By Steve Dunk
Today we’re pleased to welcome Tochi Onyebuchi to the WNDB blog for the first part of a wide-ranging interview about his sci-fi adult debut Goliath!
In his adult novel debut, Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and NAACP Image Award finalist and ALA Alex and New England Book Award winner Tochi Onyebuchi delivers a sweeping science fiction epic in the vein of Samuel R. Delany and Station Eleven
In the 2050s, Earth has begun to empty. Those with the means and the privilege have departed the great cities of the United States for the more comfortable confines of space colonies. Those left behind salvage what they can from the collapsing infrastructure. As they eke out an existence, their neighborhoods are being cannibalized. Brick by brick, their houses are sent to the colonies, what was once a home now a quaint reminder for the colonists of the world that they wrecked.
A primal biblical epic flung into the future, Goliath weaves together disparate narratives—a space-dweller looking at New Haven, Connecticut as a chance to reconnect with his spiraling lover; a group of laborers attempting to renew the promises of Earth’s crumbling cities; a journalist attempting to capture the violence of the streets; a marshal trying to solve a kidnapping—into a richly urgent mosaic about race, class, gentrification, and who is allowed to be the hero of any history.
Hi Tochi, thanks so much for speaking to We Need Diverse Books!
Glad to be here!
You along with your fellow Black Boy Joy authors were on Good Morning America—congratulations on that, by the way—and the Blackout women as well a couple weeks prior. Obviously, we’re talking in micro-quantitative measurements, but explain the significance of that moment and in your mind, do you think these types of things are an indicator of true progress?
I mean, it’s interesting, we definitely filled a hunger or at least found an appetite, right? There was definitely an appetite for those types of stories, particularly for younger readers. And even though the book was targeted at middle grade readers, I do think the appeal goes far beyond that.
So much of what you see in the literature for young readers that features Black characters, and that ostensibly speaks to Black readers, are stories that contain heartache, stories that contain struggle, stories that contain some sort of violence, whether physical or emotional. And I think Kwame (Mbalia) was a bit of an angel of sorts, a fairy godfather in being able to put together this showcase of just Black boys smiling, Black boys laughing. Because that is very much a part of the existence, a part of the panoply of experiences that Black readers are exposed to or can participate in.
I have to say, writing my story for it, Coping, which is about a young Black skateboarder, was a bit of a healing exercise for myself, because I’m very good at trauma, I’m very good at writing trauma; I’m very good at writing emotional devastation. Much more rarely have I tried my hand at “happy”, and not just happy that exists in a sort of “oasis of happy in a desert of pain”, but happy as the backdrop against which a story can happen. Happy as the causal arrow in the plot, you know?
And I’m not in the minds of the other contributors, but I wonder if there was a similar thing going on for them as well, especially given that so much of this was happening amidst the backdrop of this pandemic that has hit so many of us in both macro and micro cosmic ways. But I’m hesitant to get into any sort of prognostication on what this means for the continued telling of these types of stories.
Oftentimes you’ll see an anthology or a collection of stories get out, and then we don’t see anything for a while, or it can be a sort of harbinger for more stories featuring this sort of Black joy, this celebration of Black boyhood, and the celebration of Black children in general. You never really know how it’s going to go, and I’m not very good at reading the tea leaves, but I will say that it was an honor to be a part of this moment.
We’ve all seen these trends before, haven’t we? And the first question I always ask myself is, who is this is in service of? Is this an industry-down change or is this a grassroots-level change? So yeah, I could probably answer this honestly for everybody and say it’s a “my fingers are crossed but don’t hold your breath” type of situation.
Yeah, I feel like that’s very much the vibe with American publishing, “Fingers are crossed but don’t hold your breath.” In fact, that should be the title of my career memoir, Fingers Are Crossed, But Don’t Hold Your Breath.
You released Riot Baby in 2020, which was followed by (S)kinfolk last April, and now with Goliath you find yourself back on the fiction side of things. Because your storytelling strongly mirrors society, reflects real life, and I was reminded of Riot Baby reading Goliath: what kind of mindset, if at all, do you find yourself in when sitting down to write a Goliath or a Riot Baby? As opposed to a book like (S)kinfolk, which of course is non-fiction?
I love non-fiction and I have so much admiration for non-fiction writers, but it’s funny because for me, fiction is where I find the opportunity to get outside of myself, to learn new things. There’s also all this stuff that I love about prose fiction, or so much of the stuff that I love about prose fiction, the ability to play with sentences and engage in some sort of lyrical felicity, the structure of your paragraphs, the pacing, all of that.
