What is it like to be white today? I’ve wondered for a while. Of course the answer depends on whom you ask. Some will say it’s a blessing, like being born with a magic aura that automatically grants you rights and privileges not conferred onto everyone else. Others will say to be white is to be maligned incessantly, treated with an open contempt, and then laughed at for voicing the slightest complaint. Whom does one believe? I don’t know—it’s complex and not such a dichotomous choice. We have intense relationships with the identities we hold near and dear to ourselves. I’m white, I’m Indian, I’m a Republican, I’m a progressive, I’m an artist are all manifestations of this need to identify and be a part of. And can this need be exploited through a warped discourse by bad actors who are intent on tearing apart a nation’s fabric?
Us, my 68,000 word novel, is a reflection on these questions. It follows sophomore Cole Howard in Southeast Georgia, USA. His prospects are bleak; his mom left (but they don’t talk about that); he always has to look out for his younger brother; and a few years down the line, after he graduates from his local college, all he has to look forward to is a job at the DMV in the same shithole town he grew up in. But when his dad is initiated into a strange group he meets through the internet and their racist, ethno-nationalist material starts showing up on his campus, Cole must navigate a fine line to decipher what lies within him—and what he really seeks from life. It’s a story about the fragility of identity, family, small towns, and the choices we must make.
A large part of the discourse in the Western world now revolves around this question of identity—especially that of white identity. For the past few years, dozens, if not hundreds of articles and books have propounded and explored various theses on this matter with prominent writers such as Ta-Nehisi Coates, Francis Fukuyama, Bret Easton Ellis, Robin DiAngelo, John McWhorter, Kathleen Belew, and Thomas Chatterton Williams all offering their say. Our obsession with this topic isn’t changing anytime soon, not while Trump sits in the White House and continues to facilitate a polarized climate around who and what is really American and acceptable. But while most writers are interested in analyzing the phenomenon or writing polemics, I’ve tried a different approach. Applying my experience of living in the American south, I’ve written a novel that examines these concerns through the desires and conflicts of fictionalized characters—it’s an exploration of the pitfalls of our need to identify and belong. It partially embodies the modern Southern Gothic genre but is delivered in the gritty style of David McKenna’s American History X. It is similar to Alexi Zentner’s recently published Copperhead in subject and theme. With the resurgence of white nationalism in the United States and our culture’s greater emphasis on our identities, my novel is set to resonate across the Anglo-sphere.
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