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August 09, 2012


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This seems to get ever-more tangled - not your writing about it, of course, which is stellar - but the subject itself.

How to begin the conversation? One of the constraints for white writers, as you mention, can be the sense of impending "gotcha!" As in, I'm afraid to start talking because what if I inadvertently say something that is a)hurtful, b)displays my privilege and concomitant imperception of it, c) makes me sound like a racial kiss-ass, or d)all of the above. This feeling not only strangles poems at birth, it strangles all communication between human beings at any level of depth.

What to do? I don't know. What is the vocabulary to begin the discussion? No one wants to be seen as an asshole. But no one also wants to be blamed - and that's part of the subtext, too.

Seriously: What is this "sense of impending 'gotcha'"? I am not saying I don't happen, just saying I don't see it (And I lived in the world's whitest country, that loved all things American, so I've seen a lot). I think it's ultimately shame-based anxiety and nothing else. Because, I will go out on a limb here, the whites (and others) who are both curious for their own self-improvement and mindful enough aren't dealing with blacks who don't understand and cannot relay with blank lucidity the ontological and epistemological dimensions of race. The question, for me, is whether or not they are listening, or are automatically shutting down out of shame-based motives. If that is the case, then I would say that the article is being incredibly forgiving by presuming an ignorance that is not really there.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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This Way Out

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Ringfinger was nervous
Pinky terrified
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.



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