Immersing Myself In African American Voices

Immersing Myself in African American VoicesI’m still working out how to use my voice to bring more justice, to break down white supremacy, to remember those our society and our institutions have intentionally forgotten.

One of the ideas I’m considering is committing to read almost exclusively African American authors for the rest of 2015. I need to make some radical choices to shift my perspective, to unnormalize my own whiteness.  This may be one way I try to do that.

As I read from Drew Hart‘s Trouble I’ve Seen this morning, I realized how very much I am still steeped in white supremacy, how so much of my understanding of the world is shaped by the idea that the white perspective is the right perspective . . . or worse, that it isn’t perspective at all, but truth.  I need to dismantle that for myself, first, so I can help dismantle it for others.

Years ago, when I was still teaching freshman composition, one of my students, Michael, said, “Why is white English the right English, Ms. Andi?”  I’ve carried Michael’s question with me for years. It’s one of those shaping statements, the ones that burrow in and disrupt.

I’m learning that when I feel uncomfortable, I need to pay attention. When something challenges my perspective, I need to silence my urge to defend myself or feel hurt and turn instead to empathy, to reach and stretch to understand.  It’s not a pleasant thing, this growing, this unnormalizing whiteness, not for this white woman.  But it’s essential.  Absolutely essential as a work of justice in my own heart.

So I am, I am going to read almost exclusively books my African American authors for the rest of this year.  I’ll be sharing my thoughts on those books here, and I welcome your recommendations for my reading.  What books by African Americans would you recommend I read?  Please share in the comments below.  

Today, I leave you with the Bowie State Cheerleaders using their bodies and their talents to speak the truth.

Unsettling Racism in the Church – The Work of Austin Channing and Drew Hart

Unsettling Racism in the Church: Austin Channing and Drew HartLast week, at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I had the opportunity to hear Austin Channing and Drew Hart had finished laying out some truth, I was tearing up and tingling with the energy of honest accountability.

Channing said:

I try to be authentic. I am giving voice my experience of the world.

Hart said:

My goal is to unsettle people. My goal is to change people.

When an audience member asked them to explain why they used the phrase “white supremacy” instead of white hegemony or other less, what he called, “antagonist” terms, Hart broke down the history of white supremacy and laid out the realities of our society.  Channing said, “I’m not trying to antagonize. I’m telling you about my experience of a world that antagonizes me.”

I’m weary of the blue-eyed, yellow-haired Jesus. I’m weary of segregated Sunday mornings. I’m weary of the church acting as if racism is not our problem, so I am eager to learn from Channing and Hart so that I can work to dismantle the racism that is part of my faith tradition and my society more generally.  Because, after all, as a white woman, it is MY JOB to break that down.  It’s my responsibility to unsettle people, to be about the work of unsettling racism.

I highly recommend you follow both of these folks, on social media and through their blogs (linked above.) Also, be sure to check out Hart’s new book, Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism.  I can’t wait to read it.

Karen Branan Comes to God’s Whisper Farm

Karen Branan at God's Whisper Farm on April 23, 2016On Saturday, April 23rd, author Karen Branan will be at God’s Whisper Farm to read from her book, The Family Tree: A Lynching in Georgia, a Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth.  

The provocative true account of the hanging of four black people by a white lynch mob in 1912—written by the great-granddaughter of the sheriff charged with protecting them.

Harris County, Georgia, 1912. A white man, the beloved nephew of the county sheriff, is shot dead on the porch of a black woman. Days later, the sheriff sanctions the lynching of a black woman and three black men, all of them innocent. For Karen Branan, the great-granddaughter of that sheriff, this isn’t just history, this is family history.

Branan spent nearly twenty years combing through diaries and letters, hunting for clues in libraries and archives throughout the United States, and interviewing community elders to piece together the events and motives that led a group of people to murder four of their fellow citizens in such a brutal public display. Her research revealed surprising new insights into the day-to-day reality of race relations in the Jim Crow–era South, but what she ultimately discovered was far more personal. As she dug into the past, Branan was forced to confront her own deep-rooted beliefs surrounding race and family, a process that came to a head when Branan learned a shocking truth: she is related not only to the sheriff, but also to one of the four who were murdered. Both identities—perpetrator and victim—are her inheritance to bear.

The reading will take place at God’s Whisper Farm in Radiant, Virginia (just north of Charlottesville and south of Culpeper, Virginia) at 7pm on April 23rd.  Guests are invited to a potluck supper at 5pm before the reading.

The event is FREE and open the public.


Grandma Lula’s Story – Phyllis Lawson’s Quilt of Souls

Phyllis Lawson's Quilt of SoulsI met Phyllis Lawson online, as is the way with this world-wide web of ours, a few months ago, and I loved her instantly for two reasons: she was passionate about her family history, and she was equally passionate about sharing that history.

And for good reasons, Phyllis’s book, Quilt of Souls is one of the best family memoirs I’ve ever read. It is beautifully-written and unflinchingly honest without being in the least bit bitter or cruel.

Phyllis says,:

Quilt of Souls is a book the world needs to have. It is more than my personal memoir; it is a historical unveiling of hushed bloodlines and stories of a time and place that got swept under the carpet- powerful, intense, poignant stories that need to be heard.

At the age of four years old, I was plucked off my front porch, from the only family I knew, and delivered sixteen hours away to land on the doorstep of Grandmother Lula, who I never met before. I was abandoned by my mother, pure and simple. I needed a miracle and that miracle took the form of an old tattered quilt (a family heirloom) that my grandmother made out of the clothing of long lost loved ones who died in the face of extreme bigotry, racism and ugliness that was pervasive to that time.

Lula Horn (1883-1986), through oral tradition, and through the weaving of ripped up pieces of clothes transformed into quilts, told me the tragic stories of my ancestor’s lives and deaths. Each piece of cloth woven into the quilt had the blood, sweat and tears of Black people living and dying at the hands of unconscionable injustices. The weaving of their clothing into a quilt mended each broken life back together with each pull of the thread.

I highly recommend you pick up Phyllis’s book, Quilt of Souls, and get out the tissues. It’ll break your heart and then stitch it back up again, like a quilt sewn with all of Grandmama Lula’s love.