First, before discussing this, I encourage everybody to watch this video. It’s powerful and fully explains how racism effects black boys growing up in the U.S.
I have not talked at all about the racial/racism aspects about this series. As a white woman who has lived her whole life in areas that have few People of Color, I don’t really feel like I have the authority or understanding to write about racism in the United States. However, in the light of the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile I feel like I have to. Please bear with me. This may be long, but the subject is too painful and divisive to be short.
First of all, I didn’t start this trilogy “willingly.” I had not been considering it for months or years like many of the books I’ve written. It was days. One moment I was obsessing about The Hunger Games, and wishing I had more background about the Capitol, and the next minute I had a book based on the premise, “What would happen if the person who had the key to saving our post-apocalyptic world was the person married to the tyrant-dictator?” And then, within three hours, characters were talking in my head and they wouldn’t shut up.
I didn’t want to write it; I didn’t have a choice. That’s how it is sometimes with writers. We have to put the words to paper (or screen, actually) in order to function like a normal human being. Since I couldn’t not write The Liars, I decided that it would be MY book. I wouldn’t write it for other people and follow other peoples’ rules. I didn’t expect to sell much and I didn’t really care. I would therefore hit all my button-itmes and employ various obsessions in a book that quickly became an obsession in of itself. One of those buttons was the murders of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.
At the risk of being derided as crying white tears, the death of that child and young man affected me deeply. I didn’t respond to them as a white woman; I responded as a mother of sons. I do not know how the mothers of these boys (I know Michael Brown was not a boy, but this is how mothers think of their sons) get through each day. I just don’t know. Even now, I shake my head and feel the sadness deep inside. The fact that these deaths were murders, and the killers are free–I just don’t know. My future brother-in-law died many years ago in police custody. I won’t go into details here, other than to say, I’m not sure how my in-laws have gotten through it either.
I understand there’s a list of men being killed (those caught on camera and reported in the media) after that which includes Eric Garner. It leaves me with profound sadness, too. But it’s as a mother that I hurt most. I hurt for Garner’s children, and the picture of Sterling’s 15 year old son breaking down is haunting.
Back to the series.
In March of 2015, when this series came to me, I had recently googled some topics on racism and came across some vitriol in the comments’ sections that left me breathless. I go through my life every day with a knowledge that racism exists. No thinking person following U.S. news can deny that. But I had the privilege of living in a reality in which I considered racism largely subconscious, something that needed to be rooted out in order to correct it. Reading those comments though–it’s overt, ugly, disgusting. And the hatred. . . I don’t get it, but it’s there.
And so, when I created the plagues that ended the world in The PostPlague Trilogy, I made them about racism at its worst–murderous hatred. It’s the dark, terrible way I see the world moving in my most pessimistic moments. I’m not entirely certain I got the genetics right. To be safe, I could have canned the idea, just had terrible plagues kill the world and moved on with Neri’s story. But this is my book, my series, my place to lay out my concerns, so I decided to risk anger and backlash. I have points to make, and I made them.
After I created the plagues, I then had to follow up with the reactions survivors would have had once it was over. I could have gone several ways. I chose the knee-jerk reaction of attempting to eliminate race. I already knew I wanted to explore a religion based government, and I already knew it would start with a good, benevolent man, Braedon Rey, with a good, benevolent religion. It seemed to me that this would be his reaction. So I went with integration. Again, I could have played it safe and left it alone, but I’d already crossed a line, so going the step further seemed like the difference between drowning in water two feet over my head or ten feet over my head. You’re dead just the same.
After that, in the series, racism per se, is over. No races, no racism. Still I wrote (and am still writing) about prejudice against people who don’t have “Temple brown” coloring because no matter what we do, human beings will always have prejudices. Labeling people and then hating them purely for that label is one of the terrible parts of human nature. Racism and all the other isms that lead to hate crimes are symptoms of that nature. As a society we have to fight those isms, particularly the racism that leads to the murders of black men by police officers, but all of us are singularly responsible to look into our hearts and root out a natural inclination toward prejudice. It’s societal, but as with all societal issues it starts at a personal level.
At any rate, I don’t know how people will take those aspects of the story. Some well, some very badly, I suspect. But today, when I, along with millions of others, are reeling from these latest murders, I am not sorry I wrote the story that way. We are surrounded by this hatred, and we are paying the price. The officers that were ambushed in Dallas died as a direct result of racism, and their deaths, along with Sterling’s and Castiles,’ will lead to riots and violence. We’ll have fights between Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter and I foresee a downward spiral. It’s tragic. And from a logical standpoint, it’s stupid because it makes no sense to hate someone of color. From a human standpoint it is heartbreaking. From the standpoint of The PostPlague Series, it’s the end of the world.