When Bryce Said, “I Hate White People!” (pt 2)

Dawn’s Perspective

It was the final evening of a lovely week at Grammie’s in Charlotte. Grammie makes sure we have the best time possible in her city, a city that has southern hospitality to spare. With such an inviting combination, how can anyone on vacation lose?

Grammie thought it’d be nice if we went to Maggiano’s on our last day before returning to our routines in Chicago. Somewhere between the discovery of the best artichoke dip I had ever had and bites of fried zucchini, my then 4 year old says aloud, “I hate white people.”

Mind you, our server was white as were the dinner guests at the table next to us, and the majority of the dining area. As I recall, my toddler son did not yell the shocking declaration. There was no anger in his voice. Instead, he made his announcement with a sad resolve and perhaps resignation.

The three adults at the table, myself, his father, and his grandmother were stunned to absolute silence. “Where did this come from,” I panicked internally. “Have I given him a reason to hate white people?” “Has he heard hate come from my mouth or seen it from any of my private actions?” I was literally stupefied.

My first external reaction was to vehemently dismiss his words and to protest, to chastise him for making such an “obscene” statement. “No, Bryce!,” my face grimacing. “No! You do not hate white people!” Bryce, a wonderfully expressive child, who heard my reprimand and took in the perplexed faces around him, immediately began to cry.

I then knew that chastising him was the wrong response and frankly not at all consistent with the way I had been parenting him. I’ve always encouraged Bryce to speak the truth, that there is nothing at all wrong with telling the truth about how he feels. Sometimes, I even go so far as to reward Bryce for telling the truth. This time around, because I was embarrassed by Bryce’s truth-telling, I reacted in fear.

The wisest of the bunch, our dear Grammie, naturally found the words to ask the reasonable question, “Why, Bryce? Why do you hate white people?” Bryce responded matter-of-factly, “Because they killed Martin Luther King.”  It was interesting to me that he said that “they,” white people, killed Martin Luther King. He saw fit to tie the actions of one white man to all white people…a generalization that causes me to question the role we all play in our complicity when an unjust crime occurs. Grammie’s non-verbal response was priceless. She nodded and said nothing at all.

What was great about the moment was that there was nothing to be said after Bryce’s answer.  Bryce had been learning in school about the work of Martin Luther King and about the Civil Rights Movement. He goes to a private school that is intentional about African American history as well as Christian principles. So Bryce learned that an innocent man, who used his life to challenge, oppose, and resist hateful violence, oppression, injustice, and savagery was murdered because of his race, because of his life’s work. Why wouldn’t that cause anyone to feel deeply and to have strong feelings against the perpetrator and his actions?

As Michael said in his post, we knew that Bryce didn’t hate white people. He calls his godparents, Aunt and Uncle, not because we make him, but because it’s a natural term for him…they are family. When Mommy and Daddy cannot pick him up from school, and Uncle David or Auntie Maggie shows up, he runs to them and greets them with a hug. He eats food from their hands, he shares a bed with their son, he is comforted and consoled by their hugs, and their words of love. The same is true for Aunt Sheila and Uncle Alan, and “Bonsai” and Ms. Wendy…Bryce has love for people in our lives who are white.

But the truth of that moment and what made me so proud of Bryce for saying what he said, is the courage it took for him to say how he felt. He knew it could be problematic for him to say aloud how he was feeling, hence his preface, “I don’t want God to be mad at me.” But he pressed through the baseless facade, something that I couldn’t do as an adult of 36 years, and he spoke his truth, which gave us an opportunity to clarify his feelings.

He doesn’t hate white people, he hates whatever it is that causes people to treat other people so dishonorably. I marveled at how he could make such an honest connection at his young age. It reminded me that one of the gifts of a child is to remind us what the truth really is, to face it, and to uncomfortably sit with it…something that frankly seems like the honest thing to do concerning race in this country.

When Bryce Said, “I Hate White People!”

Last December we were at dinner with Grammie, which means we were in Charlotte. Memory says that we were dishing fried zucchini and salad, dipping bread in olive oil. The boy went into a spiral that surprised us all, even him.

