We went away to Charleston for a long weekend, a final, celebratory jaunt as a family of two. We walked miles and miles every day and ate incredible amounts of delicious food (on any holiday, walking and eating are my primary ambitions). And then we spied some of the most grand old rowhouses, cheerful dogs, a trio of dolphins, and an injured bald eagle and maimed kestrel (at the aquarium, where they somewhat incongruously reside).
After eight years of marriage, we’ve become very compatible travel companions. He knows that I will be unnecessarily anxious about the airport (not about flying, but about being in an airport, for which I reserve a special kind of loathing) and accommodates in advance to reduce my fretting. I know that he will find the best restaurants in any given city, so I don’t spend any time researching them. He knows that I will want to find some animals to admire, wherever they exist, and I know that he will want to stop and photograph unfamiliar flowers or vines or shrubs. We rarely need to even voice our desires, which frees us up to have conversations at dinner about inconsequential abstractions (gender politics, music theory, creative expression, the value of performance art, the frequency with which one should shampoo).
If there is anything I fear, it is the dread of the unknown, the simmering concern that a new person in the family will ruin our happy relationship. Parents we trust and respect tell us that raising children will, in time, deepen our relationship. Our sorrows and joys will both be more extreme. But as an emotionally illiterate person, I can’t help but hear this reassurance as deeply troubling.
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“Lord, give us what you have already given.” — A character in Ilya Kaminsky’s Dancing in Odessa
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I’m feeling burnt out on baby books, so I have been reading a history of the heroin epidemic, a field guide to North American trees, and a hefty novel by Elsa Morante. I am now feeling a little bit more like myself. Baby books are stressful.
The day we left for Iceland, nine congregants at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, were murdered by a young white man, motivated by hatred and racism. Guion read the news to me while we were picking up our rental car in Reykjavik, and we were stunned and appalled.
Upon returning home, this tragedy loomed over my thoughts and continues to do so. I cannot say anything that even remotely compares with President Obama’s beautiful eulogy, which brought me to tears, or with the many other thoughtful and important essays and articles that have been published since the shooting, but I felt like I had to write something, in my small way.
The essential thing is this: As white people, it is easy to feel separate from this incident and to write off the killer as a solo actor who does not represent us. But I would challenge us white Americans todwell in complicity. Meditate on what it might mean for us to carry this burden, to acknowledge this cowardly young man as a product of the environment we have fed and fostered. Don’t fetishize black forgiveness; don’t feel like we, as white people, are off the hook because of the unbelievable grace of this congregation. Don’t pretend like this was an isolated and surprising incident, coming out of some shocking, hidden wellspring of racial hatred. We know where such bigoted hate comes from. We knew it was coming. We started it; we brought it here.
Racism is an impossibly vast monster. But I’d like to posit that without doing some magical collective thinking — and communal acknowledgment that we, as American whites, are as guilty as the depraved murderer — we will make no headway in fighting that monster.
As a white woman born and raised in the South, I want to be daily aware of my complicity in the heartbreaking racism that plagues my fellow white people. I want to acknowledge the racism that unfortunately takes residence in my own heart. Without such humility and admission of our collective guilt, will we ever come to repentance?