13
Oct 17

Writing Girl after Girl after Girl: Women Poets, Permission and Risk

The poet Lucille Clifton once said that with her poetry, “I hope to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” When I wrote the poems in my new book Girl after Girl after Girl, I thought often of Clifton’s words. In fact, I wrote them on an index card and taped it on the wall above my desk.

I love Clifton’s quote because it speaks to both poetry’s intimacy and the work it can do in the world. Here, Lucille Clifton explains most accurately why I both write and read poetry.

In my new book Girl after Girl after Girl, I was writing about being a daughter in the 70s and 80s, about my own daughters, about raising young girls in the dangerous world in which we live. I was writing about female bodies, and the damage the world inflicts upon them. I was afraid of much of what I wrote in my first drafts of poems: stories of addiction, stories of violence, stories of fear and danger.  I kept Clifton’s words close as I worked.

And then one day as I struggled through the poems in my new book, I recalled Emily Dickinson’s famous dictum—“Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”  I wrote those words beside Clifton’s above my desk.  To “tell it slant,” as Dickinson suggested, I turned to objects to tell the stories of mothers and daughters and girlhood—I read books of recipes, I visited doll and miniature museums, I studied the history of the breast pump, the cocktail, the mourning dress.

In different ways, Clifton and Dickinson gave me permission to write my poems. And as I read and reread their words and wrote my own poems, I also I remembered my second daughter, and how when she was younger and I left the house to give reading, she would stand at the front door, face pressed to the glass panes, as I closed the door between us, and shout, “Don’t go to poetry!” It was heartbreaking to leave her, but it also struck me that her exhortation also gave me a way to think about poetry.

My daughter was right. Poetry is a place I go. Sometimes it’s a deep, cold river where I sink down in darkness alone. Sometimes it’s a site of solace, more interior, a quiet and safe room, and a reminder that others have felt as I have felt. Sometimes it’s a geographical journey—I travel with Muriel Rukeyser to Gauley Bridge, West Virginia or with CD Wright to Angola Prison. I read poems both to come closer to myself and to enter a whole new world.

Most of all, I read poems that give me permission to take a risk, poems that make me wonder, How did she do that? She is not supposed to be able to do that! I want to learn to do that!

So sometimes, in search of poets who give me permission to take risks, I go out with a poetry book as I would with a new friend. I take a collection of poems out for coffee and spend a few hours with the book. The book and I sit together and I write in my notebook and we talk.

I have taken many books out for coffee, and I look to many women poets as guides to poetry. Here, below are six books of permission and risk that I have taken out for conversation many times, six books that I kept—and keep—on my desk as I wrote my poems in Girl after Girl after Girl, six books that I return to again and again.


Anya Krugovoy Silver, From Nothing (LSU Press, 2016). From Nothing is a book that illustrates to me how poetry takes you both from yourself and back into yourself all at once. These poems document the experience of life-threatening illness and the deep love of a mother for a son; these poems elegize dead and dying friends. And they show us the magical worlds of fairy tales and the rituals of Lent and prayer that sustain us. I love the fearlessness of Silver’s book.

CD Wright, One Big Self (Copper Canyon Press, 2013). CD Wright was my first poetry teacher in college, at Brown University. Two years ago, with time off from teaching, I spent days walking around my town listening to her read from One Big Self (on the Penn Sound Archive) and soaking up the poems in this book. She shows us new worlds—the landscape of southern Louisiana and the lives of prison inmates and their families. CD Wright died suddenly last year, and now I return again and again to the book to remember her.

Lucille Clifton, The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 (Boa Editions, 2015). I may be cheating by including a poet’s Collected Poems here, but when it comes to Lucille Clifton I can’t help myself. Clifton’s poems offer, in my mind, the ultimate permission to writing about the things in the world that most compelled me while I wrote the poems in Girl after Girl after Girl and that most compel me now—the female body, mothers and daughters, race and identity, religion and place.