He started crying about how he knew that God didn’t love him and how God was going to be mad at him because he hated white people. “I hate white people,” cried my then four-year old son. I think we were all stumped for a moment, stumped the way people who talk to other people all the time get stumped when something even you didn’t see coming comes.

It was only so appropriate that two pastors were at the table. Given my boy’s confession, we were immediately put on the interior spot. “I don’t want God to mad,” he said in quick fashion as if to convince us so that we’d prevent trouble from coming. Perhaps it was God’s goodness that we were there together to hear Bryce’s comment and plea and intention.

Grammie took up the theological matter about God loving Bryce. She did it the way a pro would. Grammie’s been communicating about God’s love for more decades than I’ve been alive. She was a star even with a kid. Her explanation was simple and brief.

I looked at Dawn as if to ask without asking whether it was her or me who would pick up the rest. One of us had to deal with the part about hating white people. Now, me and Dawn have a way of teaching the boy. We share. We move toward our strengths. I was telling her the other day that she’s a better teacher to him than I am. She has more patience. But oddly, I’m better at explaining things. Where her explanations get complex for her attempts to tell him the whole story, mine are swift and simple.

She tends to answer the question, “How can I explain it all to Bryce?” I tend to think about how I can explain it to satisfy his specific question. So my wheels were turning as he made his claims about hatred. I called him over to me, telling him he wasn’t in trouble, something Dawn had already been saying. He doesn’t get in trouble for telling the truth. Of course, this is immediately tricky during moments where his truth-telling leads to a consequence for unacceptable behavior.

At dinner, he wasn’t in trouble at all. So he came to me. I told him that he didn’t hate white people. “You love Auntie Maggie and Uncle David, don’t you?” He seemed relieved but a little confused. He said he did. “Aren’t they white?” He knew they were, and he knew that they loved him too. And this simple love, this relationship between my son and a white couple became the bridge between Bryce and whatever moral crisis he was experiencing.

I wanted to keep it simple. I wanted to relieve him of his internal pain. It had to be enough to say that he didn’t, in fact, hate white people. He even loved a few of them. We were able to name several white people he loved. And it was an easy move from there to say something less major about how hating white people and saying that he hated them was okay. “Telling the truth about your feelings is good,” we said. And of course, my son doesn’t know any white people that he hates. That was great. He’s not experienced the mass of faceless sphere called “white people.” He knows particular people with specific stories and clear ties to him. And thankfully, he enjoys those relationships.

I thought about that dinner conversation last Sunday when Alan came up to me after church with tears in his eyes. Alan’s one of those people Bryce loves. He and Sheila were among the cloud of witnesses we named to remind Bryce of white people he cared for. And when me and Alan chatted about how hard it must be to talk through junk like Charleston, we were both glad that Bryce hadn’t seen the news or asked a question. Depending on his question, I may not have had a good answer, an easy or quick answer about his feelings.

“Illustrating the Possible”

“This is the thing about the art market. If a young kid isn’t invited to know what they have inside them, and how to unlock that, then what they have is just devices. And you pretty quickly run out of devices. I had a life before all this. The lights were off for me, I was out in the shed, but that was a really useful way into this world…I am invested in illustrating the possible.”

Theaster Gates talking about art and autobiography and “what happens when you stay”. Please read the rest here.

“Grief” by Stephen Dobyns

Trying to remember you

is like carrying water

in my hands a long distance

across sand. Somewhere

people are waiting.

They have drunk nothing for days.


Your name was the food I lived on;

now my mouth is full of dirt and ash.

To say your name was to be surrounded

by feathers and silk; now, reaching out,

I touch glass and barbed wire.

Your name was the thread connecting my life;

now I am fragments on a tailor’s floor.


I was dancing when I

learned of your death; may

my feet be severed from my body.


(Posted in remembrance of our father, Mardell Culley, Sr. on the second anniversary of his death)

Being in Love

Thurman said in one of books, probably The Inward Journey, that we don’t love in general.  We love in particular.  We love the particular.