You don’t get to make stuff up when you do non-fiction; you’re constrained by things that have actually happened, or things that you’ve experienced, or on the outer edges of that, your own sort of speculation. But ultimately they are rooted in things that have actually happened or experiences that have captured you in some real tangible way.
And so, with fiction I can place that sort of dynamic inside characters that are not me, if that makes any sense. Whatever I’m going through, I can put that in another character’s situation and sort of write my way through that. It’s not as though characters are answers to questions that I’m asking myself, they’re my attempt to work through those questions, and sometimes they spark their own questions.
It’s interesting, I learn more about myself writing fiction than I do writing non-fiction, even though so much of my nonfiction is ostensibly about me. I really like inhabiting other places, part of which comes from a dynamic or a sort of sensibility that I discovered in high school and something that very much blossomed in college. I’m very fascinated, even though it’s difficult to tell from my fiction so far, but I’m very fascinated in the world outside of the United States, immensely fascinated by it.
I was a political science major in college with a focus on international relations, and some of my favorite classes were on international political economy where we were talking about issues of sovereign debt across different countries, or international capital migration, that sort of thing. We were talking about political events in the DRC, we were talking about political events and dynamics in Pakistan, in Venezuela, in China, in Hong Kong, in the Balkans.
In fact, I did my senior research, my senior thesis, on the Balkan wars in the 1990s and the development of smuggling networks that then turned into the sort of political criminal nexus that really bloomed in the 2000s, going into the 2010s. Those six weeks that I spent doing a tour of the Balkans during my research were some of the most extraordinary times of my life. I spent another ten weeks in the West Bank during law school working with a prisoners’ rights organization, and the changes that experience evoked, or that sort of sojourn that conjured in me, I’m still sort of untangling. There were seeds planted during that time that are just now bearing fruit, and I see some of that in my fiction, particularly at my home in speculative fiction.
I like inhabiting other worlds, and not necessarily because there is a sort of escape from my own reality, but because I’m learning something new. And I really appreciate that dynamic of learning new things, and particularly in fiction writing when I’m learning something. That way I’m not necessarily writing into a topic that I already know about, that I have any sort of encyclopedic knowledge about. I’m writing into something that I don’t know anything or very little about; I’m writing into something that I’m learning anew, and that to me is one of the most exciting parts of the writing process, particularly when it comes to fiction.
You mention “hyperobjects”, which are objects that have energy or strength, but you can’t necessarily touch them. Anytime I’ve heard the concept, it’s been used strictly when discussing the cognitive and philosophical side of ecology. You use it just as effectively when discussing local and non-local race and/or class struggles. Talk to me about this idea of understanding systematic racism via this somewhat different approach. Whether it’s hyperobjects or not, sometimes it isn’t until somebody is able to look at something from a different point of view that they’re able to understand it.
One thing that’s always been interesting to me is that whenever there’s a Governor or legislator from a Southern state that does something incredibly backwards legislatively, there’s always the backlash, right? Whether it’s abortion restrictions, whether it’s some sort of race related policy or legislation, whether it’s a restriction of voting rights, or something that just in a very violent fashion legislatively targets citizens of color, people of color, particularly Black people, there’s always the backlash.
Especially online, along the lines of, “Why do Black people continue to live in these places? Why don’t you just move?” There’s always that person on Twitter, that pundit on Twitter who’s like, “Black people are idiots for continuing to live in these places!” and that always strikes me because I’m always thinking about the things that keep people from being able to relocate. And it’s not necessarily because of sentimentality either; I live where I live in large part because of proximity to my family. But for most people there are also financial reasons, or reasons of mobility, and disability, or basically any sort of reason that has all sorts of legitimacy.
And it has made me think of ecology, it makes me think of the weather. Why would you live in a floodplain? Why would you live in parts of California that are increasingly prone to wildfires? Why would you live in the desert during a drought? If people thought along those lines with regards to issues of climate change there would be a mass migration to New England, because so far, we’ve had it the best out of everybody with regards to climate events. We don’t get the hurricanes that Texas gets, we don’t get the flooding that Louisiana gets, we don’t get the droughts that California and Nevada get, our rivers aren’t drying up the way that the Colorado River is.
There was recently some news about the Great Basin, or some massive body of water in Utah that is basically a puddle of its former self, and the effects that that has had on the local environment. So, you see people saying, “Why do people continue to live there?”, and when you ask the question in that fashion, it sounds increasingly callous, it sounds increasingly uncharitable. And that to me has sort of reified the idea of something like systematic racism as a meteorological artifact.
In particular, you start to think about how something like mass incarceration can affect a whole community, to the point where it seems for a certain swath of that population, say for instance young Black men, that going to jail and going to prison is a sort of rite of passage. It’s like you hit puberty, and then you go, like going off to college or something. There are some places that actually call it “going to college” because it’s almost that much of a ritual. And you see these storms that sort of sweep through, particularly along the lines of police violence and incarceration, and it’s almost akin to weather, to climate change, it’s cosmic.
And there’s almost nothing you can do in the face of this of this meteorological event. It’s a flood that sweeps through your communities and you have to sort of pick up the wreckage afterwards. You have to deal with the loss of things and people in the aftermath. It’s like a fire that razes your community to the ground; it takes out community leaders, it devastates and eviscerates local institutions, it’s a tornado, right?
That sort of idea of the inevitability of a thing, or the seeming inevitability of a thing, is one of the ways in which, at least mentally and metaphorically, I’ve been able to tie something like systemic racism to this idea of a hyperobject. What can the “individual” do against that? Similar to what can the “individual” do against climate change? Using compostable straws is not going to put water back into the Great Lakes. If I put my cans in the blue bin instead of the green bin, that’s going to bring water back to California?
So, the idea of forces greater than yourself, that you’re very much the individual who is powerless in the face of it, that’s the dynamic that ties these things together for me, or that makes it easier for me to look at something like systemic racism and the ways in which oppression exists in systems, and is actualized in systems as a sort of hyperobject.
There’s a philosophical aesthetic that runs throughout the book that I found really interesting because philosophy, as you know, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t actually solve anything, does it? Science tells us all we need to know and should render philosophy irrelevant. This is until we are forced into more, and I’m talking relatively here, primitive primal situations, right? Like end of the world situations or whatever. And you wrote, “Trapped in that Old Testament dogmatism that believes only in things seen, then clings to them at the expense of everything else…”
So, in this book, there is some man versus technology aspects for sure, but this is really more like faith versus faithlessness in a lot of ways, isn’t it? In your mind, what is it that keeps some people dogmatic when it comes to faith in a god, while others seem to take a less than theistic approach during tough times?
Absolutely. I mean, faith has been, and I suspect will continue to be, a big part of my life, and it’s particularly impacted by how I’ve witnessed my mother utilize faith and sort of be carried by it during her own journey. She’s a widow, and she’s been a widow since I was ten years old, raising four kids on her own as an immigrant mother, an unobjectionably impossible task. Yet she’s managed to do it with all sorts of grace and aplomb. And when I see her pray, it’s almost like I’m watching Superman in dialogue with the sun that he gets his powers from. And so, seeing the ways in which faith, in which belief, in and of itself, can carry a person through an unbearable situation, was immensely powerful for me growing up and continues to be.
And it’s not even necessarily the thing that they have faith in that’s important, it’s the faith in and of itself, and the holding onto of that faith. And so, you look at the situations that the people in Goliath are in, it sucks, it sucks to be them, and in many ways they’re trapped. They can’t do anything about their situation, and so how do you escape nihilism?
On the one hand, a headlong plunge into a selfish hedonism, or on the other hand, a sort of attempt at chasing oblivion, right? Or whatever braiding together of those two things may appeal to a person personally. How do you escape those things? I think that faith can often be a very big ingredient in whatever stew you sip from to continue living and to continue living on your own terms. To continue living while doing the honest work of brick stacking versus like robbing people. To continue believing that you could fall in love, to continue falling in love at all. Even though what does love matter in the face of the apocalypse, and it’s a legitimate question, because on the one hand, it doesn’t matter at all because everybody is going to die, or you could say it’s the most important thing in the entire world because dying is so lonely and anything that will alleviate that sense of loneliness is the height of human experience.
And so that’s where faith sits for me. It’s this ability to tap into a higher power and to believe in the omnibenevolence of that higher power is tremendously important for me, both in my fiction, but also in real life.
In the book you write, “Even though distinctions of Northerner and Southerner have long since become irrelevant, the same fault line haunts this dilemma as has haunted the country since its founding, and it is everything from willful blindness to malicious intent that keeps discussion away from demographics.” Stories are written in the time in which they exist, and even though Goliath is set in the future, this quote tells me you wrote this story very much from a contemporary place and time, looking out your front window. Is that fair to say?
Absolutely, and I have to confess a very strong influence for me, or at least a book that made quite the impact on me in thinking about how climate change could play out politically in the United States was American War by Omar El Akkad. American War is set in the future and is about the second Civil War, which in the book essentially started because of climate change. There are federal regulations of oil and fossil fuels, and a collection of southern states decide to secede, and based on that decision, there’s this whole entire conflict that gets sparked.
It was interesting to me because I got to speak with Omar about the book in an interview, and we were talking about its sort of genesis, or the process of its genesis. And Omar knew that, in doing a sort of second Civil War, there’s no way that you could come up with something that could possibly match for venality and brutality and sheer evil, the concept of chattel slavery, right? It’s unmatchable, it’s impossible to come up with something comparable.
But what was something that could similarly divide the country along these extreme lines, and that could become something these different populations become so rooted in that they’re willing to shoot at each other? And climate change emerged as an interesting and potential answer to that because there was the same sort of North/South distinction, with various complications of course. And it was interesting thinking about the ways in which that would persist in the future with regards to how it impacted the politics of the time and the people.
Goliath is so much about how that sort of distinction doesn’t matter in the end, because no matter where you go, you’re screwed. We’ve only experienced one explicit civil war as a country, and it has influenced everything that has come after. And it’s significant that the only way that chattel slavery could be defeated as an institution was for 750,000 Americans to die, right? And there hasn’t been the sort of reckoning that I think a country would need to embark on to heal that primordial wound.
We talk about truth and reconciliation committees and post-Civil War efforts in other unifying countries, say for instance, the Balkans, or in various African countries after the wars in the 2000s. But there’s been not even a hint of such a thing in the United States and I think that allows the wound to fester, that allows it to putrefy, and then it becomes much easier to envision that fault line still not only still existing in the future, but it being the fault line along which a massive political ecological social-sociological catastrophe unfolds.
Right, and if the Civil War was a war of ideas, no one lost, right? Like, they may have lost the combat aspect of the war, the head count may have determined who won or who lost, a last man standing sort of thing, but we certainly didn’t change the hearts and minds of those who believed in and willfully supported bondage and systematic oppression.
Speaking of climate change, middle class and up white people, and white people in charge, can afford to deny or not do anything about climate change because they can afford the consequences of ignoring it. They play to their base most often for that because they know they’ll be the first ones on the rocket, right? With Bezos, Branson, or Musk, or whichever James Bond villain is fashionable at the time.
But for marginalized folks, you say, “They are forbidden the right to breathe clean air or to look at the stars from any other vantage point than the gutter.” In that sense, you’re saying whether it’s 2050, 2021, or 1970 when Gil Scott-Heron gave us Whitey on the Moon, things will never be equal, and space exploration has always been a good indicator of that.
Absolutely, and I don’t see how that would change in the future. If you look at it in terms of an infrastructure thing, one of the classic examples of how this could potentially play out for me is the character of Robert Moses. And I say character, even though he was a real person, because he was very much a sort of occasionally, a caricature of evil. This sort of embodiment, this human embodiment of institutional evil, is an absolutely fascinating concept.
So many of the problems that New York City has today are because of him and the way that he decided to design highways, and throughways, and buildings, and neighborhoods, and parks and beaches. So much of it was designed to keep Black people in particular, but people of color in general, away from certain parts of the city.
There was this idea that whites, and particularly upper middle-class whites, deserved this city more than the rest of its inhabitants, and they built the infrastructure of the city with that in mind. And that’s exactly the sort of thing that we’re talking about with regards to space exploration. You’re saying some people deserve being able to go to the moon or go to space, whether that’s to flee environmental catastrophe, or to have an adventure or what have you, and other people don’t.
I’ve mentioned this before to people about infrastructure and the way cities are designed, and New York may have invented it, but it’s been duplicated time and time again. Often, poor and low-income housing is built in and around these highways, but they have no access to them. They’re being housed in plain view of something that is meant to provide freedom of travel, an escape if you want to go that far, but they are denied access to it, to this fundamentally human thing. There’s no on-ramp, literal and metaphorical, for Black people, marginalized people, and poor people, and yet they’re given a front row seat. It’s an incredible thing.
Right! And on the other side of that highway, there’s a rubber factory that’s belching all sorts of smoke and pollution that’s giving their kids, and their kids, and their kids, cancer.
Using a series of flashbacks and accounts, you take us through events and moments from the past that essentially are the building blocks for the time and place in which Goliath exists. This non-linear, unmoored in time type of storytelling very much feels like there’s a lesson to be learned here, in present day. Certainly, if we hope to avoid certain eventualities, or the ones that are outlined in Goliath anyways. Are you trying to give us a roadmap to success, a real-life logogram? As in what not to do? Or is it just one of many possible outcomes?
It’s funny because I’ve been thinking a lot about the social utility of fiction. I belong to a family of healthcare workers, a family of nurses, and that was brought into very stark relief at that the onset of governmental and institutional response to COVID, where we started to see a lot of hospital wards turned into COVID units.
So, places that my sister and my mother worked, the trauma units that they worked in, ICU units that they worked in, all of a sudden were filled with COVID patients. They were very much on the frontlines. Even ordinarily these people are engaged in the saving and repairing of people’s lives in a very immediate and tangible fashion. They’re helping people learn how to walk again, they’re helping people through heroin withdrawal, they’re resetting broken bones, and they’re cleaning up a person’s feces when they’ve defecated on themselves because they can no longer control their insides. It’s immediate, tangible, and concrete relief, all towards the betterment of a person’s situation.
And so, in the face of that, it becomes increasingly difficult for me to think that there is any sort of immediate social good to fiction. I think, particularly with regards to science fiction, and even though it’s starting to fall away a little bit, there’s this stereotype that we write science fiction to sort of “prevent” the future, that we’re engaged in the business of cautionary tales. People will always invoke Neuromancer and Snow Crash, and all sorts of books to point to the sort of pseudo dystopia, the pseudo tech dystopia that we that we live in now. And I don’t think that there is, or can be, a sort of social utility in that respect to fiction.
I think a lot about The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. One of the outcomes of that book being published was we got the FDA, we got an actual government agency, an actual department of the government resulted from the publication of that book that we might not have had otherwise. But the reason Upton Sinclair wrote that book was to highlight horrific labor practices, wage theft, horrible hours, youth labor, and these sorts of things. It was basically a worker’s rights book, but did we get any workers rights legislation out of it? And so, you can usually count on an audience to take the wrong lesson from a thing.
But I do believe there is some impact from the stories we tell across media and across genres, on the national and global imagination. For example, I don’t think we get Barack Obama without the literature of Toni Morrison. We are able to engage in sort of mythic possibilities that we might not have been able to otherwise absent this this fiction.
And so, I don’t know that Goliath is any sort of cautionary tale so much as it is me writing through the question of “What will my future look like?” You know 2050 is often invoked as a sort of Book of Revelations moment, it’s not even the point of no return, it’s like Revelations 1:1, right? Just look at the climate reports, every single iteration of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report, 2050. You look increasingly at that news coverage, 2050. That’s the year that the apocalypse is coming.
Presumably, inshallah, I’ll still be alive in 2050, and what will the world that I live in look like? That was very much the question that animated so much of Goliath, and not what would it be like for youth in 2050, but what would it be like for me, a guy who’s in his 30s now in in 2021? What’s the world going to look like when I’m finally able to sort of pay off my student loans? And that was a thing that I was sort of writing into. I don’t know that this book is going to get into the hands of decision makers who are able to write a macro level impact climate policy, but it is interesting for me to imagine, what my life can look like in this period.
The answer to the question what would your life look like after you pay for student loans? Well, you get to incur more debt!
Yeah, oh my goodness, who knows who knows what sort of financial dark arts will have ensnared me by then!
Population of the planet through migration was achieved mostly through colonization. In your story, white folks leave Earth behind in favor of colonized space stations, then return, taking back everything, a sort of re-re-colonization. Is Goliath a case of history repeating itself? And since there’s nothing obvious to prove otherwise, do you think we’re stuck in this perpetual loop of habituate and systematic oppression of minorities? And if we are, then we just answered the previous question, didn’t we?
I don’t know if that ever goes away, right? Like, show me the evidence that it’s going to be different.
A while back I saw the HBO docuseries by Raoul Peck, Exterminate All the Brutes, which basically goes into the history of racism. For four episodes, it’s incredibly capacious, it gets a lot in there—the Spanish Inquisition-era idea of race and racial difference as a justification for the colonial enterprise, beauty standards, the horrors perpetrated on rubber plantations in the Belgian Congo, the massacre of Indigenous peoples in the Americas, as well as Peck’s own personal history, white supremacy as a global worldview, essentially.
