Updated: May 31
The Lede is based on several assumptions linked to race. One of the most fundamental is that the US has never been a real democracy, and one of the most egregious ways it has fallen short––it's almost too obvious to say––has been in race relations and race equity. Slavery, the failure of Reconstruction, the rise of the KKK, the domestic terror campaign of lynching, and Jim Crow are just the most notable examples of what this country has not just allowed but fostered, going back to its founding, never taking responsibility for the failures as a nation, despite the endless number of times leaders and common folk have invoked the rhetoric of equality.
It's a tragedy that the very word democracy has been sullied and almost rendered meaningless by misuse. A new term came about in the 1990s, radical democracy, that envisions the genuine article, a world of equality and equal representation, one in which binarisms like black/white, male/female, straight/gay would be not just emptied of their hierarchical resonance but in fact eliminated, given that they're social constructions in the first place. Easier said than done. In large part because of the pushback on the part of those who benefit most from the power imbalance. They get the most riled––and downright nasty, to the point of becoming hateful––the closer fake democracy starts to approach the real thing. We see that element rearing its ugly head on the right today.
The Lede acknowledges that racist past, and present, and in fact the setting of the novel, the suburb of Laurentine, allegorizes the problem while it imagines a way out, that is in the person of the twins. The burden of the struggle, in a country that has paradoxically called itself Christian, has historically fallen on minorities themselves––the wronged parties––mostly through a centuries-long, exhausting struggle for civil rights. The Lede shifts that burden to white people, such as they've been commonly constructed.
The twins Wren and Jake allegorize the process that must occur: a dis-identification with not just the racial status quo in some general sense but more directly their own parents. A dis-identification with Harry for sure, the family patriarch, but with Florrie too, who protests wanly in the face of her husband's bigotry while tacitly sharing in it on some level. Although she makes efforts to strike out on her own, offering some hope for her, and her generation, she never quite gets there in the space of the novel.
The twins on the other hand opt for breaking with the family rather than appeasing it. Like Huck and Jim on the raft, they choose to throw their lot with the very people Harry fled from in the city, after the Great Migration, and whom he wants to exclude from his all-white suburb. The twins are far from heroic. On the contrary they're just human. They respond to primal urges––they say yes to nature in a sense. But it took a conscious choice nevertheless, to disregard the alarm bells in a racist culture.
The trick, once they've come that far, the novel implies, is to the deprogram their learned mind-set, causing not a little eye-rolling on the parts of Donald and Tomás, their partners, respectively. The important thing is that a dialogue occurs, as awkward, obvious, and no doubt frustrating the conversations are for their significant others, who seem to want to say, Hello! Welcome to Humanity 101! In writing those scenes I felt their pain. But I also felt the sense of a break-through as the twins come to realize the limits, or trap, of whiteness. That people are people, that diversity is strength, and that everyone is inherently––I'm tempted to say ontologically––equal. That there's only one race among human animals. And that any thinking to the contrary is a lie.