Lois Leveen


August 21, 2012

Black and White and Read All Over

Ever have that feeling that someone was thinking something about you but was too polite to say it out loud?

I do. All the time.

It's about why a white woman like me has dedicated so much time to connecting people to the story of a black woman like Mary Bowser.

Many years ago, a Latina woman I was friendly with asked me, "How come you can talk about race, while most white people can't?" I knew what she meant. Many white people are uncomfortable talking about race. I'm not saying they're racists -- actually racists are often pretty comfortable talking about race; the problem is that what they're saying is generally untrue and hurtful. I'm talking about people who feel like there's something that makes them uneasy with raising the topic of race. Maybe they think they'll say the wrong thing, and sound racist without meaning to.

So I appreciated the compliment buried in my friend's question. And, more recently, I've appreciated when people who are wondering about what it's like to be a white person who writes and teaches about race actually ask me about that. I've been at this work for a long time, decades before THE SECRETS OF MARY BOWSER was published. During my recent talk at AAMLO, the African American Museum and Library in Oakland, the audience was not shy about asking me about race. Here are a few clips from that conversation.

For the record, I don't think I've always said the perfect thing when it comes to talking about race. And what I have gotten right is probably due to how much I've learned from other people. Listening, after all, is an important part of being in a conversation. And these are definitely important and energizing conversations to have.
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