“There are people who don’t see a man with rights when they look at me, and I’m not real sure how to deal with that.”
Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.
Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.
Side note: there will be a video discussion of this book coming on my channel this weekend if you want more of my thoughts on Dear Martin!
If I had to describe this book in brevity, I’d say this: it is incredibly impactful for such short length. Nic Stone mentions in her acknowledgements how much length was cut out of this book, and I’d sincerely buy an unbounded stack of paper of all the out-takes just to see what also could have been.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book so much. I took my time reading, highlighting, and tabbing topics I knew I’d like to return to discuss, and that’s a practice that is surprisingly unusual for me. Using my reading journal, I broke down the topics I’d like to discuss in this review to: racially-charged (micro)aggressions and black hopelessness/struggle.
#1: Racially-charged (micro)aggressions
Within the character cast of Dear Martin lies Jared, who begins the book as a token white boy who cannot comprehend that racism in America still exists. He frequently makes comments that racial equality has been achieved and anyone who claims race-related grievances are just being divisive, etc. But despite the blatant disregard that he exhibits, there are also moments where he acts in a certain way that is implicitly racist/prejudice.
In my opinion, it is racist micro-aggressions that sting the worst. For some, is easy to let blatant racism (or homophobia or sexism, etc) roll off their skin like water, because it is obvious that the person exuding that energy is not a friend to you. They’re not someone you would purposely associate with. It’s easy to steer clear.
However, micro-aggressions are a different story. They can come from anyone—particularly someone you love and trust—and you would find yourself dumbfounded that this person would say something like that to you. Justyce often finds himself dumbfounded by the things that come out of Jared and his group of friends’ mouths. And yet, he is encouraged to keep quiet about the comments and to “not be so sensitive.”
“What do I do when my very identity is being mocked by people who refuse to admit there’s a problem?”
Among the people shaming Justyce for being vocal about how these actions/comments make him uncomfortable is his best friend Manny. They reach a climax of tension in which Manny is on the side of “let it go” and Justyce is on the side of “you have betrayed me by hanging out with people who don’t respect us” (Manny is also black).
However, after a particular night, Manny comes to the realization that hanging out this those people and continuously being told to “stop being sensitive” made him complacent in their racist comments, which hit a soft spot for me because that’s something that I had to realize within my lifetime too growing up.
Just because your opinion is quiet in a room of loud ones doesn’t mean you are wrong or being “too sensitive”/ “too critical.” That is what I had to learn (or unlearn, depending on how you look at it). It was refreshing to see a black character do the same.
“Those fools don’t want to hear when they’re being offensive. They could care less what it’s like to live in our skin.”
#2: Black hopelessness
After being brutalized himself and witnessing how divisive and ignorant some of his peers are to racial inequalities, Justyce experiences a moment of desperation in the book. He is losing faith in his previous logic of “being an outstanding member of society will exempt me from racially-charged problems,” and he just wants to give up on “being good.” The book refers to something called a “Black Man’s Curse,” meaning that escaping racial profiling is impossible for black men (or black people).
When I tell you this section had me in tears.
There are so many underlying causes to what enables this thinking, but reading it happen to Justyce was an emotional moment for me. Doc and SJ are also great characters in this book, because they both mentor/uplift Justyce and steer him clear of a dangerous path he was beginning to walk.
I’m no sociologist, but I’d love to talk to one about a topic like this.
In all, I simply loved this book and would encourage everyone to read it, regardless of what race you are. The same elements of Dear Martin can easily occur between races that are not just black and white, and it’s important to be aware of what’s injurious to social progress.