Listening

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I’ve been doing some heavy-duty reading lately: I finished Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me a few days ago and am almost done with A Good Time for the Truth, an anthology with the subtitle Race in Minnesota, although after reading both books I’m not sure I really understand the word “race” anymore, or even if I should. 

I would recommend each. I would advise that neither is an easy read, particularly for a white person, a white American, a white Minnesotan.

These are disturbing narratives, delineating–elucidating, in ways from which the reader cannot turn his or her attention–disturbing history. Coates’s list of the burdens of black men and women through American history (from his article on reparations in the Atlantic) includes

250 years of slavery
90 years of Jim Crow
6 years of separate but equal
35 years of racist housing policy

and perhaps not understandably, he has no patience for dreamers, those people (usually like me, who call ourselves white) who still place some hope and stock in the American dream.

The 20 or so essays anthologized in A Good Time for the Truth are in some ways even more disturbing, as they are closer to home. I know, personally, several of the anthology contributors. According to editor Sun Yung Shin

It is time for this book. It is always a good time for the truth, for those who have often been spoken for and about to speak for themselves.

In July of 2015 (clearly I’ve come late to this discussion) David Brooks, in an apparently very controversial response to Coates’s Between the World and Me, wrote an essay, “Listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates While White.” The essay has been lambasted near and far but there’s something in it at the end I’ve been trying, very hard, to emulate. Brooks writes

Maybe the right white response is just silence for a change. In any case, you’ve filled my ears unforgettably.

I’m not 100% certain that the first part is true; I am 200% certain that the second part is. In any case I’m going to try silence, at least for a while. Try to think about what I’ve read before I react to it, or maybe defer reaction indefinitely and just listen.

I’m listening.

 

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