College roommates! If you’re unlucky, as I was, you will be relieved when she is expelled. If you’re lucky, you will get along. If you’re really lucky, you will have a lifetime friend. Daniella and Eve were really lucky. Their connection was deep and lasted through their lives. They first met at a small, Southern women’s college where Daniella was denied admission to a sorority because she is Jewish. She was actually Unitarian, but her father was Jewish and she called herself Jewnitarian. In solidarity, Eve refused her admission to the sorority and transferred with Daniella to Barnard in New York.

It was a time of activism and organizing and Eve and Daniella went on different paths, met and fell in love with very different men. It is interesting how Eve embodies the activist personality while Daniella is the organizer. They are very different. Eve writes a letter about how the school treats their maids, citing the experience of the maid she knows, who is promptly fired. She never once asks permission of the maid for whom she advocated. That’s an activist for you.

Daniella does the hard work of Freedom Summer, living with Black families and being guided by their opinion. Contrast Eve’s advocating for the maids with Daniella’s complex understanding of being a white ally. “They are the only ones who go through every day of their lives in colored skin, skin they cannot peel off just to have a temporary respite from the abuse it brings. They are the ones who can teach us about oppression in America, because they live on the receiving end of it . And they are the ones who can teach us about resistance, about standing up for human rights. Those of us with white skin can empathize, can stand in solidarity, but we can always trick ourselves into thinking things aren’t so bad. We are allowed to make up stories about “the race situation” because we don’t have to bear the burden of it on our own bodies.”

The difference between activism and organizing is profound and it continues to be a fault line in Eve and Daniella’s friendship. Eve feels contempt for Daniella’s commitment to working to change the system from within, “When it came to the system, the only thing you could “change from within” was yourself. Entering the system would change you. You would acclimate to its norms.” This is a common criticism of those seeking systemic change through lobbying and legislation, though it ignores the many degrees of “within” there are.

Eve’s activism leads to living underground until a crisis forces her to reach out for help to Daniella. The story continues to the next generation, until they, too, go to college. Through it all, you can see how the journey of an activist contrasts to an organizer as Eve is easily led to new enthusiasms while Daniella’s commitment is more measured and constant.

I enjoyed We Are All Good People Here. I don’t know if Susan Rebecca White intended to contrast activists with organizers, but she did. We see that same conflict now, between those who want to win change by doing the work and those who want to be seen wanting to win change. I loved how these women embodied two very different strains of the Sixties and Seventies and how their experiences then affected them and their daughters.

We Are All Good People Here will be released on August 6th. I received an e-galley for review from the publisher through NetGalley.

 

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