Muriel Rukeyser, The Life of Poetry (Paris Press, 1996). Muriel Rukeyser published so much, in so many genres, and her life spanned the twentieth century, but I love this book most. The Life of Poetry is a book that teaches us how to live in and with poetry. Muriel Rukeyser is my favorite poet and most of all my poetry-mother. I teach her poems, I read them nearly every day, and I keep them close to me. As she says in this book, “For the last time here, I wish to say that we will not be saved by poetry. But poetry is the type of the creation in which we may live and which will save us.”

Solmaz Sharif, Look (Graywolf Press, 2016). Often, I can’t separate out what I read from what I teach, and I have taught this amazing book twice in the past year. Look is a collection that makes me think differently about history, language and what poetry can do. Sharif uses a Defense Department Dictionary as a text that splits open and refashions again and again to show the horrors of war, the devastation of the Middle East, and the violence we do to one another’s bodies.

Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons: Objects, Food, Rooms (City Lights Publishers, 2014). I chose one of the epigraphs to Girl after Girl after Girl from this book, originally published in 1914, because Stein revolutionized the way I think about language. In Tender Buttons, Stein gives us portraits of ordinary things. Coffee. Milk. Beads. Dresses. Every time I read it I wish I could go to a yard sale with Gertrude Stein and talk about objects.  Stein shows us the magic of the things around us that we take for granted.


Nicole Cooley. Credit: Lisa KollbergNicole Cooley is the author of Breach, Milk Dress, The Afflicted Girls, and Resurrection. A native of New Orleans, Cooley directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Queens College–CUNY, where she is a professor of English.

Buy your copy of Girl after Girl after Girl today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!


06
Oct 17

Six Cookbooks that Capture Louisiana’s Unique Flavor

There’s a cornucopia of Louisiana cookbooks out there. Some, like The Fonville Winans Cookbook, the one I co-authored with Melinda Winans, not only have good recipes, but they give the cook an overall idea of what makes the cuisine of south Louisiana so unique.

I’ve been a food writer for the Newcomb College Culinary Writers Group and the Baton Rouge and New Orleans Advocate newspapers, and I’m currently editor of the LSU Press cookbook series “The Southern Table.” I thumb through a lot of cookbooks, and I’m always amazed at how much I learn from those mouthwatering pages. Remarkably, in this digital age, readers still find physical cookbooks entertaining. I, for instance, am the type who’d rather get lost in a cookbook at night instead of a novel. I like turning a page to find someone’s family’s favorite soup, or a new chef’s innovative desserts. There’s also something about a clever recipe title or a heartwarming header that is, well, exciting.

While with the Newcomb group, we were writing a scholarly book on food, and I was instructed to scour that institution’s massive cookbook library for my research. Wow! I was in heaven. At my fingertips were copies of some of the first cookbooks published in Louisiana. From them, I figured out how gumbo evolved over the years, how calves foot jelly was once popular, and that now-hip quenelles, egg-like shapes of forcemeat, were common on nineteenth-century New Orleans tables. All it took was a little detective work, and I had the basis for my work. It was also at this time that I realized that the popular cookbooks of bygone eras had two things in common: their recipes were relatively easy to make, and reading them made you want to rush out to your stove. Both of these distinctions still separate extraordinary cookbooks from the rest.

I met Melinda Winans at an Herb Society meeting in Baton Rouge, and we instantly connected based on one thing—we both love everything about food. Like me, she has an extensive home cookbook library, where there are books she turns to time and time again. Also, her late father-in-law, the internationally famous photographer, Fonville Winans, liked to cook, and he wrote down a mountain of his recipes. One day while browsing through Fonville’s scribbles, we realized we were not only reading a cherished family keepsake, but we had the foundation for an outstanding cookbook.

To make things interesting and to put things in perspective, we made The Fonville Winans Cookbook a compilation of recipes, his photographs, and his biography. He spent most of his youth in Texas, and is most famous for his photographs of the impoverished Depression-era Cajuns who lived on Grand Isle on Louisiana’s coast. During those years, when he was in his early twenties, he became good friends with many of his subjects, and they taught him how to cook what became his favorite cuisine, Cajun.

