Sally Rooney’s Conversation with Friends is also a conversation with race. You probably know who she is, or have at least heard of Normal People. And if you’ve heard of the abundance of sex scenes throughout then you can probably gauge what side of political spectrum Rooney falls on. The novel and her writing as a whole are basically as liberal as you can get – she is a Marxist after all. And there are passages scattered throughout that refer to, consciously or unconsciously, racial and other injustices.
The one that really stuck with me, however, was a passage that related to the video which created this whole movement. And whilst Rooney’s book was published in 2017, it shows that racism in the criminal justice system is nothing new.
The passage explores the ‘endemic racism of criminal justice in the US’ and the four characters are discussing videos of police brutality. Is that not what we are doing with our friends now?
But the conversation they evoked was what I found more important. Rooney is white, the characters are white, and they recognise their whiteness. They recognise their privilege.
They talk about what it means to say those videos are difficult to watch. But none of the characters can fix an exact meaning for this difficulty.
We’ve all watched the video of George Floyd. How many of us watched it and said it was awful, difficult to watch? How many of us couldn’t even finish the video? But did we ever sit back and think why we felt this discomfort? Do we even know what caused it?
The question still remained unanswered and it is something I want to continue to think about.
The novel moves on to discuss whether these videos contribute to a sense of European superiority? I think we all saw this on Twitter! British people saying how the British police force is not racist because they don’t have guns! Explain the logical leap there? Of course, the police forces in Europe are not endemically racist, and the book thankfully brings this up.
I think it is so easy to see racism happening in a different country or even a different school, and just ignore it because it does not affect you. And by illuminating Europe’s racist background Rooney shows we are no better. Racism is racism. No matter how it is expressed!
I recommend reading Rooney’s novels. I often turn away from contemporary novels and instead read classics as I was taught they hold more value. But I have found myself reaching for more contemporary novels because only modern fiction will actually allow us to have successful and progressive conversations regarding race.