My essay “So Many Names” is out this week in an anthology from Coming to the Table: Slavery’s Descendants: Shared Legacies of Race and Reconciliation, edited by Dionne Ford and Jill Strauss (Rutgers University Press).
It’s an honor to see my words among so many thoughtful pieces, but there’s no honor in being a descendant of enslavers—generations upon generations of them. Instead, there’s a lot of shame, and that’s what I reflect on in this essay.
It’s hard to write about shame. Along the way, I revised my essay repeatedly, and moreso than with fiction, the writing process felt like therapy. At times, I trembled. I cried. But I put truth into print, and that felt good. I revealed facts that I imagine some of my relatives would prefer I’d left buried. Some might say to let bygones be bygones and embrace what’s good and noble in our Southern heritage. But one of the goals at Coming to the Table is “researching, acknowledging, and sharing… [history] with openness and honesty,” and with that, I’m all in.
I yearn for America to evolve from the hypocrisy of our founding fathers into our stated ideal that all are created equal. My roots are Southern, but I grew up in the North and have heard Northerners deflect criticism, essentially ducking their complicity in our racist past (and present) by blaming the South. Many would have us believe that in order to heal from the wounds of slavery, we must continue to shame Southerners and those who live in small towns in the midwest, like Ferguson, MO. But that sort of spin lets off the hook everyone in every city with a low-income housing project and every suburb where African Americans have at one time been red-lined out. It’s a denial of the systemic nature of the problem of racism in America.
In this anthology, while many essays have a Southern flair, others reflect on slavery’s reach from New England to Oregon. This is an important book, and I hope it will inspire more folks to work toward racial reconciliation and the transformation of our society.
If you’ll be in central Virginia this coming weekend, please join me, Bill Sizemore and Karen Stewart-Ross for a conversation about Slavery’s Descendants:
Saturday, May 18, 2019
6:30 – 7:45 PM
Chop Suey Books
2913 West Cary Street
Richmond, VA 23221