Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Racism Beat


This piece on Medium.com tells what it's like to write about race again and again. And why folks get tired.

Here are excerpts:

Maybe it was the realization that writing anything would be to listlessly participate in the carousel ride: an inciting incident, 1,000 angry thinkpieces, 1,000 tweeted links, and back to where we started, until next time. Perhaps it was a feeling that writing anything would finally be too redundant to bear, a pursuit of too many sad and obvious words to heap onto so many other nearly identical words written down before, by me, by thousands of others....

Imagine an editor asking a writer to passionately articulate why a drunk driver hitting and killing a boy on a bicycle is wrong and sad. That would never happen, because a drunk driver killing a boy on a bike is a self-evident tragedy. Asking a writer to exert lots of effort to explain why would be a disservice to the dead, as if his right to life were ever in question, as if our moral obligation to not snuff out our fellow citizens via recklessness were something in need of an eloquent plea.

When another unarmed black teenager is gunned down, there is something that hurts about having to put fingers to keyboard in an attempt to illuminate why another black life taken is a catastrophe, even if that murdered person had a criminal record or a history of smoking marijuana, even if that murdered person wasn’t a millionaire or college student. There is something that hurts when thinking about the possibility of being “accidentally” shot on some darkened corner, leaving a writer who never met you the task of asking the world to acknowledge your value posthumously, as it didn’t during your life. 


The photo, sent by my daughter, shows spray-painted activism at Cornell. My girl says people at her school are galvanized. "Everybody's talking about Black Lives Matter," she texted me. "Differing views of course, but lots of dialogue." Yes, I know that all lives matter, but right now among cops, that doesn't seem to be in question for anyone but Black folks. So I am glad of all the protests across the country. I'm glad a diverse cross-section of people seem to be birthing a movement. I'm glad not everybody's tired.



11 comments:

  1. Me, too. And I read a very interesting letter by an African American teacher at a prestigious prep school in Connecticut. I think it's Choate, to tell you the truth. Anyway, a friend's kids go there, and this letter explained why she teaches to such privileged kids. It was fantastic. I can't figure out how to link it, but maybe I can share it on Facebook, and you can see it there. I imagine your daughter will like it, too.

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  2. Here it is: http://damemagazine.com/2014/11/30/elegy-michael-brown

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    1. Elizabeth, the layers of this whole thing are so very deep. We have to operate on all fronts at the same time, and consciously. Thank you for this fantastic piece, for helping peel back the layers.

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  3. Did you see what my friend John wrote yesterday?
    http://www.bigringcircus.com/2014/12/lessons/
    Not quite the same, by any means, but a very beautiful and quiet piece.

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    1. Mary, thank you for sharing that powerful post. Those last lines say everything. I need to follow Juancho. And I have.

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  4. That was a fantastic article. I can relate to the fatigue that comes with a daily grind of bad news -- anyone who's worked in a newsroom can relate to that -- but I can only imagine the special frustration that goes with writing about hatred that seems so entrenched and hits in such a personal way. (I suppose if I'd covered gay issues over a long period of time, maybe that would be similar -- but perhaps fortunately that was never my beat.)

    I continue to believe, though, that race relations ARE getting better. We're asking ourselves all these questions, talking about race and policing, and that's how society grows. I'll take the organized protests we've experienced in response to Michael Brown over the chaos that followed Rodney King any day. (We NEED protest now.) Change comes slowly and god knows there are still an astonishing number of racist dinosaurs out there -- and too many of them wearing a badge -- but there's also a lot of recognition that law enforcement is unjust to a huge segment of American citizens.

    And also, as you and I agree: Too many guns!

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    1. Steve, I agree with you that race relations are getting better. I try to keep in mind that if that were not the case these incidents of police violence against young Black men would cause not a stir in the national consciousness. The road is long, though...

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  5. And now, having read the article Elizabeth posted, I have to wonder -- am I being falsely, blindly optimistic? The author of that piece warns against white people "feeling good about themselves," noting that change only comes when we feel uncomfortable. Hmmmm...

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    1. Steve, I love that you ask the question.

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  6. Thank you for this. I'm struggling as I read so many hateful posts and comments. That article answered a lot about why I'd been feeling so defeated. People coming out of the wood work using language that let's you know what they think about brown or black skin. I knew there was bias, but such hatred shakes me to me core...and makes me wonder how I can usher my beautiful girls and husband through such hate. I'm grateful for your perspective...helps me to know you're out there. Thank you. And thank you to your daughter and her young friends for not feeling defeated/tired!

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    1. Laura, it is so good to hear your voice here. I've missed your blog. Sometimes it is enough for us to exist in a certain space of love, and to array that against the hate. Sometimes that is the most powerful thing we can do. It is good to know you are out there, too, you and your beautiful family. xo

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