Friday, September 16, 2016

Navigating the Wide World of Race

I've spent much of my life thinking about the intersections of race, class, and gender, although I might not have said it that way until my college years, when I did social service work in inner-city D.C. for 2 summers, which neatly informed my Sociology classes.  This was inner-city D.C. when it had the highest murder rate in the nation.

During this past week, the subject of race has been at the forefront for me.  As usual, my thoughts percolate because of what I've been reading.

I have been intending to read Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me for almost a year now, since he made the NPR rounds to be interviewed and then won several awards.  I checked the book out from the public library a few months ago, but returned it when the due date came, and I hadn't started it.

It was due Tuesday, and I had renewed it as many times as I can.  I read part of it back in August and was impressed.  I decided it was time to finish it--after all, it's only 152 pages.  I powered through it Sunday morning.

What a wonderful book--although it left me unsettled, as I knew it would.  The writing itself is powerful, and it's powerful writing about an important topic, that old wound of racism that festers still--well, why use my inadequate language?  Let's use Coates' words:  "You have to make your peace with the chaos, but you cannot lie.  You cannot forget how much they took from us and how they transfigured our very bodies into sugar, tobacco, cotton, and gold" (p. 71).

That quote gives you the sense of what Coates explores, the way that our history is not really behind us, the way that history informs and shapes us, whether we want to admit it or not.

The book might have veered towards the depressing, and there is an overarching despair, but in many ways, it's just realistic in a steely way:  "This is not despair.  These are the preferences of the universe itself:  verbs over nouns, actions over states, struggle over hope" (p. 71).

At the very end of the book, he talks about the global warming, fueled by our love of vehicles, that may destroy us all:  "Something more fierce than Marcus Garvey is riding on the whirlwind.  Something more awful than all our African ancestors is rising with the seas.  The two phenomena are known to each other.  It was the cotton that passed through our chained hands that inaugurated this age.  It is the flight from us that sent them sprawling into the subdivided woods.  And the methods of transport through these new subdivisions, across the sprawl, is the automobile, the noose around the neck of the earth, and ultimately the Dreamers themselves" (p. 151).

After I read the book, I found my thoughts returning to the idea of oppressed bodies, the way that some of us have to move more carefully through the world.   I've felt that way as a woman, and I've felt relief as my little nephew has gotten older and bigger and better able to defend himself.

At one point in the book, Coates posits that those of us who know we must move with awareness in the world, we are the lucky ones.  After all, we're all moving through the same dangerous world.  Some of us have more protections--but any of us can have those protections ripped away, and often suddenly and unexpectedly.

Sunday afternoon, I picked up Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, even though I feel a bit weird about how it came to be published (I wrote about it here).  My parents gave it to me for my birthday, before knowing about all the controversy.  I loaned it to a friend who was reading it for her book club, and she really liked it, perhaps even better than To Kill a Mockingbird.

I, too, am liking this book better, although grown up Scout is reminding me of Nancy Drew--Nancy Drew with a sassier mouth.

I have books I read in childhood on the brain, clearly.  And then, yesterday, I came across this article, which says that the Disney adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time will be multi-racial--Meg Murry will be black.

I've written many times about this book, and in this post, I addressed the question of portraying Meg on film:  "Oh the important casting questions. I hope they don't make the Meg character all glammed up. She needs to be studious and Calvin needs to be athletic, and they can find each other regardless."

Has my fervent wish been answered?  Hard to say just yet.  I am open to this film, especially with Ava DuVernay directing--although I will admit that my first reaction was dismay at the thought of altering the text to be multi-racial.

And then I questioned myself--why did I view the characters as white?  Because I read this book in the 5th grade, and I viewed every character as white, unless otherwise specified.  But my childhood self would not have had the language or the analytical training to think about the implications of that sentence.

I need a neat way to close this post, which is getting rather lengthy.  But I don't have one.  Off I go into the wide world of South Florida where the intersections of race, class, and gender are muddled by issues of nationality.  But that's a post for another day.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

She's a New England character by a New England author. Her hair is difficult because it is fine and wispy and doesn't work well without the braids she had as a child. Of course she is white. Yet. I am so intrigued and excited by the idea that she might be bi-racial. I think, in 2016, it explains her outsider-ness, her feelings of awkwardness and inferiority, so well. And that isn't to say that the Meg we geeky white girls related to growing up isn't true, I just think it expands it. I am cautiously excited and optimistic.