Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Sulking children

Author Candice Carty-Williams has won Book of the Year at the British Book Awards for her novel Queenie. She is the first black woman to do so. Interviewed, she admitted to a host of emotions: pride at her work, and gratitude towards her publishing team, alongside sadness and confusion that she should be the first black woman to have won the award.

BBC Radio 2 shared the news on social media, and the comments are vile, ranging from the racist, “this isn’t about talent, it’s about politics: no white authors will win prizes for the next few years” to the racist, “she’ll have to live with never knowing whether she only won because of the colour of her skin” (white authors, how confident are you?) to the racist, “this prize should be about writing, not skin colour” (indeed; so why is she the first? and why are you so defensive?) to the desperately emotionally-stunted, “If she can’t even be happy to win, she should give the award back.”

In the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, from Matthew chapter 11, Jesus describes his society as being like children sitting on either side of the marketplace, one group calling out, “we played the flute for you, but you would not dance,” and the other responding, “we wailed, and you would not mourn.”

Jesus is describing learnt, coded, culture. Men led the community in celebrations, such as weddings; women led the community in lament, such as funerals; and boys and girls learnt their expected roles—as leaders and followers, depending on context—through role-play, while the adults went about their daily business. But the role-play had broken down, into two camps, each aggrieved at the other.

Jesus’ point was, surely, (at least in part) we’ve forgotten how to hold celebration and mourning together. He goes on, John (the Baptist) came in prophetic severity, proclaiming God’s imminent judgement on injustice, and you dismissed him; I came proclaiming God’s embrace of the marginalised, and you dismiss me. But the two go hand-in-hand, each taking a turn to be the leading- and responding beat.

It seems to me that Carty-Williams gets this, and that her critics don’t.


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