Civil Rights and Equality: 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers' by Katherine Boo

Hosted by Oklahoma Humanities and Oklahoma City University
Katherine Boo
Pulitzer Prize Board member Katherine Boo (MacArthur Foundation)

The current moment in our culture requires that we look hard at our ideals and history and the extent to which we have — and have not — ensured the enactment and protection of civil rights within our society.

On November 1, Amrita Sen, Ph.D. will present on Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.

Boo’s book tells the true story of a family who lives in the slums of Mumbai, India, taking the discussion of civil rights into an international context. The family’s home stands in sight of the city’s luxury hotels, and the income inequality gaps ebb and flow along with the global economy ... who would think that the 2008 U.S. mortgage crisis that sent our economy into a tailspin would affect the income opportunities for trash recyclers living in impromptu slum housing across the globe? Based on ethnographic research and extensive interviews with residents of Mumbai’s “squat” neighborhoods, Boo’s descriptions of the people and settings are compelling, full of pathos and honesty about the ugliness of struggling for survival as well as the small glimmers of happiness available to anyone with the right outlook. The community comes to life through her rich storytelling, particularly the central plot element of the Husain family’s embroilment in a crime they did not commit. Its unfolding raises questions about justice, corruption, opportunity, economic progress and gentrification, and discrimination based on religion, caste, and gender. As Boo writes about her research process and the reasons for writing the book, “To me, becoming attached to a country involves pressing uncomfortable questions about justice and opportunity for its least powerful citizens. The better one knows those people, the greater the compulsion to press.” Reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers teaches us much about another culture, but also forces us to reflect on relative privilege and raises questions about parallel issues in our culture: to what extent are societies connected and indebted to one another in an increasingly shrinking world?

More in this series:

Sept. 13, 7 p.m.

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Presenter: Tracy Floreani, Ph.D.

Sept. 27, 7 p.m.

Native Guard by Natasha Tretheway

Presenter: Harbour Winn, Ph.D.

Oct. 11, 7 p.m.

The Arc of Justice by Kevin Boyle

Presenter: Lloyd Musselman, Ph.D.

Oct. 25, 7 p.m.

A Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich

Presenter: Karen Youmans, Ph.D.