In the early part of December I picked up a book entitled Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. I have read a number of books by Picoult and I admire her writing, yet the plot line of this book caught my attention.
The story is about Ruth, an African American nurse who happens to be in care of a white supremacist couple’s newborn baby. The couple insist to the hospital management that they do not want any African American medical personnel to touch/care for their baby. The next day, Ruth finds herself alone with the baby when he goes into cardiac arrest. At first, Ruth does nothing as she is in a quandary; does she obey the instructions of family and hospital or does she touch the baby to save him?
She is snapped into action when she is told to begin CPR. In the end, the baby dies and the in true Picoult fashion we enter a court room to fully analyze and explore this story.
For some people, it is hard for them to accept white authors writing about racial issues from another ethnicity’s point of view, but Picoult manages to be respectful, true, and thoughtful. I think this book succeeds with the alternating POVs of the different characters; it helped to underline Picoult’s authenticity as an individual to tell this story. Picoult will never truly know what it means to be a black woman, yet the character of Kennedy (Ruth’s lawyer who is white and female) allowed her to be able to ask questions and explore the topic of racial injustice.
There is a scene in the novel between Ruth’s teenage son, Edison and Kennedy’s preschool daughter which impacted me:
“Edison?” Violet asks. “Is that a chain?”
… “Yeah, I guess so.”
“So that means you’re a slave.” She states matter-of-factly.
This exchange made me pause because only days before reading this passage a four year old I work with said to me these words:
“Why are you black? You need to change your skin so you can be white. That would be better.”
I wasn’t offended by this child’s words, after all he is only four. I was saddened and sighed because I knew this notion was learned, I knew that he was seeing skin colour in an order of hierarchy.
Ruth in the book had to give Violet a simple and clear explanation as to why black people in the past wore chains and how ownership led to slavery. I gave my student a simple explanation as to why my skin was darker than his.
“Some people have black skin, brown skin, or white skin. Everyone is different and that is okay, no one has to change.”
From the book I got that it is the small exchanges and the small acts that make a difference in people’s lives. It might not happen in that moment or even in a year’s time. The point is you made an effort, you planted a seed. All seeds need time to grow.
“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.