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How two friends learned to talk honestly about race while writing a book

By Marianne Garvey, CNN

There is a moment in the beginning of the new book from Christine Pride and Jo Piazza that is written from the perspective of a 14-year-old Black boy.

After being shot by police, he thinks of his school picture that his mom will use when he dies and his death becomes news.

The work is fictional, but the writing allows you to see the world through the eyes of a young Black teen.

Throughout their novel, uncomfortable events happen which start exactly the kind of conversation Pride and Piazza wanted their book, “We Are Not Like Them,” to tackle. The story centers around a White woman named Jen and a Black woman named Riley, who are forced to deal with race after Jen’s police officer husband is involved in the shooting of a Black teen.

The two used their own friendship — Pride is Black and Piazza is White — as a starting point.

“For us, writing together as a Black woman and a White woman, and as friends who became friends late in life, we had never talked about race until we really started writing this book because we didn’t have to,” Piazza said. “And, sometimes, it’s the last thing you talk about. I knew about all of Christine’s terrible ex-boyfriends before we actually had a decent conversation about race.”

Fast friends

The two first met when Pride worked as Piazza’s editor for her novel, “Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win.”

Over time, in talking about their different backgrounds and how they grew up, they were inspired to write a novel told in alternating voices between a Black woman and a White woman.

What they didn’t expect was that their own talks would feel so challenging, testing the limits of both their working relationship and their friendship throughout the process.

“Black people, in general, are very wary of having this conversation because we talk about race amongst each other a lot because it’s a central component of life,” Pride said. “But when you meet a new White person, as I met Jo as a new friend, there is, I think, a built-in level of apprehension there about what is this person’s background? What is their family like? You know, what, what are they hearing at the dinner table? What did they hear about Black people growing up? Who are their other friends? What is their social circle?”

Then, there’s the anxiety of bringing up race at all, Pride added.

“Are they going to get tongue tied? Are they gonna get defensive? Are they going to get dismissive?” she said. “So, I think the reason why a lot of these conversations aren’t happening is because of that weariness on it — at least from a Black perspective.”

Fiction into action

When Pride and Piazza were developing the characters and writing “We Are Not Like Them,” they saw a lot of parallels between their story and their own experiences. Overall, the writing process made them better friends, they said.

“We wanted to talk about race in a way that’s not hitting you over the head or preaching to you,” Piazza said. “It’s a story about female friendship and how two women help each other grow and live in the world. But we also weave through race into the mix and we think it lets people get comfortable.”

Pride is not even sure race would have come up organically in their friendship without the help of the book. Piazza agrees.

“I was filled with too much hubris. I’m like, I’ve written about politics, about finance … I’ll figure out how to write about race,” Piazza said. “And it was just so much more of a learning curve, both writing and talking about it. And I think that shows just how fraught it has become in our entire national dialogue.”

The two said they ultimately want to practice what they preach: In the tough moments — in the moments when it is difficult or uncomfortable to carry on with a conversation about race — to listen and to push through.

“We had to keep pushing through, to deliver this book so that other people could do the same,” Pride said. “This end product and getting the story down on the page could help other readers and people do the same things we were doing, in a way our characters really became a proxy for us on the page, they are having trouble figuring out how to talk about race. And there’s a lot of misunderstandings and apprehensions and fears and even blind spots. And those were, I mean, not identical because the circumstances were different between Jo and I in real life and our characters, but the overall dynamic was [similar.]”

Piazza said it’s working so far. Readers have been messaging, emailing and opening up to both her and Pride, telling them that they’ve reached out to people that they didn’t know how to talk to or that they’ve had a falling out with about race.

“This is genuinely a book starting hard conversations about race in America right now,” Piazza said. “And Christine and I wanted to come together as former colleagues, and also as friends, to create a very commercial and very accessible way that would inspire people to have their own conversations about race.”

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