I was pleased to see on Facebook last week that Southern Fried Karma Press had placed a review of Masjid Morning and another novel on their blog. It is entitled “The Real Threat: Us or Them? by Emery Duffey | Jul 12, 2017 | Southern Culture, Southern Literature | Healing Lessons on Immigrants from Two Debut Authors. We had met , the co-founder of Southern Fried Karma, at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) convention in Washington, D.C. last February.
Duffey writes, “As discussions about immigration dominate and divide the nation, the media and other aspects of society are quick to push their own opinions but slow to empathize with the experience of those caught in the middle — the immigrants themselves. Especially in the South, we tend to amplify our prejudices with the hateful rhetoric of fear that places blame on those outside our norm, the others. What often fails to register within such exchanges are the frightening realities —immigrants and American citizens have become the targets of murderous hate crimes . . . Authors Richard Morris and Sohrab Homi Fracis (Go Home) confront the arduous task of healing our cultural deafness in their debut novels. With a sense of kinship and tradition, Morris of Maryland and Fracis of Florida each offer readers a different take on humanizing immigrants . . . ”
While I’m not a debut author (Masjid Morning is my fourth novel), I agree that people tend to “amplify our prejudices with . . . fear that places blame on those outside our norm . . . ” Unfortunately, as we well know, it’s not just in the South. It’s all over. We’ve had many examples in the Middle Atlantic states, and there have been others throughout the country, fed in part by intemperate discourse in political campaigns.
A glance at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s map of hate groups is sobering. Eleven such groups reside in Maryland, my setting for Masjid Morning. Maryland is often viewed as a Northern state although below the Mason-Dixon Line, but in 1850, in Southern Maryland, the enslaved Black population nearly equalled that of the White population (see Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground). The counties are dotted with the mansions of tobacco plantations.
My earlier novel, Well Considered, also set in Maryland, tells of an African American man, whose family moves into a new subdivision built on a former tobacco farm, who investigates why his great-grandfather was lynched by a mob near his home back in 1907. Although the story is fiction, such murders occurred here as late as 1933—that one on Maryland’s Eastern Shore (see On the Courthouse Lawn by Sherrilyn Ifill). The Eastern Shore is also where Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman were enslaved.
Indiana was the center of the major Ku Klux Klan revival in the 1920s, and James Loewen has documented the existence of “Sundown Towns” throughout the United States, where African Americans and/or other minorities had to be out of town by sundown. My novel Canoedling in Cleveland tells of a quest by two teenagers to learn why their town has no African Americans.
Today, immigrants, especially Muslims, are included among the oppressed. Fortunately, we have many groups, churches, and synagogues in Maryland that work to oppose intolerance and hatred, as I’m sure they do in Georgia where Southern Fried Karma is published and across the Deep South. These groups play an important role in defending my Muslim characters in Masjid Morning as their masjid (mosque) grows out of the ground “like a living being” as one reviewer describes.
This morning I read Heather Long’s Wonkblog in the Washington Post about how the Administration plans to cut legal immigration at a time when unemployment is low (4.4%), there is a shortage of workers in many industries (5.7 million job openings), our growth rate is slow due in part to the retirement of so many Baby Boomers and our low birth rate, and patent filings and new business formations are down. Eighty-nine percent of surveyed economists say cutting immigration at this time is a bad idea. I think we need our immigrants. We need our fifteen thousand Pakistani-American physicians and the thousands of other Muslim physicians from other countries. And we need more workers for entry-level lower-wage jobs. We should embrace them.
So, to echo this reviewer, Emery Duffey, “In case y’all missed it, these two #novels by Richard Morris and Sohrab Homi Fracis just might make your list #Fridayreads. Our #bookreview examines the rapt tension created in the plot lines by #immigration and how it affects our culture. Where do we stand as #Southerners?”