My essay about trekking in Corsica (or sort of about that) won runner-up in Flyway‘s 2014 Notes from the Field nonfiction contest. Thank you Flyway and judge Christine Eisenberg. It was initially suggested (I’ll just keep to the passive voice here) that I “tone down” the essay’s racial content. I thought of that request today as I was discussing with students Hilton Als’ New Yorker profile of Richard Pryor. One landed on this Als insight into Pryor: “Being black has taught him how to allow white people their innocence. For black people, being around white people is sometimes like taking care of babies you don’t like, babies who throw up on you again and again, but whom you cannot punish, because they’re babies. Eventually, you direct that anger at yourself—it has nowhere else to go.” I could say this about a lot of mindlessly noxious people I’ve known, that they’re so impossible and damaging and unconscious, you end up hating you, not the bumbling fool. (That said, I’ve never really allowed the kind of innocence Als refers to; I’m not that good at suffering fools gladly.) I know what Als means with regard to all the impositions of race leading to a kind of anger with oneself. However the essay reads, I’m glad I didn’t “tone down” its racial contexts (more contexts than content). For those who aren’t white and for those who are (even when the latter don’t realize it), race is, very unfortunately, always a context.
Tags: Essays, New York, Reading
Come hear my friends Dustin Beall Smith and Kim Dana Kupperman, along with Best American Essays series editor Robert Atwan and me @ Cornelia Street Cafe in NYC — 6:00 pm on Wednesday, April 2.
Please indulge me here. If you haven’t taken a couple of minutes to watch this, I think you should.
I’m sure you’ve been following the convention, but it’s worth pausing to consider again exactly what happened around 6:45 pm eastern time Wednesday evening. Our parents could hardly have imagined it forty years ago. And our grandparents! Forget it!
In a big nutshell: It’s one day after the eighty-eighth anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which guarantees women the right to vote. Illinois yields to New York during the Democratic party’s nomination roll call. The first serious woman presidential candidate (all due respect to Shirley Chisholm, Pat Schroeder, and Margaret Chase Smith), U.S. Senator from New York Hillary Rodham Clinton, moves to halt the roll call and suspend the rules so that the party’s delegates can nominate Barack Hussein Obama by acclamation. Another awe-inspiring woman, the first woman speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, asks the convention hall to second Clinton’s motion. Far more than two thirds of the floor are in favor: the vote to nominate Obama by acclamation is, in fact, unanimous.
Barack Hussein Obama, the first black man to enter his name in nomination at a major party convention since Frederick Douglass did so 120 years ago, wins the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency a day before the forty-fifth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s delivery of his “I Have a Dream” speech.
The anniversaries in and of themselves are, in one way, just well-placed bookmarks holding up a few moments on the convention hall floor. But they also provide a lens through which to view those incredible few moments. I mean, this is what we’re talking about when we’re talking about a country that can transform itself and inch closer and closer, in governance and representation and vision (if not yet in practice—we will get there), to its core founding value: all people are created equal. What a day… I have to say, it’s a fantastic one to be American.
Reporters and commentators are saying that many on the convention floor were just in tears. You’ll see quite a lot of emotion in the footage if you watch it from start to finish. I wish I’d been there.
NB: And if you haven’t listened to Joe Biden’s and Bill Clinton’s speeches (and John Kerry’s as well), do! All superb. And watch tonight for Representative John Lewis’ speech, not to mention Obama’s. Lewis is the last man alive of the ten who spoke at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963.