Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Standing up against what you've always been told...

In The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Mary (the protagonist) is told her entire life that her village is the only place left in the world. She grows up in this village surrounded by a fence and beyond the fence is the endless Forest filled with Unconsecrated. There is nothing else beyond the Forest, they are told.

Except Mary wonders if there is something more. But the question is, how do you stand up against what you've always known? Especially when really all you have to go on is faith?

When I was on the pre-pub tour, I had the chance to talk to a lot of students who'd read TFHT (which was just an amazing experience all around). One of the girls I spoke with (a senior with what I thought was incredible insight) mentioned her surprise that Mary just didn't charge into the Forest to see what/if there was anything else out there. I asked her, "if you've been told something your whole life, how do you know you can stand against it?"

We talked about the first women who said "I have a right to vote" when everyone else told them they didn't. We talked about slaves saying "I have a right to be free" when everyone told them they were nothing more than property. We talked about the Milgram Experiment and the lengths people will go to in order to obey authority. All of these people who were told a "truth" their entire lives but decided to question that truth and stand up against it.

To a certain extent, it was really cool to see a young woman so willing to say "I'd question authority if I thought it was wrong" and who found it hard to understand someone who might not. On the one hand, maybe that makes it hard to understand just how difficult it has been in the past for people to speak out, but on the other hand, I wonder if all those people who did speak out were hoping for a day when such action would be considered common. After all, that's what they were fighting for: for us to not second guess things like a woman's right to vote and the equality of all people.

As I mentioned, yesterday I worked for Election Protection. I was partnered with another lawyer in town -- a black man in his mid-40's who grew up in South Carolina. Thankfully, in our area there were no voting issues so we essentially spent 5 hours driving around to the polls, checking in, and chatting. Naturally, we talked about the election. At one point, he told me about how when he was a kid his mother would take him to stores to try on clothes and how that was a big deal. I think I looked at him with a "huh?" look on my face because he told me about how his older sisters had never been able to try on clothes as kids, and certainly hadn't tried on shoes.

I asked him why not. He paused for a moment and told me it was because they couldn't try on clothes and not buy them. They couldn't leave the clothes in the dressing room because other people would refuse to wear them. It really was a moment that left me stunned.

Last night, just before Obama's speech, there was a shot of Jesse Jackson standing in the crowd crying. He was just standing there with tears flowing down his cheeks. I thought about his life, about what he has fought for his entire life, and what it must have been like to stand there in that moment. At the end of his speech, Obama talked about a woman who was 106 years old -- he talked about what she'd seen in her life and he wondered what his children would see in their lives.

It would never occur to me to even notice the color of someone's skin in the dressing room or to even wonder who'd tried on clothes before me. And yet, someone somewhere had been told "you're not allowed to try on clothes" because of the color of their skin and he or she did it anyway. Regardless of your politics and beliefs, we are where we are today because of people standing up against what they've always been told and fighting for equality and freedom. And hopefully we'll all be willing to continue to stand up for our beliefs and for our truths.


Vicki said...

Wow, this is an amazing post. I remember when I was young and things were different. Even as a child I didn't understand why people would treat people differently, and fought then. I'm so proud of where we've come and for those who've stood up on our behalf, teaching us the importance of doing so.

Carrie Ryan said...

Thanks vicki -- it's always nice to be able to recognize when things have changed for the better!

Anonymous said...

I remember that exact same shot of Jesse Jackson, and it brought of a fresh rain of tears from me too. So beautiful and touching. I just kept weeping all night!

Robert Crane said...

i clicked on the wrong search result and found myself here (that's how most people find my blog). what a fortunate misclick. i love the premise of your novel. it reminds me of exactly where i am in my life and how i need to plunge into the forest.

thanks! and best of luck with your work!!!