Since Trump’s election, my social media feeds are full of people from traditionally oppressed groups (women, LGBTQ, people of color, religious minorities) posting about their anger at current events and people from traditionally privileged groups (white men, often Christian) shaming them for their anger. The policing of our emotions perpetuates a culture of silencing that allows racism and misogyny to thrive. I wrote an article for Bust Magazine about this; you can read it here.
A good friend asked feenomluke and I to do a video addressing the North Carolina HB1 law, which requires people to use the restroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate rather than the gender with which they present. During my research I was horrified to learn about all the discrimination and violence trans people face everyday. I wrote abut how to be a trans ally for The Rumpus; you can see the article here.
What do you do to combat this kind of ignorance?
For Colored Nerds has an excellent podcast episode called Dear White People on this topic. To paraphrase very roughly: start the conversation with whomever you’re around. Chances are you run in circles that include a myriad of humans, from the delightfully lit to the painfully ignorant. You are in a unique position to expand the thinking of the people around you who have not been motivated or privileged enough to learn a truer way.
Want to get lit but don’t know where to start? I compiled a list of resources that have expanded my own thinking on the subject of race in America.
- On Being a Black Male, Six Feet Four Inches Tall, in America in 2014 by W. Kamau Bell
- The Day After They Shoot by Dominique Matti
- The Fining of Black America by Dan Kopf
- Emmett Till and Tamir Rice, Sons of the Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
- Sarah Ogutu – “After the Storm” on Button Poetry (2:50 mins)
- Policing the Police: Frontline with Jelani Cobb (54:47 mins)
- Democracy Now interview with Marc Lamont Hill and Mychal Denzel Smith: Part 1 (58:59 mins) & Part 2 (58:59 mins)
- Fruitvale Station 2013 film (85 mins)
- Codeswitch Podcast (NPR) – 46 Stops: On The Driving Life And Death Of Philando Castile (29:41 mins)
- All Things Considered: BlackLives Matter Founders Describe ‘Paradigm Shift’ In The Movement (8:14 mins)
- Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond by Marc Lamont Hill
- Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education by Michal Denzel Smith
Cover photo: Pubic Lynching, August 30, 1930, Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Until I read this book, I did not know, had not bothered to imagine, what racism really feels like. It has, heretofore, been an abstraction to me, this thing that permeates the everyday life of people of color and doesn’t touch me at all. I had categorized white privilege in headlines like Not Getting Killed By Cops or Not Having To Worry That My Brother Will Be Shot For Wearing A Hoodie. I had never considered the daily, insidious ways that racism plays out: the comments, insinuations, the sheer invisibility. The realness of my privilege disoriented me.
Rankine invites us to join her experience by sharing it nakedly, without analysis, judgement, or blame. She writes in micro-fiction snippets, like you just dropped into her story for a minute or fifteen. There you are, in the drug store with her, in a diner, at her therapist’s house. Speaking about her experiences of racial micro-aggressions is very, very brave in part because they are often proffered by well-meaning individuals and are thus subject to minimization. But she takes that risk, entrusts her vulnerability to our gaze.
I found this way of writing richly accessible and deeply inspiring. I wondered what micro-aggressions I have graced and glossed over, normalized, buried in my bones. I wondered what it would feel like to put them on the page. Not the deconstruction of abusive behavior, not the labeling of each traumatic event – just the experience, raw and vulnerable. The words, the sensation in the chest.
This is poetry. Or micro-fiction. Or memoir. Or Rankine has started a new genre that is now my favorite genre. She packs a lot of gravity into 169 half-pages. Buy it, check it out at the library. Let her voice sink in, by which I mean accept her invitation, share in her experience of life. Let the visual art encircle your throat. Sit with all these things. Observe what is born in your heart.
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Cover image: David Hammonds, In the hood, 1993. Athletic sweatshirt with wire, 23 x 9″.