We love people and things.  We love God.  We love hobbies, ourselves.  But we love specifically, adding discrimination to an otherwise grand concept.  Love is not a concept and it can’t be done without a grounding in reality.

When we first meet the loves in our lives, we try to shape them by our dreams.  All those things we thought living in love would be like crash into the unsuspecting object of our devotion.  They meet the way our families meet our first girlfriends, with eyes raised, everyone in the room wondering how long this phase will last.

Soon those two parties–the new love and the context of life–get together and ruffle each other until one begins to change.  They effect each other.  Sometimes we change our lives in submission because the object of love is better.  Sometimes we decide that the object of our affections and desires is unworthy, and we move on.  But when loved ones, their particular selves, stay with us, everyone changes.  Because we cannot be in love, live in love, stay in love (and here I don’t mean anything about the fanciful notions of being “in love” as much as I mean the straight and unstraight line that is a life of disciplined, passionate, contemplative, committed love)–we cannot stay in that love without changing.

I am no specialist on love, though I used to say that I fell in love everyone few months when I was growing up.  I started writing poetry in high school because I was in love.  And I did so many other things I’ll kept between me and special people in my life.  I am no specialist, no expert.  But I am trying to become a specialist.

I am trying to train myself in what loving well is.  I want to love well, love strongly, love hard.  And the implicit commitment it takes to want that, to desire that, and to pursue that desire is often unsettling.  I come to see what the desire means, along with what walking toward that desire requires.  It takes detailed effort to love.  Oh, we’d like to believe we love everybody.  I think the Savior said words that make us think we can do that.  But loving everybody is a perplexing impossibility.

Loving the people we know is hard enough and something we fail at so regularly that the Savior would blush at our insistent foolishness to misquote and misunderstand him when it came to behavior.  Thurman turned it correctly: Loving well is loving in particular.

It is loving the cracked skin and blemishes that won’t go away even though they may be covered.  Loving strongly is knowing the sheer vulnerability of your loved one and using that weakness to give them hope and inspiration and faith in humanity because you don’t do with your power what others untrained in such artistry would do.  Loving hard is the consistent exercise of staying with all those promises by the grace and help of every gift God gives.

I think doing this love, being in this love is one of life’s most consistent challenges.  And mostly because nothing really trains us toward it.  We are instructed and taught to dispense with things.  And that won’t help us become lovers.  Recycling and reusing are better words for love because love uses the raw materials of our particular lives, our real special selves, and does not force us to become something else, all while that love motivates (moves and pushes) us to become better.  Living that way is hard and usually so rewarding.

Things That Strengthen Us, pt 2 of 2

From Christian Wiman’s meditation, in My Bright Abyss (pg. 161):

Life tears us apart, but through those wounds, if we have tended them, love may enter us.  It may be the love of someone you have lost.  It may be the love of your own spirit for the self that at time you think you hate.  However it comes through, in all these—of all these and yet more than, so much more—there burns the abiding love of God.  But if you find that you cannot believe in God, then do not worry yourself with it.  No one can say what names or forms God might take, nor gauge the intensity of unbelief we may need to wake up our souls.  My love is still true, my children, still with you, still straining through your ambitions and your disappointments, your frenzies and forgetfulness, through all the glints and gulfs of implacable matter—to reach you, to help you, to heal you.

Things That Strengthen Us, pt 1 of 2

From Christman Wiman’s meditation, in My Bright Abyss, undoubtedly written first to the close loves of his life (pg. 161):

My loves, I will be with you, even if I am not with you.  Every day I feel a little more the impress of eternity, learn a little more “the discipline of suffering which leads to peace of the spirit,” as T. S. Eliot said, writing of the seventeenth-century poet and priest George Herbert (read him!), who died when he was thirty-nine and had only recently found true happiness with his new wife and new commitment to God.  My loves, I love you with all the volatility and expansiveness of spirit that you have taught me to feel, and I feel your futures opening out from you, and in those futures I know my own.  I will be with you.  I will comfort you in your despair and I will share in your joy.  They need not be only grief, only pain, these black holes in our lives.  If we can learn to live not merely with them but by means of them, if we can let them be part of the works of sacred art that we in fact are, then these apparent weaknesses can be the very things that strengthen us.

