White Tears, Hari Kunzru (2017)
The book you open at the start of White Tears is not the same book you close. Through a series of subtle turns, Kunzru unravels the husk of a story only to twist those threads into a rope thick and stained with blood.
A pair of white college boys run headlong into each other by way of an obsessive affair with Delta blues and the antiquated technologies for playing and recording it. Carter is charismatic and stunningly rich, Seth is bumbling and mostly-poor. Both are cracking along the seams. History and madness start to leak from this fraught relationship, blurring the edges of reality and folding time in on itself.
The true nature of the story tantalizes from corners and memories. Ghost story? Murder mystery? Psychological thriller? Under the skin of a bromance narrative pounds a rageful heart. It is a story of hobbled promise, race and class violence, and America’s legacy of capitalizing on the incarceration of Black men. Kunzru dips into and then out of this fury, barely a splash at first then a little deeper, one unsettling shiver at a time.
The climax plunges us naked into the face of this nation’s most toxic and worst kept secret. The clash between what seems and what happened results in a feat of vengeance that satisfies the conditions of justice while upending any moral balance derived from it.
Image from Publisher’s Weekly
“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”
– Audre Lorde
What keeps me from writing about racial justice? What stands in the way of articulating both the inequities in higher education and a vision for building structures of inclusion? While the fear of getting it wrong looms large, looking foolish worries me far less than doing harm. What I write could galvanize those who prefer white campuses and the insidious myths of individualism and meritocracy.
Back in November, an Admissions officer at the university where I work shared his reactions to the election on his personal Facebook page. His harsh post went viral, prompting conservatives across the blogosphere to point to his words as evidence of “liberal intolerance” propped up by the higher education system. This one employee’s private views became fodder for efforts across the country to gut inclusion initiatives. This is not hyperbole. Remember when the Tennessee legislature voted in April to cut all funds for the university’s diversity office?
At my Unitarian Universalist church, we’ve been grappling with a similar constellation of concerns. A polarized national climate has illuminated the deep and widening fractures in our communities. The choices we make matter. Each time we come together, we have a new opportunity to understand and undo the structures of white supremacy in our traditions and in our congregation.
Indeed, every setting in which we find ourselves offers up avenues for taking steps on racial justice.
Continue reading “The Question of Courage”
One of the many benefits of working in higher education is easy access to learning opportunities. On any given day, a dozen activities show up on the calendar. Anyone on campus, and usually community folks too, can drop in on brown bags, seminars, conferences, performances, or dissertation defenses. Cost and distance are taken care of, so the only limiting factors are motivation and time.
I don’t take nearly as much advantage of this abundance as I could, but does this surprise anyone? I’m guessing others out there don’t read poetry or clock enough hours of sleep, both of which gratify a tired soul. As often as not, we fail to act as champions of our own happiness. Sometimes laziness leads the charge. Halfheartedly, of course.
Continue reading “Showing Up for Public Research”
We believe that hundreds of UU churches signaling to their own members and to the larger community that “our faith takes racism seriously, especially within our own walls” will push our faith toward the beloved community we all seek.
– Black Lives of UU
On Sunday, my Unitarian Universalist congregation participated in the first #UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn. This began as a call to action by Black Lives of UU for congregations around the country the dedicate one day of services to teaching about racism and white supremacy. Our worship team took the charge seriously, shifting not only the content of the service but the very structure of how we gather together. A new seating arrangement brought everyone face-to-face. Without the familiar printed order of service to guide us, we watched videos of anti-racist leaders like Tricia Rose, and worshiped in the company of art and music by people of color. Most notably, our pastors made unflinching use of the term “white supremacy.”
Continue reading “Beyond Belief: #UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn”
Racism is the single most critical barrier to building effective coalitions for social change.
– The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond
Last night at an event focused on building support for immigrant communities, every single participant was a white person.
At a meet-and-greet at a local bar for Virginia Democratic Lieutenant Governor candidates, almost every participant a white woman.
At all the discussions of racial and social justice in my Unitarian Universalist congregation, the attendees are predominantly white people.
At an interfaith vigil that took place after the local JCC and UCC were vandalized with Nazi symbols and hate speech, all but a few attendees were white people.
At the university where I work, a place nationally recognized for the diversity of its student body, the faculty and staff meetings in my department are comprised almost entirely of white people.
At the local Huddle, every attendee is a white woman.
At the “Love Lives Here” family parade in response to Richard Spencer setting up shop in Alexandria, almost all protestors were white people.
At a dialogue hosted by the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution to bridge the post-election divide, all but two of the student organizers and one student participant were white people.
At the Kitchen Conversations at my house, eight of ten participants were white women.
Anyone see a pattern here?
Continue reading “Up to Here with Liberal White Women”
This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.
– Naomi Shihab Nye, “Gate A-4“
Someone vandalizes a church and a Jewish community center in Northern Virginia. They paint swastikas on buildings and dark words over a sign supporting Muslims. This happens on the first night of Passover, at the start of the Christian holy week. The story is here.
Then the police track down a suspect. Dylan Mahone is a 20-year-old man who has found his way into white supremacist and neo-Nazi circles. A student at the community college. A neighbor who lives just blocks from the house my former partner shares with his two kids. A young man whose Facebook page drips with racism and hate and noxious fantasies of violence.
White. Christian. Educated. Male.
One of ours. One of us.
Continue reading “This Can Happen Here”
The minister of my Unitarian congregation invited me to share the story of why I joined our church. The Sunday I’m scheduled to speak happens to coincide with a moment of extraordinary upheaval in the national Unitarian Universalist Association. A senior-level hiring decision unearthed patterns of white supremacy and bias that many people of my faith believed didn’t exist, not here, not among us. We see yet again that privileges, blinders, and oppressive structures exist everywhere — even within people of goodwill who speak of inclusion and equity. Even those of us whose deepest value is radical love.
Continue reading “Testimonial: Reimagining the Possible”