Race

Never Give Up. Ever. Why Writing (and Talking) About Racism Matters.

Writing is not easy. Like any other skill, plucking just the right nouns, verbs, adjectives, and the occasional adverb to express one’s thoughts in a clear and unique voice takes time and energy to develop. My own writer’s journey has been and continues to be a circuitous one, full of fleeting highs and recurring lows … more on that at another time. Understanding the basic rules of grammar came easy to me in junior high school, I even picked up a few accolades for my writing. By the time I reached my junior year of high school, I gave serious thought to journalism as a college major; but between fulfilling duties as the yearbook editor and performing in high school musicals, my interest in journalism fell by the wayside. I mean, come on, a by-line in a newspaper lasts only a day. A film or TV credit, that’s forever.

Fast forward a few decades, sundry careers, and answering an inescapable divine calling, and I’m writing … sometimes for pay. Go figure. I consider this nothing more than proof that people will pay for anything given a fetching website and enough “likes” on a social media platform.

But first and foremost, I am grateful.

The means by which I fell into writing about race and personal growth is what I attribute to in passing as happenstance, but I know within every fiber of my being is nothing short of Providence. A little over a year ago, I wrote my first piece — what do we call these writings we make available to the world: essays, articles, blog posts, mad ramblings? — after seemingly random and repeated conversations about race with several friends intersected with John Metta’s empassioned “I, Racist.” (See how I left out the “my friend” honorific, so as not to draw attention to the very special nature of our relationship? Dang it! You can take the Clay out of Los Angeles, but some tentacles die hard. How’s that for a mixed parable?)

Where was I … ?

My friend, John Metta’s writing flipped a switch in me (okay, we weren’t friends at the time and I certainly hadn’t heard of Medium) and I wrote an article in response to his, partly because I grew tired of telling the same story over and over to my friends. I posted it to Medium and oddly enough the piece seemed to resonate with a handful of readers on Medium and on a couple of other portals.

(Stay with me. You’ll see where I’m going somewhere with this before the green heart pops up at the end. I promise.)

So.

About the same time I discovered Medium, John, and some of you — I came across this guy on Twitter from Pennsylvania named Chuck. We live-tweeted The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon with regularity. After a few months, we found out we had a few other common interests (musical theater, food, similar sense of humor, blah-blah-blah) and a few divergent life experiences. I’m single, he’s married. He’s a father, my parenting “experience” is limited to Bichon Frises and babysitting nephews and nieces. I’m gay, he’s straight. He’s a former police officer, and I’ve been an art director. I’m black, he’s white.*

*And if you’re thinking, why does everything have to be about race? you probably didn’t catch this article’s headline or you haven’t read anything I’ve written before. I write about race in America, personal growth, and people relating to people as people—a lot. So heads-up, if discussions about race makes you weary, fidgety, or simply isn’t your thing, you might want to move on to the next blog because from here on out it only blacker and whiter. In fact, it’s going to be a perfect storm of black and white all the way to the final full stop.

I don’t exactly remember how, but Chuck and I connected moved our camaraderie over to Facebook where he came across a couple of my posts on race. This led to a few superficial conversations about race, which (d)evolved into several heated discussions online and via phone. For those of you with book knowledge and hands-on experience with the dynamics of discussions on race (I’m looking directly at you, alto), you could probably say our interactions moved through textbook phases. There were moments when we both listened with the intention of understanding each other interspersed with instances when our own inherent biases made it easier to misunderstand one another, and at other times when we weren’t trying to hear each other at all. And to make it a fully human experience, rarely were we ever in the same frame of mind … meaning when one of us wasn’t trying to hear the other, the other was misinterpreting the one.

Frustrating, yes. Impossible, no.

One thing I did notice, even in the midst of gale force vexation, no matter who initiated any of the many hard talks we had, the other person was always willing to engage with the other. I attribute our mutual civility to our previous relationship, albeit it primarily via online chats. We afforded each other the same level of decorum we would expect.

