This may sound like a terrible joke…. but White Mormon Chick walks into Powell’s Books in Portland to find Roots by Alex Haley on the Staff Picks shelf. For $8.98 and no sales tax (love Oregon) no less! I committed. I’ve got a family history tour of small-town courthouses across the Western United States with my 88 year old Grandma looming ahead, and Roots is dense enough to be a welcome travel companion. And you, lovely reader, get to come along for the ride.
Let’s set some expectations:
1) I know nothing about this book, other than everyone who’s read it is surprised that I haven’t, and it stands as a pivot point for the black community in America. I perused the Wikipedia page on it, but haven’t done more research than that. I’d love to make observations and first impressions with you as we read it before digging into other’s critiques.
2) I grew up in the suburbs of Houston in an arguably well-off neighborhood and definitely one of the best school districts in Texas and the nation. Our high school was brand new my freshman year and pulled from the three other high schools in the district to create a scant Sophomore and full Freshman class in 2001. This meant students from the mostly black and Hispanic school closer to downtown, from the upper-class Asian and White high school, and the redneck high school out in the sticks were coming together for something other than rivalry football games. Ours was the most diverse and the highest academically achieving school in the district within the first year. And after a few fumbling years of Freshmen playing Seniors, we outstripped the district in football, too! Looking back at my high school year book, I’m surprised by how diverse it really was. This may be a musing for another time, but what gave me pause was the fact that the diversity didn’t register while I was in high school — we were all just students.
3) We’re living in an America that is more racially divided than — I’ll just go ahead and say it — we have ever been before. At least in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s day there was a clear Us and Them. Today we’re facing down a multi-barreled blunderbuss. Black Lives Matter makes headlines, but there’s a growing sector of black community publishing blogs and YouTube rants against BLM. There are black police officers who don’t know who to stand with. There’s a vast majority of white people (also a blog post for another time…. but we should dive into what it means to be “white”) who claim they aren’t racist, but are being shot down by the advent of the “microaggression.” There are some white people who are racists. There are some black people who are racists. There’s widespread corruption no matter your skin color. And Asians? Silently taking over Harvard, MIT, and Silicone Valley? We’ve also got more illegal immigration on our hands than ever before pitted against legal immigrants — who is entitled to access to the American Dream? How do you profile the brown people you know? The profiling Muslim-Americans and others of Middle-Eastern descent face is fodder for a whole other blog.
4) Before I offered any opinions on the current state of the Nation, I decided (with the help of Powell’s books) to do what any upper-middle-class, educated woman would: read about it. After Roots, I’ve got some Ta-Nehisi Coates to read but I’m also taking suggestions. What have you read recently on race relations in the US and what did you learn? What did you change about your daily behavior?
I’m opening the conversation here to all who wish to contribute. That being said — rudeness is NOT next to Godliness. Keep your comments civil and like my 2nd Cousin Suzy said recently: We all have college degrees, so I’m certain we can have a good discussion about this sensitive topic.