Finding our place in dystopian reality

In Catherine Hernandez’s book Crosshairs, we are invited to come face to face with how we respond to the discomfort of holding power
An ebook with the cover of the book Crosshairs by Catherine Hernandez, leaning on a cup of tea

Have you ever read a book that you had to set down for a while before you were ready to pick it up again? I’m an avid fiction reader who likes to get lost in a book and devour it over a weekend before I can even open my laptop for a Monday morning workday. But the Crosshairs dystopia forced me to step back and breathe. 

Catherine Hernandez’s 2020 dystopian fiction title Crosshairs felt a little too close to reality for me. The so-called ‘fictitious’ story threw me into a paradox of logic: the imagined post-flood climate apocalypse that sends Toronto into fascist police-state violence against marginalized populations reads almost as a documentary-style recounting of the identity politics laid bare by the Covid-19 pandemic, a disaster the author could never have predicted and yet draws so many parallels. Dystopia is now a reality. But despite the terrifying similarities, Hernandez gives us hope and courage through a hard-hitting and direct call to allyship.   

This book was hard to read. Maybe the setting of downtown Toronto brought the story closer to home as someone who grew up in southwestern Ontario, but the broader themes felt like they were playing out in real time. The book is classified as a dystopian fiction—supposedly an imaginary post-apocalyptic world—written less than five years ago. But as I started reading in October, the stories of the marginalized LGBTQ, immigrant, disabled, Muslim ‘Others’ being rounded up, tortured, lynched, and sent to concentration camps in Crosshairs were the same images I was watching—and continue to watch—broadcast live from Gaza as our current reality has us six months into the ongoing Israeli genocide against Palestinians.  

After finishing the book, I thought I had missed the role of social media in this depiction of our dystopian reality. Since social media has had such an impact on the way we communicate and get our news in the last decade, I expected the book to latch onto this pivotal tool. Apparently, I still cling to the hope that a people-driven media platform could help prevent a fascist regime from carrying out genocide, but when I reread pieces where white Canadians begin to architect the Renovation I realized the representation of social media was spot on. Hernandez’s characters film themselves while the floodwaters literally drown their families. As a Black father pleaded for people to let his family into a dry home, “the video went viral. People did share the video, not to answer his plea for help but as a warning of things to come.” The racist systems of power were laid bare through social media, but the apathy was stronger. And here, in March 2024 I watch videos of the US-backed Israeli occupation’s atrocities in Gaza, I watch activists disrupt politicians and arms dealers, I watch academics, lawyers, and journalists debunk Israeli and US propaganda, and I watch as nothing changes.

This book is a call to arms. As the Resistance grows, the active narrative of the novel pulls together the main characters, rescuing them from the claws of the Renovation and transporting them to safe zones where they are given the choice to train for violent resistance. It might seem weird that a nonviolent organization like CPT might promote this book for this reason, but I think it’s incredibly important—especially as an organization that stands on the principle of nonviolence—to discuss the merits of an uprising, in the context of the broader violent systems it is fighting against. As Judith Butler said a couple of weeks ago in reference to the October 7 attack on Israel, “This was an uprising that came from a state of subjugation and against a violent state apparatus. You can be for or against armed resistance. You can be for or against Hamas. But let us at least call it armed resistance. And then we can have a debate about whether we think it’s right or whether they did the right thing.” As practitioners of nonviolence, we encourage you to engage with the systems of oppression that uphold certain types of violence and condemn others, which validates one narrative over another. All violence is not equal.

And lastly, this is a book for allies. Hernandez sets the stage of an oppressive fascist regime and then invites white people to find our place in it. Through a moving relationship between a white gay activist and his mother who’s questioning the Resistance, Hernandez weaves concepts of white guilt, intersectionality, performative solidarity, and authentic centring of oppressed voices in a way that feels genuine: these are the tough conversations that you could—and should—be having around the dinner table over Thanksgiving. Accompanying the conversations of allyship is an opportunity to take action, a powerful ritual that invites a bodily movement with daily reminders that allyship is an ongoing practice: 

When I do not act, I am complicit!

When I know wrong is happening, I act!

When the oppressed tell me I am wrong, I open my heart and change!

When change is led by the oppressed, I move aside and uplift!

Author Catherine Hernandez doesn’t only write about practical ways to work toward justice, but I have also watched her live into these spaces of allyship over the last six months, publicly supporting protestors who disrupted the 2023 Canadian Giller Prize ceremony to call for a ceasefire in Palestine. She has also been active on social media in advocating for a ceasefire, and regularly taking to the streets in support of a Free Palestine.  

In the opening epigraph, Hernandez leaves you with the ultimate challenge. “To the people of privilege: You will survive your discomfort while reading this book. But many like me, who sit dangerously at various intersections of identity, will not survive long enough for you to complete the last page. What will you do?”

Like me, this book might take you a while to get through. But it is incredibly important that you do.

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