A Response To An Angry Black Woman
I am so sorry you have to live this way, that you have spent your life living this way. I cannot imagine what it is truly like but I know that it is horrific for anyone to live under dire threat day in and day out. Your anger is more than understandable. Please know that in my own, small way I am here, that I will sit in the dark of the early morning hours and think about you, about your child and your husband. Please know that I do everything I can to eradicate racism from my life. Sometimes they are such small things. When I used to head hair departments on Broadway, one of my crew would enevitably ask me if there were any flesh colored wig caps. When I would respond by asking what color flesh they would look at me like I’d lost my mind. I would stand and wait until it began to sink in. One tiny alteration in the way a person thinks. There are more dramatic examples and people who are no longer in my life because their need to hold on to justifications was stronger than their need to change but the small battles have been the ones I can win on a daily basis.
Your writing is so strong. I’m going to read more. Have you read “Ruby” by Cynthia Bond? I could go on and on about the writing itself, talk about the exquisite use of metaphor (a skill most writers today know little of), about the astonishing shock of a paragraph like the first one in Chapter 2:
“The piney woods were full of sound. Trees cracking and falling to their death: the knell of axes echoing into the green: the mewl of baby hawks waiting for Mama’s catch. Bull frogs and barn owls. The calling of crows and the purring of doves. The screams of a Black man. The slowing of a heart. All captured, hushed and held under the colossal fur of pine and oak, magnolia, hickory and sweet gum. Needles and capillary branches interlaced to make an enormous net, so that whatever rose, never broke through to sky, The woods held stories too, and emotions and objects: a tear of sleeve, bits of hair, long-buried bones, lost buttons. But mostly, the piney woods hoarded sound.”
I wanted to write it out in full to feel the rhythm of writing such an exquisite paragraph as this one. Lulled into the wood with trees cracking, mewling baby hawks, bull frogs, and purring doves makes the assault of “The screaming of a Black man,” all the more brutal for its place in this description, and then more savage still because it is as common here as the calling of crows or sweet gum. This writing is as good as it gets. And then, lost buttons in the same list as a tear of a torn sleeve, bits of hair and long-buried bones. Devastating and heart wrenching.
After reading this paragraph I felt that I would never write another sentence. By the time I finished the whole of this book, I wanted to rush to the computer and try to be a better writer. I wanted to break through the colossal fur to sky.
It’s a brutal book and there were times when the feral viciousness was so relentless that I thought I couldn’t go on. But I know that this is the legacy of Blacks in America and it must be learned in a visceral way, the way that Bond’s book, unlike any other I’ve read (and, yes, I love Toni Morrison), drives it into us. In the hands of a lesser writer, it would have failed. We needed a witness who could hold us all the way through, could allow us to live in it without being completely shattered by it.
We Whites can say that we, too, have had horror stories but it is not the same as it is for you. When we make it through our trials, if we make it through our trials (and sometimes they are huge), we can assume a life that does not teach our children to feel self-loathing and constant fear because of the color of their skin, because of a history that is fiercely sadistic and as alive as it has ever been. White children (most anyway) don’t grow up on the verge of danger at every turn. I pray that in your child’s lifetime a balance will be found. I pray that your child’s life will be safe, and happy, and full of promise.
I am holding you and your family in my thoughts,