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Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Once White in America

Raising Black Sons in a White Country 
 by Jane Lazarre, TomDispatch.com, 15/2/2015
Whiteness is a social and political category created to embed in the mind a false description of the body, its purpose to confirm privilege and superiority, to deny solidarity. It is not me. I reject it. It is not you.

Jane Lazarre is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, including memoir, journalism and essay. She is the author of the novels: Some Place Quite Unknown (Hamilton Stone Editions), Some Kind of Innocence (Dial Press), The Powers of Charlotte (Crossing Press, Painted Leaf Press), Worlds Beyond My Control (Dutton, Painted Leaf Press).

For Adam and Khary

It was 1969 and 1973, both times in early fall, when I first saw your small bodies, rose and tan, and fell in love for the second and third time with a black body, as it is named, for my first love was for your father. Always a word lover, I loved his words, trustworthy, often not expansive, sometimes even sparse, but always reliable and clear. How I -- a first-generation Russian-Jewish girl -- loved clarity! Reliable words -- true words, measured words, filled with fascinating new life stories, drawing me down and in. The second and third times I fell in love with black bodies I became a black body, not Black, but black in a way I’d say without shame and some humor, for mine is dark tan called white. But I am the carrier, I am the body who carried them, released on a river of blood.
Am I black in a cop’s hands when he is pushing, pressing hard for dope or a gun or a rope or a knife or a fist?  I am not a black body, yet my body is somehow, somewhere, theirs -- Trayvon’s, Emmett’s, thousands more at the end of a rope’s tight murderous swing, black as a night stick splits my head, shatters my chest, black as a boy not yet a man walking toward a man with a gun, suddenly shot dead, a just-become man walking down the stairs toward a gun, black as a tall man, a big man, looking strong but pleading for his breath, killed by choking arms and bodies piled on top of his head.
Walking the sidewalks of my city in the morning, I dodge white dads’ bikes daily, their little toddlers strapped into a back seat, and I don’t mind as riding in the street or wide, traffic-filled avenues does seem a dangerous way to get to nursery school. Later in the morning, when I am still walking, the white fathers or mothers bike by me again, now with the back seats empty. I look around for police, wondering if there will be a ticketing for riding on the sidewalk, since no child’s safety is at stake.  No cops in sight. My great-nephew, young and black and not fully grown, was stopped and handcuffed by police a month ago for riding his bike on the sidewalk,  his often glazed eyes glazing more deeply now.
On Writing/Being White
Once I wrote a story -- a black man named Samuel, enslaved in Maryland’s western shore, 1863 -- I drew him in words.  His death was terrible and vicious, his body dismembered by the man who called him property, the crime -- impregnating the man’s daughter --  a woman I called Louisa. I named her in part for a strong friend I wanted to conjure by my side as I wrote, but she was based on a real-life young woman who lived in actual history, a woman named Jane, the same name as my own.
Samuel’s death was so brutal I had trouble reading my own words out loud, or even to myself at times, though I had written them: a slow dismemberment, piece by precious human piece, this nearly unspeakable violence also taken from reality, a horrific reality I had read about in books on torture during slavery, an image that refused to leave my mind, especially in the dark or when I closed my eyes.
I watched him die with Louisa, and with Ruth, Samuel’s mother, a character based in part on my mother-in-law, granddaughter of an enslaved American, and my close friend for more than 40 years now, and I tried not to hide my eyes from the brutal human dismemberment -- the belief that they could erase his memory, his life as a man, yet thinking in this way to preserve the memory of his crime: a black man, enslaved, fathering the child of a young white woman who loved him. I called the novel Inheritance. I wanted to claim the terrible history of my country, to honor the necessity of collective memory. I want to assert the power and capacity, the necessity, for human empathy and the deeper-than-skin-deep identification that comes with love.

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