Enslaved

After my last blog post, I’ve expanded what I believe is important to put into the world about racism.

Can our white society fully acknowledge the chilling travesty and lasting impact of slavery?  If ancestors were treated as beasts of burden, the experience for both sides never goes away. The great great great grandchildren of the enslaved feel that betrayal in their marrow. White people flinch at the sight of that great great great grandchild, knowing in their marrow that their ancestors benefited from slave labor and the concept of white supremacy.

Both know this in the instant. It is the dark skinned group that will later find the humor in the encounter. That is the genius of the culture. It is the white group that will lynch, burn, and break spines in police vans to confirm something about themselves by the blacks’ terror of them.

Why is media required before we believe dark skinned people’s stories? Without television, Bull Connor’s hoses, billy clubs, and attack dogs, unleashed against peaceful civil rights demonstrators, would not have been exposed and thus believed. Without smartphone video apps, we could not witness white police shooting black suspects in the back or kicking their heads into unconsciousness. Credibility of the dark skinned person’s victimization requires visual evidence that is shoved in the public’s face.

Countless essays and poems and novels have been written about this. W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Soul of Black Folks,” Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time,” and most recently, Claudia Rankine’s “CITIZEN: An American Lyric.” This searing and compassionate book of prose poems and art is the only thing I have read that conveys to a naïve white person what living as a black person is like. Will it change the way white people think? I do not have hope. Will it change the way a few white people think? Probably, but is that enough?

The Museum of Modern Art in New York is exhibiting Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series. Lawrence researched and painted these 60 works of art in Harlem from 1940-1941. They detail the exodus of blacks from the South to the North. They are together for the first time in a very long time. “Two impressions stand out. One is the terrifying obstinacy of racial injustice on the eve of the Second World War. The other is the moral grit that was needed to overcome it.” Peter Schjeldahl, art critic for the New Yorker magazine.

To celebrate this achievement, ten world renowned black poets were invited to write poems about Lawrence’s work and the experiences that inspired this collection. On May 1, 2015 they gathered at the museum to read their poems. The video of this remarkable event is available on the internet, documenting that Lawrence’s effort was not to make art history, but to change the world.

This caused me to circle back to “CITIZEN: An American Lyric” with its unannounced sledgehammer art dropped like bombs amongst Rankine’s poetry. The combination of poetry and art creates fierce beauty and wisdom.

Would I be as sensitive to all of this if I had not walked through the world for sixteen years beside my black husband? Absolutely not. I am a fifth generation Texan. I grew up in segregated Sweetwater, Texas, and remember with shame the last time I said n*ggertown. I was a sophomore in college before I fully understood the racism in a word that was commonplace. My husband had to teach me about Emmitt Till’s murder and point out how insulting the black characters in Gone with the Wind were drawn by the author and Hollywood. Racism is complicated and simple.

To understand the micro-aggressions Ms. Rankine reveals in “CITIZEN: An American Lyric” requires either personal experience or careful and empathetic reading.

How can we generate understanding and empathy in the hearts and minds of the white people of the United States of America? The press is full of speculation about what Barack and Michelle Obama will do, after they leave the White House, to improve our race relations.

Baldwin said it isn’t the politicians or the priests, it is the poets who create the space to invite understanding. Yes, it is the poets, artists, playwrights, essayists, dancers, filmmakers.

These visionaries must continue to tell the truth by any means necessary, even if that means being enslaved by the media to deliver the message.

Advertisements
Will we ever learn?

Will we ever learn?

Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen: An American Lyric” is deeply searing and compassionate, and the only thing I have ever read that conveys to a naïve white person what living as a black person is like. Will it change the way white people think? I do not have hope. James Baldwin lost hope. Now I know why.

“Citizen” will weigh on you as it should. I wish I could main vein it to all white people everywhere. I’m no longer naïve because for sixteen years I moved through the world beside my black husband, and her dense searing truth presses on me like an anvil. There are also whiffs of humor of course. That is the genius of the culture. She’s from Jamaica and an academic and still the experience is the same as my late husband’s.

This is not a time for an e-book. She insisted on a heaviness to the book when you hold it, and Graywolf Press delivered.

I saw Ms. Rankine on CSpan2 at the Los Angeles Book Fair in an excellent interview: http://www.c-span.org/video/?325092-2/claudia-rankine-citizen-american-lyric which occurred on April 19, hours before Freddie Gray died in police custody in Baltimore.

I implore you to watch this video and to hold and read her prose poetry. You see, I lied. I can’t give up hope.

stuff

stuff

For six years I’ve been living in my mother’s house. I’m 67. My mother is 96. Technically the house is now mine. Mother gifted it to me when I left my life in New York City to move to Fort Worth, Texas to look after her. It never feels like mine.

Mother lives in an excellent independent living facility. She pays her bills with her still beautiful signature and checks her bank balance on-line, but she needs help. The ways I am called to help range from grocery shopping to navigating the best anesthesiologist for a hip replacement at 91. This year her energy and focus have waned and I am needed for more common sense solutions to every day concerns. We are fortunate that our worries are minimal when others around us are into assisted living, at-home nursing or hospice care.

She raised me with a practical hand. My daily survival needs were met, but a hug or laugh were in short supply. Stuff took high priority. Antiques, spotless white kid gloves, good posture in church were important to her and so they were important to me. Through the years I associated the prized teapot collection and sterling silver flatware with maternal care. If I took good care of them, I felt worthy and surely loved.

I’ve avoided clearing out many items she had squirreled away in the numerous closets. Some hold childhood memories. Some are the result of her efficient bargain shopping. I should clarify that I haven’t been here exactly six years. April 1 will be the official anniversary. As I approach this mystifying yet significant milestone, I am determined to claim this house. To do so I must exorcise my false hope in stuff.

The satin robe she wore when she brought my baby brother home from the hospital will not bring love. Calling her each morning to measure her mood and her health will.

Civilization

Civilization

Reading James Baldwin is simultaneously a window into what America was and what America is.

Earlier this month, David Remnick in the New Yorker magazine called Baldwin the American Orwell and quoted a passage from his 1960 essay “Fifth Avenue, Uptown: A Letter from Harlem.” The passage is a manifesto to acknowledge “police incompetence, injustice, or brutality…. It is hard, on the other hand, to blame the policeman…. He, too, believes in good intentions and is astounded and offended when they are not taken for the deed…. — and yet he is facing, daily and nightly, people who would gladly see him dead, and he knows it.”

Baldwin wrote this 55 years ago. Everything and nothing has changed. A black man in the White House is an astonishing accomplishment of hope and healing, yet on the ground, day in and day out, the struggle in the streets remains the same.

When terrorists attacked Paris, I was reading “James Baldwin The Last Interview and Other Conversations.” Near the end of his last interview in 1987, only weeks before his death, Baldwin said, “The whole American optic in terms of reality is based on the necessity of keeping black people out of it. We are nonexistent. Except according to their terms, and their terms are unacceptable…. And all this, because they want to be white. And why do they want to be white? Because it’s the only way to justify the slaughter of the Indians and enslaving the blacks — they’re trapped…. And the world is not white and America is not the symbol of civilization.”

A million people, including the leaders of every major country except America, marched in Paris to proclaim that terrorist will not win; fear will not win; courage, commitment and effort will win. Why weren’t our leaders there? What can America possibly expect to be if we aren’t being honest about our heritage? How can America claim to be a civilization when we were missing from one of the greatest civil actions in history?

A very personal problem

I am frustrated by the media coverage of domestic violence. In our culture, sensationalism and caricature replace discussion of the intimate human experience. Until we are honest about why people become abusers or victims, we will not be able to stop fixating on the “other.” When it comes to domestic violence, there is no “other.” One in four women are victims of domestic violence. That isn’t one in four women you or I don’t know. That is one in four women that you and I know, and perhaps that woman is you or me or your friend or your colleague.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It is also the awareness month for breast cancer. How much good do these awareness months do? Honestly, I have no idea, but as a woman who lived in domestic violence I feel obligated to write something. I do not wish to add to the myth that all women who are victims of domestic violence don’t leave because they don’t have the money. This automatically floods the reader’s mind, if they are financially stable, with images of someone other than them. Many women trapped in an abusive relationship are not financially stable, but it is dangerous to paint this fact as the norm. Such an assumption blinds us to understanding how pervasive domestic violence is in our society.

Why do abusive men become abusive? Why do abused women become abused? We need to be honest about what we can do to change that, and not indulge ourselves with the NFL or the latest easy target. All that does is shine the spotlight on a remote event which should be revealed for its outrageousness but not as the solution to a very personal problem.

My Writing Process Blog Tour

I was honored to be invited by Catherine McCall, international best-selling author of the memoir, “Never Tell,” to participate in the #mywritingprocess blog tour. The following four questions have been asked of everyone who has and will participate in this community of writers.

1) What am I working on?

I am currently marketing my book, “Reckless: A Memoir,” that was published May 1, 2014. For more information, visit http://www.recklessamemoir.net. The writing took 17 years and the shock and delight of it being in the world is mixed with the rigor of finding ways to market it with fresh ideas. I do have my next book planned, but when I sat down to start my first draft, I learned my brain isn’t refreshed from the “Reckless” journey. My papers, outline, various notes are splayed across my desk where I will put my bum in the chair and write. For now random thoughts flit around and feed the future.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My first craft was acting, and that informs my writing from a specific sensory and psychological point of view. Often, this point of view is not appropriate in the final drafts, but it helps me develop place, internal monologues and hidden agendas people cover up with contrary behavior.

3) Why do I write what I do?

If I picked one behavior that I believe is the most destructive, I would pick keeping secrets. I’ve lived the nightmare of keeping secrets and the peace of releasing them into the world. My first book, “Reckless,” is a deeply personal one that pulled the covers off a lifetime of secrets. My next book is a more public one. My goal is to shed light on people who are often condemned based on a lack of awareness. These are not secrets, per se, but they are truths often hidden from public view. Real life is plenty fascinating for me so non-fiction is my genre.

4) How does my writing process work?

I prefer to jot ideas, quotes, cut out articles that inspire or inform my subject. Then I create a draft of tumbled out words without judgement. In the past it took me decades to figure out what the story was so that I could shape and discard hundreds and hundreds of unnecessary pages. Now I aim to define the story much earlier. This is probably an exercise in futility, but hope springs eternal!

Who is up next?

I am honored to present the following writers who will be posting next week.

Judy Alter

Judy Alter’s first published book was the 1978 y/a title, After Pa Was Shot. For almost twenty years she wrote primarily about women of the American West, for both y/a readers and adults. Several of those books are now available online—Mattie, Libby, Sundance, Butch and Me, Cherokee Rose, along with many written for school libraries on everything from surgery and vaccines to passenger ships and state histories.

In 2006 Judy turned her attention to cozy mysteries set in Texas, and she now has six (almost seven) published in the Kelly O’Connell and Blue Plate Café series. Coming in July is Deception in Strange Places, a Kelly O’Connell Mystery.

Judy is the single parent of four and grandmother of seven. She lives in Fort Worth, TX with her Bordoodle, Sophie.

http://www.judyalter.comhttp://www.judys-stew.blogspot.comhttp://potluckwith judy.blogspot.com

 

Laura Schoefer

Laura Schofer is a journalist who has worked for two Long Island community newspapers for the last 18 years. She has won journalism awards from the National Newspaper Association and the Press Club of Long Island. She has also written several plays including “Silent History” that was produced at The Spiegel Theatre at Hofstra University as part of a conference on Long Island Women and “Cleaning Lessons,” a play produced in conjunction with the “Women and Work Performance Project” by NEAR Theatre in Huntington as well as at Pen & Brush, a women’s arts organization in New York, New York. “The Fingerprint of Destiny” is her first novel published by Hope’s Point Press.

Hope’s Point Press was founded in 2012 by Laura Schofer. This electronic publisher press is dedicated to publishing creative works that take place on Long Island. “The Fingerprint of Destiny” is the first novel to be published by this press.

To review this book, interview its author or learn more about Hope’s Point Press go to www.hopespointpress.com.