After that flurry of heated conversation, weeks passed, seasons changed, and Chuck and I no longer mentioned race. It’s not like race was the elephant in the room, we simply didn’t need to talk about it. We gave each other space. But … after reading my blog posts and Medium articles, he’d always say, “well written, as always” or more, depending on the article.

Then the 2016 presidential election happened. And seemingly out of nowhere, Chuck wrote —

… I wanted to say to you after he was elected was…man was I WRONG! I literally had no idea how much pure racist hatred persisted until this election was over. I was naive to think there was progress. You have been more right than I thought possible all along, I just didn’t see until the woodwork emptied out. I really thought we might be a generation away from eliminating racial biased, but HOLY CRAP was I wrong, and I’m sorry.”

In that moment, I felt a wave of relief. It’s not that I was on a conscious mission to “change” his mind. I understood that people viewpoints are shaped by their life experiences. I understood that as a law enforcement officer he had occurrences (no dispersions or inferences intended, I’m trying not to use “experiences” again) that were different from mine as a black man. I wanted him to not only hear me, but to expand his point of view to include some portion of my own.

And he did.

The beauty of his disclosure is this: he didn’t have to tell me. There was no inherent reason for him to do so. We could have gone on indefinitely and he could have never mentioned his epiphany. And I would have never known otherwise. But he chose to fully disclose.

For the record, I take no credit for anyone’s paradigm shift, but I will confess to doing my own little happy dance when I see a change in people’s view on racism take place or when people intimate, I never thought of it that way.

To you writers, authors, scribes, doodlers, those who are still trying to find and refine their writing voice, and especially to you who feel momentarily adrift in life (I say “momentarily” because that’s a temporary state, trust me): the world needs your unique voice. You don’t need a huge platform to be effective. Your life is your platform. You are an agent of change right where you are, if you want to write about about race, write; but by all means do it with respect and out of love. That doesn’t mean you can’t be bold. If that’s your style, be bold. Me, I like to think I take the more on the subdued approach. Humor, facts, poignancy, out-and-out hard-hitting reality checks—use whatever fits your personality. And if you like, mix it up. You have no idea who you’re going to positively impact. Or when their epiphany will happen.

Here I go again with another one of my analogies (this piece wouldn’t be Clay-splainin’ without it) … we’re all tending a garden and there’s so much work to do; tilling the soil, pulling weeds, fertilizing, pruning, watering, and even ridding the garden of pests. Our job is not to tell flowers how to bloom, our job is to facilitate growth. Get in here and get your hands dirty.

And by all means, if you feel the need to speak out against racism and social injustice by writing, do it and never give up. Ever.

Love one another.

2 thoughts on “Never Give Up. Ever. Why Writing (and Talking) About Racism Matters.”

  1. Colette Clarke Torres says:

    I love you, Clay! And now I love Chuck! I have never met Chuck…until tonight, um, this early morning. I met Chuck through you. Hello Chuck! It is my pleasure to meet you, especially because we share a friend in Clay, a loving and hopeful friend, a kind friend with an open heart.

    As Clay so often does, Chuck’s quote gives me hope. I have despaired since November 9th. I have refused to watch and read news. Up until about 3 a.m.
    on November 9th, I was a news addict, an over informed consumer of all sources of news. It was important to me to understand all sides. Yammer, yammer. Yammer on.

    Chuck gives me hope that others are now “woke” and able to say that they were mistaken. Confession is necessary for growth, for enlightenment. and honest confession takes courage, guts. i didn’t see much of that in the winning campaign. Excuse me, I saw none.

    I wish Chuck hadn’t been mistaken, I do. I wish with my deepest self that everyone mattered to everyone equally and always and that we all cared and served everyone because they are neighbors, fellow Americans.

    I am in many ways like Clay. I am in many ways like Chuck. I am in some ways different from both men. I am a woman. I am now 61. I grew up in the South and live here still. I saw a man lynched, a young Black man’s body hung from a mossy oak. I was 3 or 4. I believe, even today, that his spirit spoke to me as it slipped from his body. I watched 3 White men scatter as the lights of our car illuminated their cowardice.

