Mary Engelbreit, In the USA (2014)
How do we, two white parents, raise a white toddler in America in 2014? In Washington, D.C.? It isn't easy to talk about race and I'm not sure that I know how. Each individual - every single one - is equal and entitled to the same things, but we aren't all offered the same opportunities. (Have you read the recent and thorough Atlantic article, "The Case for Reparations" by Ta-Nehisi Coates?) There's some hope in literature - both writing and reading it - as a means to access experiences, truths and possibilities.
I remember reading Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye in high school and, while not having blue eyes, feeling embarrassed for my privilege. I'm not sure we were using the word "privilege" then as we do now, but I remember the feeling. I read the book at least twice and when I learned in class that Morrison's given name was "Chloe" ("Toni" was a nickname), I felt it was a sign I could share insight through the written word. I remember telling a white classmate this and she said, "Really? But she's black." I wish I had responded to all the "but" implied; I should have and I haven't forgotten my silence.
As I read about Ferguson I am at a loss. What can I possibly do? Children are dead because of race. We live in a country where this happens.
I can teach my son to be open, welcoming, and understand both his privilege and other peoples' experiences. I can purchase books by writers of color for him (of which there could be many, many more published) and expose him to a variety of cultural experiences right here in our city and throughout our nation, as well as the world. That's not enough, of course, to change our country's path, but it is a start. (And our MFA and publishing worlds aren't perfect for people of color, as Junot Diaz writes in The New Yorker.)
As adults, I encourage you to read the below poems and pieces on race. I look forward to sharing them with our son as he matures. Could we progress so that they become historic relics? Markers of a time past? I remember learning about the 60's Newark, New Jersey, race protests from my parents, who lived nearby at the time. Hopefully the next generations, unlike ours, will learn from history.
Poems for Ferguson: Vanessa Huang and Aya de Leon
Danez Smith's not an elegy for Mike Brown
On Being Seen: An Interview with Claudia Rankine from Ferguson and Langston Hughes' Let America be America Again
Dear Ferguson – A DC Community Poem
Danez Smith's "Dinosaurs in the Hood" (written before Ferguson)
This is just a start. What else should we read?