Fonville later settled in Baton Rouge, where he raised a family, became a sought-after portrait photographer, an inventor, and a pilot. He was also a cook who incessantly experimented. And it is from the many, many versions of his recipes that we get a glimpse of what families were eating in mid-century south Louisiana.Fonville adored both Creole and Cajun food, but his natural curiosity led him to experiment with cuisines such as Mexican and Chinese, creating dishes that were mostly unheard of in the region at the time. His notes tell us that he studied cookbooks, too. He was especially enamored of a book called The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook by Gloria Bley Miller. In our cookbook, we include many of Fonville’s interpretations of what was, for him, exotic fare. These creations give insight into a man who was definitely ahead of his time, and who was often credited with introducing many new dishes to the Baton Rouge mainstream.

This brings us back to the question of what makes a cookbook exceptional. To me and Melinda, any cookbook tells a story. But many, such as the ones listed below, are encyclopedic, not so much for their girth, but for what their recipes tell us. Importantly, they give a broad spectrum of what folks in Louisiana think is good food. Most of those recipes have a history, some that can be traced back hundreds of years. These recipes also work in a home kitchen and, above all, our modern palates think they still taste great. Once you start reading through them, you’ll pick up on recipe titles, ingredients, and cooking techniques that are found nowhere else. Like The Fonville Winans Cookbook, they capture the local food experience, and any meal made from them would put something authentically Louisiana on the table.


Six Cookbooks that Explain Louisiana’s Unique Flavor:

River Road Recipes: The Textbook of Louisiana Cuisine (The Cookbook Marketplace,1950) – This “textbook of Louisiana cooking” was published by the Junior League of Baton Rouge, and has sold over 1.3 million copies. Recipes were contributed by home cooks and run the gamut from roux to courtbouillon to the now-world-famous Spinach Madeleine.

The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine (Chef John Folse & Company Publishing, 2004) – This is the first of Chef John Folse’s gigantic cookbooks. Along with a healthy dose of culinary history, he includes 700 recipes for cooking traditional south Louisiana cuisine.

Cooking up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from the Times-Picayune of New Orleans (Chronicle Books, 2015) – In 2005, Hurricane Katrina washed away many a recipe collection. Times-Picayune food editor Judy Walker and food writer Marcelle Bienvenu came to the rescue with this cookbook based on treasured local favorites.

Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen (William Morrow Cookbooks, 1984) – Chef Paul Prudhomme shook up traditional New Orleans Creole cooking with his down-home, rustic Cajun cooking. This cookbook is classic Cajun.

A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook: Recipes from Ignatius J. Reilly’s New Orleans (LSU Press, 2015) – Cynthia LeJeune Nobles turned the food found in John Kennedy Toole’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel into a cookbook that reflects what was popular on tables in New Orleans in the 1950s and 1960s, before south Louisiana cooking was all the rage.

Lift Your Spirits: A Celebratory History of Cocktail Culture in New Orleans (LSU Press, 2016) – Elizabeth Williams, Director of the Southern Beverage Museum, and Chris McMillian, co-founder of Museum of the American Cocktail, teamed up to write a detailed history of New Orleans’s varied cocktails. Authentic recipes are included. If you’re interested in cocktails, this book is a must.


Cynthia LeJeune Nobles, series editor for “The Southern Table” from LSU Press, is the author of A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook: Recipes from Ignatius J. Reilly’s New Orleans (LSU Press, 2015) and The Delta Queen Cookbook: The History and Recipes of the Legendary Steamboat (LSU Press, 2012).

With Melinda Risch Winans, Nobles co-authored The Fonville Winans Cookbook, which was published by LSU Press earlier this week. You can read more about their cookbook in The Advocate and SIBA News. Take 30% off select Louisiana titles, including this one, during the month of October with offer code 04LBF! Buy your copy while it’s still hot off the press by clicking here.

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02
Oct 17

September Roundup: News, Events, Reviews

September was quite a month here at LSU Press! Blood Work: Imagining Race in American Literature, 1890—1940 by Shawn Salvant won 2016 C. Hugh Holman Award; Galaxie Wagon: Poems by Darnell Arnoult won the Thomas and Lillie D. Chaffin Award for Appalachian Writing; and Slim Harpo: Blues King Bee of Baton Rouge won both a Certificate of Merit from the Association of Recorded Sound Collections Awards and the 2017 Blues Book of the Year from Living Blues magazine. Lee Upton, Kathryn Fontenot and Trent Brown wrote fantastic posts for the LSU Press Blog. And we published new books by Jennifer Atkins, Trent Brown, Nicole Cooley, Kathryn Fontenot, Earl J. Hess, and Gordon C. Rhea.

