“You don’t have to beat people to treat them brutally.”
—Kindred, Octavia Butler
For those of you who have never heard of Kindred, let me give you a short genre overview. This is a sci-fi leaning book that deals with slavery head on. It’s written by a black female author from the perspective of a similar woman. It is also a book that I hadn’t heard of until I specifically looked for authors I wouldn’t normally read. I had to dig for this gem, and I’m not exactly sure why.
Without giving too much away, Kindred takes a beloved sci-fi trope and uses it to explore territory more familiar than foreign. Every American child knows that slavery existed. But I would venture to say that very few privileged children (or adults) have felt slavery this viscerally. From my tentative attempts at listening, I imagine many marginalized people relate much more naturally to this narrative of slavery. They recognize it and its aftereffects in ways that I, as a white woman, had not. Which makes this novel even more important.
Kindred deserves an important place in our educational system. High schoolers should be reading Kindred. College students should be discussing the themes Butler brings up. This book, written in the late 70s, is still very much relevant. Full of rich characters, Kindred brings alive a sense of humanity and rights that is so easily lost in my own privileged experience. And it’s a great reminder that, whatever our situation in life, we should be reading things that seem unfamiliar at first glance. We might find that the emotions and truths are closer to us than we ever dreamed.