graphic novel memoir
Mira Jacob’s touching, often humorous, and utterly unique graphic memoir takes readers on her journey as a first-generation American. At an increasingly fraught time for immigrants and their families, Good Talk delves into the difficult conversations about race, sex, love, and family that seem to be unavoidable these days.
Inspired by her popular BuzzFeed piece “37 Difficult Questions from My Mixed-Raced Son,” here are Jacob’s responses to her six-year-old, Zakir, who asks if the new president hates brown boys like him; uncomfortable relationship advice from her parents, who came to the United States from India one month into their arranged marriage; and the imaginary therapy sessions she has with celebrities from Bill Murray to Madonna. Jacob also investigates her own past, from her memories of being the only non-white fifth grader to win a Daughters of the American Revolution essay contest to how it felt to be a brown-skinned New Yorker on 9/11. As earnest and moving as they are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, these are the stories that have formed one American life.
- conversation about Donald Trump’s election
- conversation about 9/11 + islamophobia
- systemic racism + racial slurs + racism
“Here is the thing, though, the real, true thing I still have trouble admitting: I can’t protect you from everything…I can’t protect you from spending a lifetime caught between the beautiful dream of a diverse nation and the complicated reality of one. I can’t even protect you from the simple fact that sometimes, the people who love us will choose a world that doesn’t.”Mira Jacob, Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations
The most prominent theme of this book to me (unsurprisingly, given the article the book was inspired by) was the portrayal of Mira Jacobs’ conversations with her six year old, mixed race son. I was stricken by his questions about race and race relations at such a young age, because they really made me think about how early the internalization and exposure to racism can start for a person of color in America.
I was utterly horrified by a six year old asking his mother how to know which white people are afraid of brown people, if the new president would hate him because of his Muslim name, if his own (white) father was afraid of him because of his brown skin. I was sickeningly unsurprised that many of these questions were triggered by the hateful and racist rhetoric and actions of Donald Trump and his supporters during his election campaign and presidency, and as a result of it.
Both Jacobs’ child’s questions and her personal experiences with micro and macro racial aggressions not only made some of my experiences feel seen, but also reminded me of how the sheer quantity of my own outwardly racist interactions have dramatically increased since the time of Trump’s election. Some of the more prevalent ones in the past year alone, have included:
- A student in the Young Adult Literature class I co-taught at UC Berkeley rolling her eyes, rudely gesturing, and glaring at me during my entire hour-long lecture on the importance of Asian American and South Asian-American literature, particularly anytime I mentioned why representation of Asian minorities was important.
- Waiting to board my flight to Italy for my post-college travels: An older white American man jokingly telling me he was glad I opened my black duffel bag in front of him before we boarded, because he thought I “might have a bomb in there.”
- Stepping out of my car in downtown Seattle a few weeks ago and immediately being accosted by a middle aged white woman yelling a long chain of angry racial threats (including: “die, you f*c king Indian b * tch!”) and blocking my entrance to the sidewalk, moving to continue to do so as I tried to walk away from her.
“Sometimes, you go along with it and pretend nothing happened. Sometimes, you hold your breath until the feeling of wanting to be believed passes. Sometimes, you weigh explaining against staying quiet and know they’re both just different kinds of heavy.”Mira Jacob, Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations
There were so many other pieces of the book that I resonated with and related to, particularly around colorism, as well as conversations around immigrant experiences such as post 9/11 racism that I know members of my family can relate to — too many to fully explain and do justice to. So, I’ve chosen to focus on this theme as the one I’ll expand on, and comment on some of the other themes that really stuck out to me through the author’s words herself.
“There’s a particular kind of close you get when you find someone you can trust in a space you don’t.”Mira Jacob, Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations
“They’re sleepwalking… Someone–Kiese Laymon, I think–said most white people are sleepwalking when it comes to racism in America. They don’t see it so they think it doesn’t exist anymore. Forcing them to see that it is happening here, now, is like waking up a sleepwalker. They get disoriented. Angry at you instead of about the racism itself.”Mira Jacob, Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations
on having possibilities
“We think our hearts break only from endings – the love gone, the rooms empty, the future unhappening as we stand ready to step into it – but what about how they can shatter in the face of what is possible.”Mira Jacob, Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations
on the only person of color ever elected president
“We took bets on what would bring him down, which is what you do when you’re trying to break your own heart before your country does it for you.”Mira Jacob, Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations
I think every person who feels that they can should read this book, keeping in mind the trigger warnings at the beginning of this post. Although it was in a very different format than I was used to, it was easy to become engrossed in Mira Jacob’s graphic novel style of memoir. The book was not only touching and relatable to me as a first generation immigrant, but it also packed a strong punch with its commentary on the countless forms of racism that exist in the United States today and how they were exacerbated in recent years, in large part by the campaign and election of Donald J. Trump. It made me realize how early in person of color’s life internalized racism takes its root, and how common certain micro-aggressions I’ve experienced really are. I think many parts of this book will be relatable and validating to any person of color, but I especially think there’s a lot to be learned from this book by those in power and with more privilege — to listen to and internalize these experiences and stories and conversations, take them to heart, and continue on a journey of becoming more aware allies and advocates.
Have you read Good Talk? Let me know what your thoughts were down below!
Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day <3