Below you’ll find a list of our October titles, upcoming events with our authors, and some selected publicity from September. And if you want to keep up with LSU Press in real time, follow us on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.


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Selected Publicity and Praise

Blackout Starlight: New and Selected Poems, 1997-2015 by Bruce Bond

Blackout Starlight is a milestone release. . . One can certainly read Bond for the sheer delight of beholding a thing well done. Fellow poets, however, will benefit from a deep consideration of his ambition, vision, and delivery.”—Colorado Review

Girl after Girl after Girl: Poems by Nicole Cooley

“. . . this collection, her fifth, is attempting something special in its unconditional study of mothers, daughters, and sisters—of all ages. That she employs time travel in her poems is impossible to explain, so we’ll just enjoy the experience.”—Foreword Reviews

The Cemeteries of New Orleans: A Cultural History by Peter B. Dedek

“Four stars. . . . An excellent primer on some of our city’s most important cultural treasures.”—New Orleans Magazine

Black Labor, White Sugar: Caribbean Braceros and Their Struggle for Power in the Cuban Sugar Industry by Philip A. Howard

Howard makes some of the strongest arguments for the development of a black class consciousness that crossed ethnic lines.”—World Sugar History Newsletter

Schooling in the Antebellum South: The Rise of Public and Private Education in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama by Sarah L. Hyde

“. . . Sarah Hyde treats us to a long-due examination of white education in the antebellum South.”—The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth

The Language of Vision: Photography and Southern Literature in the 1930s and After by Joseph R. Millichap

“His purposes in this slim volume are synthetic and, in the best sense of the word, provocative: to bring together two rich artistic and critical traditions in ways that demonstrate the mutually enlivening creative interplay at work, and that inspire further investigation.”—Modernism/Modernity

William & Mary commissioned a poem from Brenda Marie Osbey. You can watch her performance here:

Damn Yankees! Demonization and Defiance during the American Civil War by George C. Rable

“Award-winning Professor Emeritus George C. Rable has once again added to the historiography of the Civil War with his outstanding Damn Yankees! Demonization and Defiance during the American Civil War. . .”—H-War

On to Petersburg: Grant and Lee, June 4-15, 1864 by Gordon C. Rhea

“Unparalleled. . . .”—New York Journal of Books

From Nothing: Poems by Anya Krugovoy Silver

“In these poems, bracing honesty coincides with the quiet transformations of language. Especially moving are the expressions of praise that take shape in the absence of consolation.”—The Cresset Journal

The Richmond Times-Dispatch published an article on Ron Smith’s poetry.

Extreme Civil War: Guerrilla Warfare, Environment, and Race on the Trans-Mississippi Frontier by Matthew M. Stith

“Stith has researched his subject well and produced an engaging and well-balanced book. It deserves the attention of all Civil War historians.”—Kansas History


29
Sep 17

Sexuality and the South: Recommended Reading

Sex and Sexuality in Modern Southern Culture is a collection of twelve essays that seeks to show how fundamentally questions of sexuality have shaped recent southern history. I decided to put this book together because I feel not only that the topic merits close study, but also because it seemed to me that an interdisciplinary approach might encourage new answers to familiar questions. I hope that the book encourages more work on these topics and on the subject generally.

Scholars in a variety of disciplines are producing exciting work on sex and sexualities in the American South. Much of that work sheds new light on long-standing issues, such as race, religion, and the law in the South. The field promises to remain vital and growing, as some of the best scholarship on southern sexualities is currently being produced in graduate programs in history, literature, and gay and lesbian studies.

For anyone interested in reading further in this field, I can recommend several excellent books, although this list could be much longer. I would start by pointing people back to Tennessee Williams, a writer with profound things to say about sexuality and longing, as well as the way those tensions manifest themselves within southerners and their communities.