A Prompt: Write In And Through Love

I was re-reading Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak for a class with students of theology the other evening.  But I thought of writers when I read it.  He was discussing how to honor and live one’s nature.  Parker had discussed how we damage our own integrity when trying to be generous, even if we have nothing to give, all in the name of love.

When I give something I do not possess, I give a false and dangerous gift, a gift that looks like love but is, in reality, loveless–a gift given more from my need to prove myself than from the other’s need to be cared for.  That kind of giving is not only loveless but faithless, based on the arrogant and mistaken notion that God has no way of channeling love  to the other except through me.  Yes, we are created in and for community, to be there, in love, for one another.  But community cuts both ways: when we reach the limits of our own capacity to love, community means trusting that someone else will be available to the person in need.

More Proof I Love You

Ask your mother.  I never got sick.  I don’t believe in sick.  It doesn’t look good on me.

It leaves little skin chips across my reddened nose, has me running around with a roll of toilet paper because I refuse to buy tissues when I have all those rolls in the cabinet.

Sickness takes my appetite and my ability to smell and taste food.  Which makes me very mad since I bought those fruits and vegetables that require care and digestion by someone who eats them with great appreciation.

Sickness makes the world a lot slower since things match the motion of my fuzzy, clogged head.  It makes me beg my pardon in conversations, makes me too tired to sleep, and less helpful which I personally detest.  It makes my voice sound funny, and in my work voice is important.

So, mark the record, Bryce.  Let it show that every single time that you have been sick thus far—with the exception of that battle with acid reflux when you first moved in—that I have changed my routine.  Now, I do get sick and usually half way into your body’s fight.  It’s the new clock by which I set my immunity’s collapse.  May the phrase, “You make me sick,” be evidence, more proof, that I love you.

Interview with Julie Kibler, Author of Calling Me Home

JulieKibler_Headshot2013Your novel started from an autobiographical nudge.  Tell us about that.  About seven years ago, my dad told me that my white grandmother fell in love with a black man when she was a young woman, but their families tore them apart. It opened a window on my grandmother’s personality, who had never seemed very happy to me. She died almost 20 years ago, so I wasn’t able to ask her the details, but it seemed to me she must have lost her one true love, and thus, her life was never quite the way she imagined it could have been. Because I didn’t know the particulars of what happened, Calling Me Home is almost all fiction, but there are bits and pieces of real life in the settings and characters.

You navigated troubling waters because you dealt with two people—one white, one black—falling in love when they weren’t supposed to fall in love.  What helped your write these characters respectfully?  What aided you to tell their stories with love, if I can put it that way?  I suppose different things. One, there is a lot of literature out there that deals with forbidden love. We learn from those who came before us and have done such a marvelous job of portraying these characters. Two, I contemplated the experiences of those I’ve known who have fallen in love with the “wrong people.” Nobody intentionally sets out to do that—it simply happens. I’ve had conversations with people who had to give up love, or were conflicted by it. I’m a lifelong people watcher, so I think I tend to absorb many of the thoughts and emotions of folks in different situations, whether I experienced them myself or not. Third, true love is a universal experience, with feelings we all recognize and understand if we are healthy beings. You could say that I wrote of Robert and Isabelle’s love as love tends to happen—first, with a hyper focus on the two experiencing it, without regard to anyone or anything else around them, and later, with an increasingly wider focus on the world and how it would accept them. I allowed them to fall in love normally, so to speak, as young, idealist, impulsive teenagers do, and then I pulled the camera back enough to where the consequences came into view. Finally, though I don’t know the specific details of my grandmother’s real story, I feel a bit as though she were present, whispering to me of how it felt to love someone she wasn’t allowed to be with, and eventually to lose him.

