If You Come Softly

by Jacqueline Woodson

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 506

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson is a moving and utterly tragic story of interracial love. It explores the all-too-often painful, violent, and sometimes deadly experiences that arise when when two people of different races fall in love in a racist, intolerant society. High school students Ellie and Miah must deal with familial and societal pressure to not pursue their romantic affection for each other. From the beginning, Ellie sees the contradictions in her family's response to her feelings for Miah when she confides in her sister, Annie. Even though Annie faces disapproval from her mother for her lesbian relationship, she immediately begins advising that Ellie not be involved in an interracial relationship. In this conversation, Annie is unable to see how the unjust responses she faces from her mother about her relationship is being replicated in her response to Ellie. When Ellie and Miah begin spending public time together, they experience societal intolerance and rejection.

Random white people in public respond to Ellie and Miah's relationship with a sense of fear for Ellie because of her proximity to Miah. Miah must deal with the horrible racist assumptions that he is dangerous because he is black. The two must also face a group of aggressive white peers who shout racist slurs as the two attempt to spend time together. While Miah's mother greets Ellie's presence in Miah's life with warmth and welcome, Ellie is unsure that her family will extend the same warmth to Miah. As such, she hesitates to introduce him to them. Tragically, she is never able to introduce Miah to her family, because a racist white cop shoots Miah dead. The police are in pursuit of someone who happens to be black, and upon seeing Miah running jubilantly through the snow, they kill him.

This novel is an absolutely powerful and necessary book for everyone, especially white people living in this country, to read. Police consistently shoot unarmed black people to death in this country on a horrifically regular basis. Teenage black boys are routinely shot to death—many of them unarmed and running away from police in fear for their lives. It is common for white society to defend the police in these instances. For example, when Mike Brown, 18 years old, was shot dead by police in 2014 with his hands in the air, the narrative in much of white America, and on many news stations, was to challenge that he must have done something because he was being pursued by police. Mike Brown was unarmed and had his hands in his air. The cop who killed him was not convicted of a crime, and a crowd funding site even raised over $750,000 in support of him. In a more recent example, black youth Antwon Rose, aged 17, was murdered by Pittsburgh police on June 19th, 2018, as he was running away—back turned, unarmed. If You Come Softly is a tragic novel because the story is inherently sad, and it is a tragic novel because the story is completely applicable to our current reality.

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