Here are other books that I admire:

Alecia Long, The Great Southern Babylon: Sex, Race, and Respectability in New Orleans, 1865-1920 (LSU Press, 2004). An outstanding study of sex and commerce, especially the ways in which New Orleans promoted the sex trade.

Martha Hodes, White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South (Yale University Press, 1997). A powerful work of scholarship on a topic that remains of perennial interest to southern scholars.

John Howard, Men Like That: A Southern Queer History (University of Chicago Press, 1999). A magnificent work of historical reconstruction that drew scholars’ attention to queer lives in the rural South.

Benjamin Wise, William Alexander Percy: The Curious Life of a Mississippi Planter & Sexual Freethinker (UNC Press, 2012). A splendid biography that provides a compelling reading of a memoir that historians have long known, but not in the ways that Wise demonstrates.

Gary Richards, Lovers and Beloveds: Sexual Otherness in Southern Fiction, 1936-1961 (LSU Press, 2005). A provocative reading of same-sex desire in a particularly rich period of southern letters.


Trent Brown, professor of American Studies at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, is the editor of Sex and Sexuality in Modern Southern Culture (LSU Press, 2017). He is the author or editor of several other books on southern history, including White Masculinity in the Recent South (LSU Press, 2008), and (with Rev. Ed King) Ed King’s Mississippi: Behind the Scenes of Freedom Summer (University Press of Mississippi, 2014).

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22
Sep 17

A Budding Gardener’s Library

Gardening is dear to my heart and I practice constantly—growing vegetables in the children’s garden at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Garden, conducting vegetable trials across the state and playing in my own home herb and vegetable gardens with my husband and children.

It is the perfect hobby for all ages. Whether you are a professional grower, a child in school, someone who likes to cook or wants to learn how to cook with fresher ingredients, I love helping people make their harvest more bountiful.

Gardening releases tension, and this time of year, allows us to enjoy the outdoors in near perfect temperatures. All it takes is one container and you’ll be hooked. This fall, try planting a single broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, or kale plant… you’ll be surprised by how fun it is to watch it grow. The Louisiana Urban Gardener is specifically geared toward beginners, but as you grow your garden you can grow your gardening library as well. In addition to my new book, I would suggest picking up the titles I’ve listed below.


Louisiana Home Vegetable Gardening (LSU AgCenter, 2014) is a great read, catering to medium to larger sized vegetable gardeners.

Dan Gill’s Month by Month Gardening (Cool Springs Press, 2001) reminds us of seasonal garden chores that take landscapes from blah to wow!

Gardening in the Humid South (LSU Press, 2004) authored by two very intelligent and funny men, Dr.’s Ed O’Rourke and Leon Standifer is a must read for anyone who missed out on their charming yet informative Country Roads garden column,  LSU classes, or garden tips shared over morning coffee.

Heirloom Gardening in the South: Yesterdays Plants for Today’s Gardeners (Texas A&M University Press, 2011) by William Welch and Greg Grant. Interested in heirlooms plants and vegetables? Then William and Greg’s book is a must read. It includes excellent stories and beautiful pictures.

And finally, every gardener needs a cookbook to help determine how to cook store and share our abundant produce. Chef John Folse nailed his last cookbook, Can You Dig It: Louisiana’s Authoritative Collection of Vegetable Cookery (Chef John Folse and Company, 2015), when he dedicated it to vegetables. This new cookbook will make veggies everyone’s favorite part of the meal.


Kathryn Fontenot is assistant professor and extension specialist with the LSU AgCenter’s School of Plant, Environmental, and Soil Sciences. She specializes in farmer’s markets and in home, community, and school gardens.

You can read more about Fontenot in 225 Magazine or do one better and buy her new book, The Louisiana Urban Gardener: A Guide to Growing Vegetables and Herbs.