I kept thinking about mothers and daughters as I read, partly because the story holds the experiences of a few mother-daughter pairs.  Do you like the idea of families, including mothers and daughters, interacting with your novel in any way?  I’ve been really pleased to hear from women who have read Calling Me Home and told me they are eager to pass the novel on to their mother, daughter, sister, and so on. Some have contacted me again, telling me how much that person enjoyed and sometimes related to the story. I do think it’s an especially appropriate story for making us think about our mother-daughter relationships—not just biological ones, but the surrogate ones we may have developed with other important people in our lives. I think it would be interesting to meet with a mother-daughter book club, or to participate in a group where mothers and teens read the book and discuss the issues. It was very interesting and gratifying to me to see my own mother’s and daughter’s reactions to reading the book and to hear their various thoughts.

You move from history to present day to tell a story about, among other things, friendship.  What were some of the hindrances to Miss Isabelle and Dorrie’s friendship?  In American culture, we’re most often steered toward making close friends with our peers. We tend to view those of other generations with a certain amount of mistrust, even—will they understand our feelings, will they approve or disapprove of our beliefs, actions, passions, when they are from such a different era? When we take that a step further, and encounter someone not only of a different generation, but different background or race, it adds yet another layer to what might already be considered an unlikely relationship. I think friendships like Dorrie and Isabelle’s would almost always to evolve from a situation like theirs—they originally had a business relationship, but the longevity and specifics allowed it to gradually deepen and become important to each of them.

But I also believe their friendship was almost inevitable—not necessarily because of their working relationship, but because of who each of them was and what each of them needed. Dorrie had a big heart and great compassion for her clients—not just a detached sense of seeing each one as “another head of hair.” Isabelle was very independent for an elderly woman, but also lonely. Dorrie was the person who reached out to her and didn’t forget her when she could no longer drive or get out and about. Dorrie was also patient with Isabelle—giving her lots of leeway with her crankiness, not taking it personally, and allowing her to share her deepest secrets on her own timing—until she began to sense it was critical for Isabelle to get that story out in the open. And Dorrie felt nurtured by Isabelle—something she didn’t always feel from her own mother. Not least of all, they made each other laugh, which is rarely a bad place to start a friendship.

Given the way your personal story related to Calling Me Home, in ways do you think readers can do what you’ve done?  Your work is courageous in turning toward a relative’s background for inspiration, for truth, for pieces of their story.  I struggled with my “right” to tell this story for several years before I began writing it, and throughout the process. I finally determined I was the only one who could tell this particular story exactly the way it came to me. For instance, someone else could write a story about an interracial relationship, from the perspective they chose or that chose them, and it would be completely different based on what they bring to the table—their own beliefs, passions, and life experiences.

Book Club Reading CMHOne of my hopes while writing the story was that readers would think about and talk about the issues within, how they made them feel, and maybe even the memories the reading stirred up. I’ve included a photo here from a book club meeting I recently attended at an assisted living center. Though I’m in the forefront of the photo, the focus is on an attendee as she described a personal experience she had in 1945, coincidentally in the same area of Kentucky where Calling Me Home is set. It was a particularly meaningful moment along this journey for me as she is about the same age as Isabelle in my story, and she could speak firsthand about the era. The discussion in general with these folks was pretty fascinating, and this photo represents one of the really good days since publication happened.

To aspiring writers, I’d say this: If you have an idea for a story—even if it feels frightening—tell it. Write it the best you can.

What did you find difficult in your writing process (whatever you call your process for the novel)?  What was life-giving?  Strangely, once I gave myself permission to write this story, it flowed fairly quickly and easily. I always tell people, however, that when I’m drafting, I love revising, and when I’m revising, I love drafting. It’s all work. It’s work I love, but it’s work. Some days the work is easy. Other days, it’s a struggle to get five or ten words on the page. But honestly, for me, the most difficult part of writing is deciding to jump in. Deciding I’ve found the right story, the right conflicts, characters, voices, and so on. Once I get past that, I’m mostly off and running. The part where I’m off and running is life-giving. The part before that can take some time, and it feels like dying a slow and painful death. So I guess you could say that for me, writing is like living life in reverse. I’m not sure who you were writing to in this blog post you put up on April 5, but it was speaking right to me.