    One of my grandfathers was in the KKK. he kept it a secret from our family.
    I found out just before I was 30. He had been dead for 3 years. His second son, my father, never knew. Everyone said so. I sure wasn’t going to tell him!

    My other grandfather had a cross burned at his business and on the lawn, if you want to call that sad, small patch of grass a lawn, of the home he shared with my grandmother, the home in which I slept that night with them, my mother and my sister. I hid in a closet, the one with my grandmother’s button basket. My grandmother was embarassed. A nice policeman like Chuck explained to my grandfather what he already knew: the KKK burned the crosses because he had hired a Black man, a “colored” man and, to add insult to injury, paid him the same salary as he paid the White men he employed.

    My grandfathers didn’t live in the same town or even in the same state so that was a good thing. I like to think that if they had my KKK grandfather would have bowed out of that cross burning. Of course, I’d like to think he bowed out of them all, that he was a member in name only. But I learned a long time ago that unless I face truth and walk through it, I am less than.
    So once or twice I have even tried to find records of KKK “doings” in and around the tiny town of my grandfather. The KKK didn’t provide records of their mournful, hateful “doings” for us to research. After all, they wore masks. Now they do not and have added Neo-Nazi doctrine to their beliefs.
    and crawled out from under their rocks.

    I went to the same university as David Duke. I felt sorry for him. he was a skinny little fellow who actually wore a Nazi uniform to campus daily. He is older than I. everyone made fun of him. on Thursdays outside of the Union, the school held “Free Speech Alley” at 1, just after lunch . He’d always speak. Food flew at him. He made no sense. people would speak logically. second semester of my Freshman year, he disappeared. now I live in the same town as Alex Jones whose ideas are just as despicable, if a bit other wordly. the man elected called to thank him on November 9th. if you aren’t familiar with the conspiracy and race therories of Jones, you’d better read up.

    I was raised in a home where I was taught that all people, regardless of their skin color, creed, or origin are made in God’s Image. I used to sing a song in Sunday School: “Jesus lives the little children, All the children of the world. Red and Yellow, Black and White, they’re all precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” I believed every word. I believed that their parents were precious, too: I still do.

    I was taught to serve God and God’s people and that earthly power and greed were obstacles to that love, to agape, truly unconditional love. I was taught that skin color is the same as hair and eye color. My niece has had purple hair, orange hair and pink ends on her blond hair. It never occurred to me not to adore her. It never iccurred to me that Medgar Evers was anyone other than someone’s father and I felt as sad the day I saw the carport over his blood as if my own daddy had been murdered. It did, however, occur to me that I might get bombed while in my Baptist Sunday School and die like the girls in Birmingham at their Baptist Church. The youngest was 5 years older than I was. I was afraid to go to church and it took me a long time to figure out that my Sunday School was never going to be bombed in River Oaks in Houston. River Oaks was White and wealthy. It was an easy place to sing of love and equality. I never saw the separate water fountains and entrances to the doctor’s office there that I saw in my grandparents’ town in Louisiana because who’d have used the “colored”
    fountains or doors or waiting rooms?

    It took me a long time to hear the “n” word. I asked my father what it meant when I was 10. He pulled the car over and stopped on the road from his parents’ home back to Houston. I was afraid for the only time in my life that he was going to slap my face for asking that question, for using that word. He didn’t slap me but he was angry. He knew I had heard the word from his father. He had asked him never to use that word in front of his daughters. My father actually believed that we’d never hear it, bless him.
    Ten was the year I came out of my true belief that everyone I knew was like we were, that skin color didn’t matter, that the “n” word was a curse word like “damn” that I wasn’t to say. Ten was the year I learned that the angry White men on our flickering black and white TV who held dogs and firehoses and beat men and women just bevause they wanted to vote were…well, that they weren’t just on TV. I was 15 when I first read about Emmitt Till and saw the photo of his body in its coffin as his Mama wished so people with my skin could see what we did to him for thinking a White woman was pretty.
    Were those White men that insecure, I remember thinking. He was a child.
    Why wasn’t her husband flattered that he thought his wife was pretty? And by then, by my 15th year, too many other fathers had died: John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and Bobby. died because of fear, because of hate, because of insecurity.