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29
Nov 16

Jump Start Your Holiday Shopping at Season’s Readings

Jump Start Your Holiday Shopping at Season’s Readings
Join Faye Phillips, Billy Cannon, and LSU Press for Holiday Book + Journal Sale
Tuesday, November 29, 4:30–6:30 p.m., The Club on Union Square

This November, as you’re making your plans for the holiday season, pencil Season’s Readings into your calendar! As part of LSU’s Holiday Spectacular 2016, LSU Press and The Southern Review welcome you to our annual book and journal sale, with gift ideas for everyone on your shopping list. A copy of The Golden Band from Tigerland signed by author Faye Phillips will hit just the right note with the music fans in your life, while armchair historians will pore over Stanley Nelson’s tireless investigation into Klan murders of the 1960s, Devils Walking. Aviation expert Vincent P. Caire, cocktail connoisseur Liz Williams, and poets Alison Pelegrin and Ava Leavell Haymon will also be in attendance to sign copies of their books, along with Billy Cannon and his biographer, Charles deGravelles.

This year’s Season’s Readings, on Tuesday, 29 November, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Club on Union Square (formerly the Faculty Club), boasts a wide array of great titles at 20% off, more than a dozen local authors, and free gift wrapping. Enjoy complimentary hors d’oeuvres, coffee, and a cash bar while you shop great books and mingle with local authors. Free parking will be available from 4:30 to 8:30 in the Union Square Parking Garage.

Special guests will be in attendance to sign copies of LSU Press books:

The Golden Band from Tigerland’s Faye Phillips
Devils Walking’s Stanley Nelson
Military Aviation in the Gulf South’s Vincent P. Caire
Lift Your Spirits’s Liz Williams
Fonville Winans’s Louisiana’s Cyril Vetter
Waterlines’s Alison Pelegrin
Afton Villa’s Genevieve Trimble
Legendary Louisiana Outlaws’s Keagan LeJeune
Billy Cannon and his biographer Charles deGravelles
Louisiana Wild’s C. C. Lockwood
A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook’s Cynthia LeJeune Nobles
Seat Yourself’s Alex Cook
Louisiana Poet Laureate Ava Leavell Haymon
Hungry for Louisiana’s Maggie Richardson
River Road Rambler’s Mary Ann Sternberg
Best of LSU Fiction editors Nolde Alexius and Judy Kahn

Many other LSU Press titles and issues of The Southern Review will be available for sale. The Club on Union Square is located at the corner of Highland Road and Raphael Semmes, across Highland from the LSU Union.

For more information on Season’s Readings please contact LSU Press at 225.578.8282 or visit www.lsupress.org. Presented with support from the LSU Barnes & Noble.


04
Aug 16

Racism is a National Problem

David Goldfield is the author of Still Fighting the Civil War. He joins us on the blog today to talk about racism in the South and the nation.

The murders of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and of Philando Castile in St. Paul at roughly the same time underscores what I’ve been teaching and writing about for the past forty years: racism, and particularly the fraught interaction between law enforcement and black males, is a national, not merely a southern problem. The Sterling episode in Baton Rouge does not speak to the persistence of these problems especially in the South. It is a national problem. When the great black leader W.E.B Du Bois wrote in 1903 that the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line, he was not referring only to the South.

In 1966, when Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference came to Chicago to protest housing and job discrimination, angry white mobs confronted him and African Americans mostly ignored him. King allowed that in his years in the South he had never seen so much hatred as he saw in Chicago. Today, Chicago is the most segregated city in America.

As for voting rights, again, this is a national problem. The subterfuges of East Baton Rouge Parish, while they may have antedated the current flurry of legislation nationwide to limit minority voting power, is not much different from efforts in some Midwestern states to demand voter IDs, to close polling places, to limit early voting, or to purge voter rolls. Voting rights, like police-community relations, is no longer only a southern problem. It is a national disgrace.

As a native southerner, I looked forward to the day that the South would join the Union and abide by the spirit of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” Unfortunately, the rest of the nation has joined the South. Fortunately, there are places in the South, such as Charlotte, Nashville, and Atlanta — all New South cities — where the fires of brotherhood burn bright, and certainly brighter than in many northern cities. That encourages me to hope not that the South would rejoin the Union, but that southerners would lead the nation to higher ground of racial and ethnic understanding. From history, we especially know how the reverse turns out.


26
Jul 16

Black Lives and the Conundrum of Unimaginable Grace

The United States is suspended in an extended state of crisis. The very meaning of citizenship and the promises of protection from private intrusion in the Fourth Amendment and the promise of equal protection within the Fourteenth Amendment remain in jeopardy today just as was the case during Reconstruction and the subsequent era of de jure racism in the Jim Crow South and de facto racism throughout the rest of the nation. The twenty-first century is an era in which many—across lines of race and ethnicity—insist race no longer matters, that everyone has a fair chance if she or he just works hard and is a good person.

There are many examples of structural racism—historical practices that are actually embedded in the political, economic, and social systems of the nation—that refute the notion of a post-racial United States, just as there are countless legal claims and cases that prove the notion of a colorblind justice system a myth. Employment, education, healthcare, and housing are arenas in which African Americans have experienced unequal access since emancipation. This reality is inextricably linked to the growing national movement attuned to the problem of ordinary black lives holding no value to the nation once those lives were no longer enslaved and forced to labor without compensation.

We, the nation, inherited the sins of our forefathers and instead of correcting those sins many decades ago, the nation allowed them to fester and rot. Thus, today, the ramifications of unequal access to those four arenas central to citizenship and full incorporation into the nation—employment, education, healthcare, and housing—is playing out, literally, on all of our various screens, as one unarmed black person after the next is subjected to police violence (or mass incarceration). These violent altercations are shaped by both the historical racial inequities and the racialization and stereotypes imposed upon black citizens from slavery to the present.

What strikes me as most unbelievable about this phenomenon is not that certain law enforcement officers (by no means all) are racist—this is not new news. I am instead struck by the utter lack of empathy expressed, verbally or through silence, for the victims. I witness this daily on Facebook when the only posts expressing empathy for black people who have lost their lives or experienced grave bodily and psychological harm at the hands of law enforcement come from academic friends across race and ethnicity, African American family members and friends, and a few white liberal high school friends. The lack of empathy for the victims is indicative of what it looks like to be born into a nation where the remnants of denied personhood continue to inform present day notions of humanness, of what it means to be fully human.

I enter this warped reality from a conflicted position: I am the black mother of three black sons and the wife of a black law enforcement officer. As a mother, I am both fearful and infuriated that I am supposed to do more than is required of white mothers as I raise my sons. That I am supposed to teach them principles for the best chance of survival (success is not guaranteed) in a nation that marked them as a “problem,” as a menace to society, at birth. And, no, my sons’ middle class status does not protect them. It does not protect them from stereotypes in school and it does not protect them from ignorant notions that black people are simply “more violent” and black boys and men are “intimidating.” Just ask Senator Tim Scott.

While I am concerned about my boys, I also cannot help but think about the Facebook post of one of the most recent fallen police officers, Montrell Jackson. In the aftermath of the July 5th shooting of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police officers, Officer Jackson posted on Facebook on July 8th: “I swear to God I love this city, but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty, hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat. . . . These are trying times. Please don’t let hate infect your heart.” His statement and the recent targeting of law enforcement officers by African American men in Dallas and Baton Rouge made me feel nothing but dread when just a week later my husband volunteered to be one of the thousands of law enforcement officers working to ensure order and safety at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

My husband’s career choice has been a major point of contention in our household for the 10.5 years he has been in that profession. I have never personally had a negative experience with a police officer. In fact, the few experiences I have had have been professional and cordial on the part of the officer. But that fact does not stop me from being apprehensive about law enforcement (it also does not stop me and my children from hating the schedule and all that my husband misses in his absence). My apprehension is not about getting caught doing something wrong, but about how, by doing nothing wrong, I could still be accused of doing wrong, as I have witnessed in countless videos of police stops across this country.

This apprehension is not simply shaped by a troubled history of corruption and discrimination in many law enforcement units across the nation. It is also shaped by things I have observed as the wife of a police officer: wondering why so many officers policing urban cities live in rural communities; wondering why so many officers who never lived in urban cities want to police in those spaces; wondering what other words besides “Jew,” “gay,” and “fag” I would hear bantered back and forth at the holiday party if my husband and I were not there. I wonder why my husband and some of his white colleagues feel their diversity training is ineffective, not because the department does not care about the issue, but rather because it has fallen susceptible to the trend of believing that anyone who lays claim to doing diversity consulting is educated and competent on the subject.

Something else I recently had to wonder is how many times my husband could have “legally” shot a civilian. I knew and have written about one incident in which someone tried to unholster my husband’s partner’s firearm, and my initial shock when he explained that the only reason he did not shoot the perpetrator was due to having an unclear shot. I have since learned that he has nearly pulled the trigger countless times during traffic stops when people will not show their hands and are reaching around in their vehicles (usually trying to conceal drugs). These instances put me in a conflicted space: no one has the right to threaten the life of my husband for doing his job, yet equally no one, simply by virtue of having a badge and gun, has the right to determine that someone is a threat based on their skin tone.

There is an additional facet to my dread and apprehension. The two men who assassinated police officers were veterans. The mother of Gavin Long, the Baton Rouge shooter, has noted that her son suffered from PTSD and the military refused to treat him. There has been recent, but far from enough, media coverage of this pervasive problem. And the problem is not new. In my most recent book, When We Imagine Grace: Black Men and Subject Making, one chapter focuses on my grandfather, Major Gilbert Alexander Boothe, a retired officer of the US Army and a Buffalo Soldier. He was in the first unit of African American soldiers to fight in battle during WWII (as opposed to cleaning latrines and being sent to deliver supplies on battlefields with no firearms). What he accomplished as a black man in the military during that time, both through rank, medals and honors, and afterward by earning a master’s degree in psychology, is something few men of any race have done. But, as my father pointed out, the fact that my grandfather came back from Europe and Korea having seen what he saw, experienced vile discrimination, and managed to not only be functional but to achieve in spaces not previously open to black men, particularly sharecropping black men from rural Georgia, made my grandfather amazing.

But underneath my grandfather’s exceptionalism was rage. The rage was driven not just by the carnage of war he saw on the battlefields and the discrimination he experienced in the barracks, but also the reality of his blackmaleness in the nation he risked his life for and returned home to as a second-class citizen. His wife and children felt his rage in the private space of their home, while in public spaces he was given awards for community uplift. It is such a sad state of affairs that half a century after my grandfather returned home from offering his country the highest form of service, other black servicemen are returning feeling the same rage.

In her novel Beloved, which is a true national treasure, Toni Morrison writes about the trauma of slavery and the struggle for a community of free blacks in Cincinnati to not simply survive but to feel truly human when they were all once property. A matriarch of the community, Baby Suggs, implores these traumatized and disenfranchised human beings to “imagine grace.” She insists, “The only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it.”  Perhaps this is what Kendrick Lamar hopes, too, can be understood in the lyrics to “We gon’ be alright” and Beyonce hopes might be accomplished by having Sister Sledge style “all her sisters with [her]” in “formation.”  But more than just imagining grace, Baby Suggs speaks to black people’s humanness in a manner eerily relevant today and worthy of an extensive quote, because it intersects directly with many of the encounters between law enforcement officers and black people that have ended badly:

“Here,” she said, “in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise then up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on our face ‘cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your moth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.”

The eloquent prose of our Nobel Laureate in fiction echoes real life. Ultimately, it boils down to black people being denied grace, or the Websterian granting of free and unmerited favor, because they still, today, are not seen as fully human. Whether it is fictive African American women imagining how ideologies borrowed from outside the US might offer them solace from raced and gendered experiences, which I study in Critical Appropriations: African American Women and the Construction of Transnational Identity; whether it is real and imagined African American men working to define themselves against narrow stereotypes and embrace their multidimensionality, as I examine in When We Imagine Grace; or whether it is black people and allies across race and ethnicity marching and demanding that black lives matter just as much as anyone else’s; what is indisputable is that we as a nation will never be free or be a true democracy until we can grant free and unmerited favor to every human being calling this nation home, simply because they are human.

Simone Drake is assistant professor of African American studies at Ohio State University and the author of Critical Appropriations: African American Women and the Construction of Transnational Identity.