It got me thinking a lot about what it must be like in the mind of a people that can ascribe to those who look differently than the blanket designation of “sub-human,” make them a vehicle for enrichment, to see a whole human being and think “profit.” And it wasn’t just the Belgians, it wasn’t just the French, it wasn’t just the Portuguese, it wasn’t nationalistic or empire-specific jingoism. It was so widespread, so infectious; it was almost like a viral pandemic—this worldview into which white folks from all over bought into, across class boundaries, across religious denominations. The English merchant, to the Scottish coal miner, to the French duke, to the Portuguese priest, to the Irish mother of twelve, top to bottom, such that the only thing connecting these people aside from their skin color was the idea that their skin color made them the gods of others.
So, I was trying to think, could that have happened to people around that time, or even prior, of Asian origin, or of African origin, or of Indigenous Meso-American origin? The wholesale adoption of this idea of racial supremacy: could this idea have become so widespread, leading to the sort of global or near global conquest of the entire world, in perhaps the most brutal and literally evil fashion, could this idea have occurred to and so comprehensively infected people who weren’t white? Or was the white race uniquely susceptible to the pathology of racial supremacy?
I don’t have that counter-history to work with, only the existing and ever-unfolding historical record, so if I looked at that, then pointed my gaze to the future, I couldn’t envision whiteness purging itself of the notion of supremacy. Of that primal impellent to look at something that doesn’t belong to them and say, “this is mine now.” I don’t know that they ever let that go.
This question is sort of attached to that one. In the book you have an “intrepid reporter” character named Alison who gives a small speech where she says, “I can’t get rid of being white. And my guilt is useless if I can’t do something with it.” Along with a few other instances in the book, you seem to imply that white people’s default position is racism. Do you believe that?
I think it’s the land that you’re born on, and I don’t necessarily mean that geographically, I mean it more metaphorically. It’s the air that you breathe when you come out of the womb. It’s because of the structures that have been set up, and not just in terms of the ways in which tax bases fund school districts, but also in terms of the idea of beauty standards, or in terms of the development of professional networks and who’s able to profit from what labor.
Just off the basis of that, there is this presumption that you can, as an individual, do everything in your power to try and extricate yourself from that reality. You can become the biggest advocate for Black beauty, whatever that means, you can campaign for school reform, you can march for voting rights, historically you could have intervened during attempted lynchings, you could do all of those things, you could be John Brown, right? But no matter what, there’s still the place that you came from, and I don’t know if that ever goes away.
That was very much something that I wanted to illustrate with the reporter character, and also just the issue of bias and unconscious bias, and the fact that there is a sort of unfairness about it. Because you talk about unfairness, and it’s like the situation of Black Americans historically, presently, and very likely into the future, is a situation of titanic unfairness, right? And then you see white folks attempting to ameliorate that in a very sort of noble and vicious fashion, and they still can be accused of belonging to these systems of oppression, and still be accused of falling prey to these dynamics of racist behavior, and racist mentality, and all that jazz.
And you can almost hear the plaintive cry from them, “But I’m doing my best, right? I’m with you, I’m your ally. I’m trying to help. I’m sacrificing everything. I’ve sacrificed my family relationships. I’ve sacrificed professional advancement. I’m basically Job from the Bible the way I’ve been trying to help you all!” But even in the very basis of that plaintive cry, which is in many ways a sort of pleading for acceptance in that community, is this idea of merit, or that you deserve to be there. And it’s entirely legitimate for Black people, the Black Community, capital B, capital C, to say “NO”, and you’re like, “OK, what more do you want from me?” And there can be the rejoinder, that it’s never enough. It’s never enough because these systems still exist, and it’s never enough, not just because you’re one person, but because of where you came from, and because by virtue of your skin you’re still able to go to places that we’re not able to go. You’re still able to do things that we’re not able to do. You’re never going to be one of us. And you can almost hear it on the part of the white person, “Oh, but that’s not fair!”, and it’s like, fare is what you pay to get on a bus. So, that was something that I wanted to dramatize, what is the plight of the good white person, and for the reporter, her name is literally Ally, so.
Tochi Onyebuchi is the author of Riot Baby, a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and NAACP Image Awards and winner of the New England Book Award for Fiction; the Beasts Made of Night series; and the War Girls series. He has earned degrees from Yale University, New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Columbia Law School, and Sciences Po. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Omenana Magazine, Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America, and elsewhere. His nonfiction has appeared in Tor.com and the Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy, among other places. His most recent book is the non-fiction (S)kinfolk.