The journey your characters took was full of surprises, particularly for Dorrie.  Thinking about your journey to bring this novel about, did you have any notable surprises you can share?  I decided to set my story in a small town like the ones where my dad and grandmother grew up in northeast Kentucky. I knew the area somewhat, having been born in Kentucky and lived there off and on as a child, and visiting my grandparents in the Cincinnati and Newport metro area as a kid, then brief visits back as an adult. But it was mostly a child’s eye view, and a fairly modern one. I asked my dad to tell me about the town where he grew up, when he was growing up. I was shocked when he told me there was a sign at the edge of town warning black people to be gone by sundown. I had never heard of such a thing, and my story took on a whole new dimension as a result. It felt important to explore the history of these “sundown towns,” and I was blown away to learn all the different ways people of color were excluded from communities in every part of the United States, from north to south, east to west. It made setting Calling Me Home in the Cincinnati/Newport area seem even more appropriate. Though not the physical center of America, in a way, it’s a gateway between east and west, north and south, and what happened and still happens there is kind of the heartbeat of our country.

CMH_Cover_smallTalk about the work you’re doing now…for the novel.  I imagine you are still working on the book, even if it looks like marketing and not revising.  This is a great question, and it’s so interesting how you’ve worded it–“looks like marketing and not revising.” I was JUST thinking about this today as I attempted to do some work on my new story. I said to myself, “Wow, I almost feel like I’m still writing Calling Me Home. How on earth can I move on to something new?”

Between considering questions asked by book clubs, in interviews, through email, and in discussions of any kind, and simply still thinking about the story every single day, I do feel like I’m still working on it, sometimes harder than ever. It is challenging to find a new frame of mind, where I can devote mental energy to creating a new world, new characters, new relationships, while still focusing so much on the already published novel. I would really like to be immersed in something new, and am taking baby steps. In the meantime, I continue to promote Calling Me Home through social media, bookstore events and book clubs, and any other means that seems logical or beneficial, and that work won’t end any time soon.

I also felt it was important to try to give back in some way and have been looking for ways to involve myself, at the very least financially, with organizations that address some of the issues in my book—racism, single parenting issues, at-risk teens. I decided to partner with a local nonprofit called Santa Fe Youth Services in Fort Worth, Texas. I already knew of them and had a lot of confidence in the work they do. They help families with at-risk teenagers—kids who have been in trouble with the law, or struggle with drugs or alcohol, or have behavioral issues, for instance. The organization works hands-on with these families, helping them with parenting skills and conflict resolution and attempting to connect them with the additional resources they need to help their children succeed.

How can readers stay in touch with you and support your work?  I am most active on my Facebook author page (www.facebook.com/juliekiblerauthor), where I post updates about book news, links to interviews and articles, and interact with readers. I really enjoy getting emails and messages from readers, telling me their reaction to Calling Me Home, and try to answer each one, though I get a little behind on occasion. I have a website (www.juliekibler.com) where readers can learn about bookstore events, conferences I’m attending, etc. I’m a lightweight Twitterer: @juliekibler

Readers can support me most by telling friends and family (or hey, even strangers!) about Calling Me Home if they enjoyed it. Word-of-mouth is the single most important tool in building audience for a book. Readers, if you recently read a book and loved it, I challenge you to tell five or ten people about it—friends, family, coworkers, whether in person, through your Facebook page or on Twitter, through suggesting your book club read it—anywhere you talk to people. Why keep it a secret? Books are for sharing, and the author will appreciate your assistance in spreading the word!

Because Love Itself Is Beautiful

It is rather obvious why I chose this title.  I believe it is what life is much of the time.  When I think of great lovers in history, there was always some pain involved.  Maybe not for everyone, but most likely.

I, also, think Love is beautiful and feels good.  I think what some people do with it, who do not know what they are doing, is what makes it painful…sometimes.

So maybe it is not Love that hurts, maybe it’s the person we love.  It can even be a lack of Love.  Because Love itself is beautiful.

I named this book what I think about Life; Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime.

From J. California Cooper’s note in Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime.