Jesmyn Ward on Returning Home

I fantasize about living in that fabled America. And then I remember that one cannot escape an infinite room. Moving across a few state lines is not going to help me escape this place that tells me I am less. The racist, misogynistic sentiment I encounter every day in Mississippi is the same belief that put in place the economic and social caste systems that allowed America to become America. It is the bedrock beneath the soil. Racial violence and subjugation happen on the streets of St. Louis, on the sidewalks of New York City and in the BART stations of Oakland. I breathe. I remain. I remember…

Read the full article at Time.

Politics of Being Woke

by Sander Smeeks

Read Professor Lawrence Ware’s post here at the Root.

For me, being woke means awakening to the pervasive, intersectional insidiousness of white supremacy. This awakening is not limited to people of color. Black folks are not the only ones who needed a wake-up call.

Souls that inhabit white bodies can be allies and accomplices in the fight against oppression, in the same way that black folks can be agents and accomplices in promoting, promulgating and protecting white supremacy. As my grandmother once said, conjuring Zora Neale Hurston, “All your skin folk ain’t your kinfolk.” Meaning that you can inhabit a black body and be an agent of white supremacy. Just ask Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, or any of the thousands of black Americans who are more concerned with white feelings than with black lives and bodies. Black folks don’t have the market cornered on being “woke,” and there is no agreement about how best to actualize the potentiality of the black community.

White supremacy frames black intellectualism as monolithic. Put another way, to expect black folks to think the same is an assumption filtered through a white conceptual lens. To quote Kanye West’s “New Slaves,” white supremacy says, “All you blacks want all the same things.” But this is not true. Black people may all awaken to the reality of institutional, covert and overt racism and still disagree about what is the best response to those ills.

Ministry in the Shadow of Violence

Me and my friend David Swanson talked together as part of an interview with our denomination’s communications department. I had originally written a piece and submitted it, and that piece turned into an occasion to talk with a friend and brother about people we deeply care for and issues we’re drawn to address.

Read the post here at Covenant Companion.

Photo Thanks to Esther Kang

Photo Thanks to Esther Kang

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.

“…manipulate what race is…”

I want to thank Dr. Robin Henderson-Espinoza for suggesting this on Facebook, and it sums up a lot of good thought on a small but oddly popular story these days when the main kernel of the story, told from a different (i.e., black) perspective, would, sadly and truthfully, hardly be noticed.

I cannot hide my skin or make myself invisible when I am protesting police terror or creating theater art for other Black women with skin like mine. I cannot manipulate what race is for my own pleasure. Ms. Dolezal is a white woman, who made choices, who used and is still using every bit of her white privilege to maintain the power and elite status she has accrued from her deception. This use of white privilege in her case is no different from transracial adoptive parents who adopt bi-racial children because they want these children to identify with the “white side” of themselves. These parents completely ignore that how they want race to function is not actually how race operates out in the world. They are completely assured of their own power to bend and change race and meanings of race at their own white whim. This manipulation is what Ms. Dolezal has done. This manipulation of race is no different from what white supremacists did in the early days of our country, moving the lines of race back and forth when it pleased them, using the language of the law, even at the cost of Black, Brown, Asian and Native lives.

I want to be clear that this is complicated.

Read this post in full here at Lost Daughters.

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 (, 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 ( 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!

Disposition of Steadiness and Faithfulness

The stubbornness of our race problem could lead us to despair, but taking a long view in light of where we have come from instead reminds us that we must have great patience as we pursue fundamental change. This patience is not the twin of apathy, but the disposition of steadiness and faithfulness in the face of at times imperceptible transformation. Change has occurred and can occur again.

Dr. Vincent Bacote reminding us of important things and writing here about race, ethics, faith, and other matters.

Interview With Heidi Durrow & Book Giveaway

I’m pleased to give you an interview with Heidi Durrow, author of the New York Times Bestseller, The Girl Who Fell From The Sky.  Heidi shares stories with others in great ways, and she’s given thoughtful answers about her first published novel.

Also, I didn’t ask about this in the interview here, but Heidi created in 2008 and continues to offer the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival.  In addition to this interview, you can learn about Heidi’s work at her website by clicking here.

MW: Give us an idea of who you are.  That’s broad, but you’re an author and who else?

HD:  I’m a writer, and podcaster and festival producer and avid bendy-straw user, and Moleskine junkie, and storyteller.

MW: I think, in part, this story is about a well-loved girl growing up through pain.  Would you comment on the ways Rachel was offered love by people in her life?  How were those people part of her growth or development or healing?

HD:  Rachel is very loved and so differently by all the people in her life.  There’s her aunt who loves Rachel as if she’s a reflection of her young self and wants to get it right to give Rachel every possibility. There’s Grandma Doris who loves Rachel hard; she’s super-strict and believes that her strict rules express her love.  And there’s of course her mother whose love is about keeping her safe.  For Nella, loving her daughter means keeping her safe from every danger there is.

MW: What do you think your story says about memory and remembering?  Certainly it is a story that must simply be read, but if it says something about how we remember, what might that be?

HD:  It is very much a novel about the need for remembering.  The story begins with Rachel denying her own memories of her life before the tragedy in which her family perishes.  Forgetting–at least in Grandma’s mind–is the best way to move forward.  And yet, Rachel discovers that her memory of her mother and siblings will not be denied.  Essentially, she learns that it is only by acknowledging the truth of her past that she is able to move forward.  The line between her past and future isn’t that stark.

MW:  Writers draw from life, their own and those of others.  To what extent did you draw from your life’s details, and what was it like emotionally to pull from your story to write Rachel’s?

HD:  The things that happen to the characters in the book didn’t happen to me or people I know, but the emotional touchstone is very much a part of my own experience and that of those I know.  It was extremely difficult for me to write the book — there is a lot of pain and grief in the story and it was what I was feeling as I wrote it.  I’m in a different place now in my life and the new book I’m finding also has a very different emotional feel.

MW:  Several of your characters enable Rachel to live in response to being abandoned or left by some of her family.  Which character would you be most likely to tell a problem to and why?

HD:  I would definitely confide in Brick.  He’s so absolutely loving and non-judgmental.  Here’s a character who has only known abandonment and abuse and yet, he’s always open to love.  That’s his default even though it could be a horrible risk.  I don’t know if he would know how to solve every problem folks share with him because he is so young, but you certainly wouldn’t feel alone in a dilemma with Brick on your side.

MW:  You use multiple viewpoints effectively in the novel.  They enrich the work and help me see the story from several angles. What aided you in writing the novel that way?  How did you organize yourself while writing?

HD:  I started the novel with just Rachel’s voice.  I soon realized that she was an unreliable narrator and I needed add other voices in.  The voices entered the story quite organically as I needed them.

MW:  Talk about Roger.  We get powerful glimpses of him.  Why do you think he made some of the choices he did?  Do you think he loved his family, his daughter?

HD:  Roger loved his family and his daughter, but he just didn’t make the right choices.  He is an alcoholic and made some very bad choices under the influence.  But then even once he’s sober (after the tragedy) he still decides that the best way to be a father is to be absent.  I think that’s a coward’s choice.  I think Roger could have learned to be a good father–he was learning to be a better man.  Unfortunately, many fathers make the choice to be absent (or present only monetarily) and we as a society should address this head-on.

MW:  How has your novel encouraged or provoked language about race?  Have you been able to carry on, or participate in, conversations from the story, if I can say it that way?

HD:  It’s been very exciting to talk to readers about the book and inevitably about race and culture and what it means to be American.  Having the story in their hand gives them a kind of permission to talk about these difficult issues and I think most people feel a great relief.  I’ve had some exciting conversations — no answers — but I think the first step is always trying to come up with new questions about the issues — then maybe we can have new thoughts.

MW:  What are you reading these days?

HD:  I’ve been doing a lot of non-fiction reading for the new book about the theory of sudden change, evolution, Victorian spiritualism and the Impressionists. You’d be surprised how much all of those subjects have something to do with each other.  It’s surprising me as I write.

MW:  Are you working on projects you can talk about?  How can readers keep connected to you?

HD:  I’m working on a new novel inspired by the life of a Victorian era mixed-race trapeze artist and strongwoman who was super-famous in her time but is unknown today.  (Degas did a portrait of her — one of his most famous.)  I love to hear from readers.  I will continue with more readings and speeches on the road in 2012.  My appearance schedule is on my website; if you join my mailing list you can get an update every 6 weeks.  And you can also find me on Facebook ( and Twitter (@heididurrow).

Now for the giveaway.  Leave a comment about why you’d like to get Ms. Durrow’s book.  I’ll choose a winner from the comments after midnight, CST, Wednesday.  Maybe you can give a gift in the form of The Girl Who Fell From The Sky.  Either way do get your hands on this book.