It’s coming up on five years since I gamed my way into the “Undoing Racism” training offered by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (I traded on my affiliation with a community development organization to get in for free). Around the same time, I was also becoming involved with an anti-oppression group within Occupy Boston, where I met some people whose friendship and guidance I still treasure today. In the time that followed, I passed through what you might call the first fire of a white person’s race consciousness. I recorded perhaps too much of that experience on this blog, about which a journalist on Twitter once said to me, not unkindly, “I think what you are doing on your blog is called Working Shit Out.”
I wanted to write something brief to address where my thoughts are today and why I now blog about race much less frequently. (I blog less frequently overall, but that’s more about the evolution of my views on self-promotion since I published The One-Way Rain, as well as my dissatisfaction with my nonfiction voice.) Well, if I had to condense my journey since 2011 into a few sentences, I would say that my mind has moved towards complexity and away from the laborious naming, typologizing, explication, and apology that characterize many of my earlier blog posts. I hope I am moving away from dogma and towards greater understanding. Thank you to everyone who has given me love and hours of conversation and shown me what living consciously and self-questioningly can look like. And thanks for reading.
“White people are like, oh, I had a good day. They think that’s it, they had a good day. They don’t understand they had a prescribed good day. You had a prescribed good day and we had a prescribed bad day. We wake up and we know we’re going to have a bad day. We know somebody’s going to yell at us, somebody’s going to call us a name or look at us funny.”
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In Austin in 1995, when I was twenty-four, I knew a vivacious young woman with black hair and black eyes, L., who was the object of many a crush. You either were crushed on her or resented her, or both (I was of the first party). It was also at this time that I carried on a strange flirtation with a curly-headed blond guy named M. who was in a relationship with another girl. Hard as it is to believe now, I was ignorant of the politics of relationships and didn’t know things were going to get complicated. Read more
No, I like small children. I really do. I’m always staring at them out in public, grooving on how these teacup humans are transparently emotional, so openly interested in the world. Then one day I was walking down the street and I saw a kid in a stroller, couldn’t have been more than ten months old. And I could see her little pudgy hands up in front of her face, and I thought, “How funny, she looks like she’s holding a phone.” Until I got closer and saw she really was holding a phone. I went around the corner and into a café, where I met the husband of a friend, who was breakfasting with their two-and-a-half-year-old son. At a certain point he gave the boy his phone to keep him quiet. “He’s better at using it than I am,” he observed to me. The next weekend I was on a bus behind a mother in her thirties and her lively toddler son. I was impressed by how present she was with him, how intelligently they conversed. But she started talking with another adult, and when he kept interrupting she dialed up a game on her phone and gave it to him. Read more
After fulminating against the failure of “The Leftovers” to represent 38.6% of the population of Texas, I watched the second half of Season 2 last night. I remain impressed by the ease with which this show passes both the Shukla and Bechdel Tests. There are many scenes in which people of color, especially the Murphy family, talk to each other without mentioning their race (the former), and a lengthy, wonderful two-hander between Nora and Erika in which they are definitely not talking about a man (the latter). But Damon Lindelof and his crack crew of writers still need to step up their game. Read more
I have just one question for the second season of “The Leftovers” (spoilers!): Read more
FYI, I have been thinking about race and fiction-writing a lot a lot.1 And I started what was going to be a very authoritative blog entry on two books by white authors with a lens on white supremacy, A Free State by Tom Piazza and Charlie Smith’s brutal masterpiece Ginny Gall. I spent a couple-three hours on that one. But I couldn’t seem to circle in on what I really wanted to say, and I realized for the umpteenth time that I’m not a nonfiction writer and decided to go watch “House of Cards.” Read more
Ever been smacked in the head by your own whiteness, assuming you are white?
I’m in the supermarket waiting to buy a pound of salmon when I realize someone is trying to get my attention. “Ma’am? Ma’am?” she says to me. She is a brown-skinned woman with her hair in a ponytail. “I was just admiring your”—here I assume she’s going to say “coat,” as I am wearing a truly awesome garnet-colored vintage bouclé coat—“backpack.”
The thing about my backpack is until recently it said “Black Lives Matter,” discreetly, in Sharpied letters on gray canvas. Last week I got a paint pen and operated on the letters until they were much more noticeable. Aha! I think. “Oh, thanks!” I say. Read more
Last weekend I had the strange and wonderful experience of reading The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman. I had put off starting it because the whole thing is written in an invented post-apocalyptic dialect and sometimes you just don’t feel like doing all that work. Well, it was work, in the best possible sense—immersive, rewarding and exhilarating, the best kind of reading there is. In fact, you can get a feel for Ice Cream’s language and grammar within a few pages; what’s really dangerous about the book is the way it gets a feel for you. My truest life is reading and writing fiction. I read a new novel every few days, but this one reached me in a place where books don’t usually go. I think that’s in part because the half-alien language is a Trojan horse that carries the book’s beauty and despair straight into your heart. Read more
I normally confine my quotation mania to my Tumblr. But this one required a bit more formatting than Tumblr allows.
The literature is not clear on whether R2m–1 may be replaced by W2m–1 but presumably the answer is well-known to experts.
—Howard Jacobowitz, “Convex Integration and the h-Principle” (Research Institute of Mathematics, Seoul)
I particularly like the absence of a comma. It somehow transmits my father’s happy combination of meticulousness and insouciance.