Everybody comfortable? Anyone need a cushion or a refill? OK. I've called this book club meeting tonight to discuss some tension that's arisen since we embarked on this new inclusive reading list. I'll just say it: Some of you have questioned whether Todd is a racist and, if so, whether we should continue meeting at his place anyway to enjoy baked brie, sumptuous charcuterie boards and whatever mid-range wine Shelly brings. First, shout out to Chris for suggesting last year that we "get out of our bubble" by reading books by authors from underrepresented communities and other countries. Nice one. But it has brought up some stuff. Now Todd isn't here tonight, since that would have been pretty uncomfortable. Instead, I think we should sort this out before we do something rash, like move our gatherings to my place and this awkward L-shaped living room, or Kelly's with all the pet hair.
Initially, Todd may have been politically incorrect with his knee-jerk "all books matter" argument for Tom Clancy and the way he balked at the proposed reading list, particularly some of the Mexican and Mexican-American authors because, in his words, "They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good writers." It sounds divisive out of context. Still, we can't jump to conclusions about what's in his heart. And while he did say Dylan and Jeanie couldn't render an impartial judgement because they're Mexican, I think we can all agree that was an honest mistake — I know you guys just have a timeshare in Cancun but, to be fair, you did come back pretty tanned. Let's not dwell. The seven-layer dip and top-shelf Margaritas Todd put out at our next meeting were clearly meant as an olive branch. Not even from a mix, by the way — real Margarita glasses. Beats the hell out of sipping from Mason jars at Chris' place. Sorry, man, but we're not in college anymore.
While I suspect that Todd hadn't actually read August's Holocaust memoir, given that most of his references seemed drawn from The Sound of Music, I will admit his focus on the non-Jewish people who died seemed ... off. And some of you were taken aback by his devil's advocate take on modern-day neo-Nazis, noting that many are "fine people" and that there's blame on "many sides." We can argue about his exact wording but he really meant that we ought to consider the humanity of all people rather than dismissing some as monsters, which was his point about the young SS officer's charming duet in the gazebo with Liesl. OK, yes, also from the musical. Still, I hope we're not the sort of people who'd close ourselves off to differing opinions — that's hardly going to get us out of our bubbles — tailoring our Facebook feeds, reaffirming our own opinions, locked away in little rooms like this one, with walls so thin we're basically watching Law & Order with my neighbor. Jesus. Sorry. Turn it down, man!
And OK, Kelly, you've mentioned how uncomfortable you were with Todd repeatedly asking, "Where are you really from?" And maybe it was an awkward four minutes of silence after he asked, "Why isn't the pretty Korean lady bringing barbecue?" when, in fact, Kelly is, what, Greek? I only know it was four minutes because Todd was making me an excellent pour-over, single-origin coffee. It wasn't that long — it just seems longer because of the anticipation but it's worth it. Help yourselves to my burned Mr. Coffee pot, by the way. I, for one, applaud Todd's cultural curiosity. And he called you pretty, right? If by some chance an actual Korean person had been invited or whatever, we'd probably all be laughing about it.
Our last meeting feels like it was a bit of a breaking point for some of you and I want to make space for those feelings. When conversation turned from Ta'Nehisi Coates' book to his work in the Black Panther comic books and Todd referred to Wakanda as a "shithole country" and the possible real birthplace of former president Barack Obama, those comments were ... racially charged. But that's Todd! He says what's on his mind, not always eloquently. Frankly, I've heard worse language from Jeannie about Shelly's off-brand pinot. We owe him the benefit of the doubt. Couldn't his lamenting the dearth of comics about Thor and other superheroes from Norway — which happens to be mostly white — be about his loving capes and Nordic culture? His place is textbook hygge with the fireplace and cashmere throws. You've all had his homemade gravlax. It's like butter.
Mind you, even if Todd was a racist, which I'm not saying he is, wouldn't it be our duty to pull him in rather than cast him out? To engage and understand? We're not doing either if we abandon him to huddle on my pale carpeting that picks up wine stains like crazy. Not calling you out specifically, Kyle, so settle down. Though honestly your offer to host rings a little hollow since we all know the parking over there is bullshit.
Listen. Todd has told me face to face, on the comfy sectional sofa that allows us all to sit like adults instead of sprawling on the floor like we're at an evacuation center, that he is "the least racist person you will ever meet." And I didn't want to say this but the way you guys are making all this about race sounds, well, a little racist. Maybe you should think about that.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or Jennifer@northcoastjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.