    The circle is unbroken.

    In my 20’s, I began to give to the Southern Poverty Law Center and still do and pour over their records of hate crimes. I became an Episcopalian because they seemed to be more like Jesus, generally, than Baptists. They were more accepting of everyone as if we were all, indeed, made in God’s Image. I had Black friends and dated Black men and in my 30’s I married a White Hispanic Jew whose family has lived generations longer in America than has the family of that man elected and who is, interestingly, a Baptist although he abstains from church. I and he and we have friends who are of every religion, denomination, skin color, creed, origin and so I knew that we hadn’t come as far as I wished but even I was fooled until that early morning of November 9th. I still have an emptiness in the pit of my stomach. My heart aches.

    My dad fought in a war to end a totalitarian regime, a regime of hate based on skin color, religion, and creed. For the 1st time in the 11 years since he died, I was glad he was dead. His heart would have broken to hear the bile spilled, the antiamerican, unconstitutional and unintelligent hate spewed and cheered.

    My family came to this land after my 12th great grandfather invested in the 3rd Charter of the Virginia Company of London. America was founded on greed as a money making venture for the King of England, not as a refuge for the freedom to worship as one pleased. My 11th great grandfather was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and helped to legislate the beginnings of White privilege. My 4th great grandfather was a slave trader out of Liverpool who also blockaded pur colonies from reveiving help from France during our Revolution. His son became a U.S. citizen. His son, my 2nd great grandfather, fathered at least 1 son with his family’s slave when they were both 14. My 3rd great grand uncle died at the Alamo fighting for free land and slavery. My family fought in every famous battle of the Civil War and survived. All but 3 fought for the Confederacy. We do not fly the flag of the losing side. We never have.

    Until we White Americans admit to and confess our original sin of slavery and learn how White privilege became ingrained in our system, until we face who we are as I pray I have and as Chuck has, we won’t ever begin to heal and unless we begin to heal, the USA will remain sick with the disease of hateful destrucyion of ourselves spawned by the racism that eats at our soul and destroys the ideals that should set us apart from the world.
    Because of our refusal to look at ourselves honestly, we are represented by someone who lost by 2.5 million votes (and counting), who isn’t moral, honest or curious, or who doesn’t about our Constitution, our traditions, our allies or our future. He does not live himself in the humble, honest Jungian way so cannot love anyone. unlike some, I do not believe that God has punished us. We did that all by ourselves because good people and people of good will like me and Chuck believed that what stared us in the face wasn’t real, or, at least, was real only in a few.

    Now I understand that hate must be eradicated along with ignorance. I begged people to vote for everyone they loved, for everyone attacked by this man and his minions. Everyone who loves themselves also loves a woman, a Black person, a person of Mexican descent, an immigrant, documented or not, a poor person, a differently abled or chronically ill person…and on and on. How could they vote for someone who threatened so many aloud and with relish, who lied, whose “policies” changed by the hour? How could my Evangelical friends who demanded that President Clinton be impeached for a blow job now vote for a man who brags of grabbing pussy, who commits adultery with seeming delight and lies with abandon?

    Yes, Chuck was wrong. He has confessed it so now can move to healing, to loving, to triaging others. And so must we all.

    Please keep reminding me, reminding us, Clay, to never stop, never stop shouting the truth, to heal, to love.

    Thank you Clay, and Chuck for healing my heart just a bit. I shall fight my hopelessness, stand with and by my friends and use all I have to serve God and God’s people in justice and love. I shall use my writing to fulfill the purpose that young man’s spirit whispered to me that night. I am tired, weary to the bone but I will draw strength from you and from Chuck, from your experiences of one another. thank you for sharing them with me. I apologize for writing such a long and winding reply.

    Please forgive me. and not just for that but also for taking too much for granted. for

    1. Chuck says:

      Thank YOU Mrs. Torres for sharing your story! I’m in a new place in my life’s journey, and reading such a detailed account of your life and family over the years was both fascinating, and educational. It was nice to meet you as well!

      Thanks again!

      Chuck

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *