Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Post Race Space

Last summer I told myself that I would write a book about my grandfather's life - sort of a comprehensive biography.  So, everyday I would go out to work on my book but I would blog instead.  

After reading this blog, people started to say that I should scratch the idea of the Booker Wright bio (thank goodness) and write about my journey to find him.  Think: Little black girl growing up post civil rights feeling different first because everyone around her was white and second because her parents were somehow broken because they've been saddled with the horrors and the humiliation of growing up black in the South - my journey to find my grandfather forced me to face and to reconcile my feelings about race and family.

Now, the vision for the book is set, and writing it is like a dream.  It's not easy, it is definitely a discipline, but I feel like I am my truest self when I'm writing it.  I'm the Yvette that I was always meant to be.

Where am I going with this?  The book and the blog have traded spaces in my creative subconscious.  I know now how to develop chapters and how to plot narrative, but I can't seem to figure out how to get going with this blog again.

A million years ago (okay six) I had an idea to create a blog space where people could come to get an education about race in America.  In 2007 I was just beginning to realize how little I knew about and how little I understood the real ramifications of black American history.  I'd spent years trying to understand why so many black males were in jail, why literacy rates among blacks were so much lower than their white peers, and what the heck was going on with the black American family.  In 2007 I decided to test Shakespeare's theory that what's past is prologue.  I decided to look into my own family's past to see if some what of what was ailing us could be traced back to treatment and circumstances common to all blacks before the tide started to turn.  

What did I find?  First I found Frederick Douglass' honest and simply account of slavery.  Of the many true stories he recounts of slaves what shocked me the most was the one about a woman whose owner hired a slave from another plantation to rape her everyday.  He wanted more slaves, but didn't want to spend the money.  He figured her offspring could work his land.

Raped every day.  Treated like cattle.  How did she care for that child that was born to her of violence?  For how many generations would that seed of disgust and shame travel down the family line?  I can't draw hard lines from mistreatment of slaves, and the humiliation that all black men faced in the last century, but I'm certain that some great amount of that pain stayed with them when they entered their homes each evening and attempted to parent their children.

Anyway, a few months after reading Douglass' work I was having some heated conversations with a few of my white friends – actually we’re not friends anymore, that’s how heated these talks became.  My friends seemed to believe that we were post race.  They believed that the only thing keeping the race debate alive was people like me.  I thought that maybe if they could understand the horror, humiliation, and fear that permeated black American life, at least in the South, just a few short decades ago then maybe they'd have less heat and less anger about politics today.  I wasn't hoping to change their views, just to lessen their volatility.  

During this time I also looked back into my own family's history I found a civil rights hero lurking in the deep, wet, green story of my own family.  

These stories are relevant.  Even if we hate it, even if we want to run from it, the past informs our today.  

All this to say, that I am tired of always using this blog to write about my feelings.  The film is premiering at Tribeca which is huge and I am working on a book, even more huge…but I still have a dream of something bigger than the book and bigger than the movie.  I have a dream (no, I’m not trying to make a funny MLK reference) I really do have a dream about a space on the Internet where people can come and talk about race and class, but where they can also get brief snippets of history that may inform and challenge the way they think.

I'm not trying to change the world on my own, but I do hope that by understanding the past we can have compassion and kindness about the issues of the present.

To that end, I will continue using this space to blog about my research, but I’d also like to start talking about current events.  Please bear with me.  I’ve known for a few months that I need to do this, but I keep getting tripped up.  I can’t seem to get going with the new vision for this blog.  Partly, because I don’t want to look like an idiot. 

I spent about 15 hours on a page and a half of my book a few weeks ago.  I never have and may never have that kind of time to devote to this blog.  So, sometimes I don’t write here at all because I don’t have the time to draw out the best of myself as a writer in this space.

But blogs are about content building.  They’re about writing, writing, and writing some more.  So, I am going to keep writing about the film, my research, and my grandfather.  But I will also start writing more posts that reflect current events.  If they completely stink or if I end up saying the wrong thing, like the blogger who said everyone hated her because she was beautiful, just remember that underneath it all, I’m just a little black girl with a dream.  

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