away from things is encoded in us, it’s part of our survival instinct. But, says Chou-dhury, “the tendency to withdraw is more powerful than the tendency to approach”.
Choudhury wrote the book to make accessible what is otherwise a challenging topic. “Nothing is more emotional, more difficult to discuss than racism,” he says.
It is one in which readers will find things that will make them go, hmm, I never thought of it quite like that, one in which they will mark passages to go back and re-read and reflect on.
Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini, Riverhead Books, $19.95. On a moonlit beach, a father cradles his sleeping son as they wait for dawn to break and a boat to arrive. He describes to his son the idyllic summers of his own childhood, contrasting them with the skies spitting bombs, the starvation and the burials that the little one is more familiar with.
Khaled Hosseini captures the trauma of refugees, their displacement, their fears.
I said to you, “Hold my hand. Nothing bad will happen”.
These are only words. A father’s tricks. It slays your father, your faith in him. Because all I can think tonight is how deep the sea, and how vast, how indifferent. How powerless I am to protect you from it.
The book is dedicated to the thousands of refugees who have perished at sea and was inspired by the story of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee whose drowning in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach safety in Europe in 2015 brought tears to everyone’s eyes.
A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza, SJP for Hogarth, $36. An Indian wedding gathers the family back together, and Rafiq and Layla must reckon with the choices their children have made.
There is Hadia, the headstrong eldest daughter; Huda, determined to follow in her sister’s footsteps and Amar, their estranged son. They love each other, and yet hurt each other in little ways that leave long-lasting scars. There are Abbas and Amira, who are lost to Hadia and Amar in different ways.
The heartache of a parent captured in tender strokes. And it is in these moments that the fabric of my life reveals itself to be an illusion: thinking that I am fine, we all are, that we could grow around your loss like a tree that bends around a barrier or wound.
All families may not experience all of the challenges Rafiq’s and Layla’s family does as the couple make a life for themselves in America, but enough do that many will see themselves in this tale of identity and belonging, secrets and betrayals, fractured relationships and love that seeks to cement the cracks.
Ramya’s Treasure by Pratap Reddy, Guernica Editions, $25. Ramya is the quintessential immigrant, straddling two cultures, two sets of vastly different experiences in two continents.
She’s nearing her 50th birthday, but recently separated and also laid off from work, there’s little to celebrate. Lonely and depressed, she’s sinking into numbing lethargy. One day, she opens her ‘treasure chest’ – a memory box of sorts in which she has placed objects that held a special meaning for her over the years.
Immigrants smuggle in so many of their stories and histories. Like contraband, which no one cares to frisk for at the border.
There’s humour, with descriptions of a deity renamed Visa Venkateshwara by devotees seeking a visa to the US. Or the flower seller who was successful because he was short.
Flower sellers sold garlands not by weight or number, but by length, the standard being the distance between the vendor’s forefinger and his elbow. Had Arifuddin been a tall, strong man, he would have lost a lot of money.
And a sly dig at writers.
Was writing an antidote for sagging self-esteem... Was wanting to become an author one big ego trip? No wonder there was such a demand for self-publishing!
Pratap Reddy switches back and forth deftly between Ramya’s current reality and the story behind the objects, revealing an eye for detail.
He captures the essence of a woman of a certain age, her past and her present, accurately, and with empathy.
The Windfall by Diksha Basu, Crown, $35. An unexpected windfall transports the Jha family to the super-rich side of town and shakes things up with unexpected consequences.
The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield and illustrated by The Fan Brothers, Tundra, $22.99. Just in case there was someone who didn’t know who Chris Hadfield is, The Darkest Dark is by Astronaut Chris Hadfield! Inspired by his childhood memories of watching the moonlanding at a neighbour’s house (on the only television on the island!), it is a magical tale for little ones, showing how even a future astronaut was once afraid of the dark and how he came to see the dark space as beautiful and exciting. And, he realized, you’re never really alone there. Your dreams are always with you, just waiting. Big dreams, about the kind of person you want to be.
Saara Seewah’s Teen Review of Surface Tension by Mike Mullin, Tanglewood Publishing, $23.71 Surface Tension by Mike Mullin is a suspenseful thriller. This action-packed novel is recommended for young adult readers who are interested in reading about real-world problems. The story is told through two characters’ points of view and will leave you wanting more after each page! Jake becomes a target after witnessing an act of domestic terrorism while he was training on his bike. Soon after, Jake is found near death, with a serious head injury and unable to remember the plane crash or the aftermath that landed him in the hospital. A terrorist leader’s teenage daughter, Betsy, is sent to kill Jake and eliminate him as a possible witness. Will Jake survive? Mike Mullin spins a good story that captivates readers.
Saara Seewah is a grade 10 student and a member of Brampton Library’s Teen Library Council.