If We Don’t Know about Racism, Maybe it’s Our Own Fault

The Public Defender broke the news: the DA was dismissing the charges against my friend. We were seated in his office, a small, square space with a desk and chair and not much else. I was there in my year-long wade through racism and incompetence in support of my friend. A white woman had claimed—three months after the fact—he had stolen her purse....

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When Your President Can Do No Wrong

The dry cleaners my grandparent owned smelled like hot cloth and headache-inducing sizing and musty Town Creek. I could kneel on the floor, squint an eye over a hole, and watch the creek flow beneath downtown Jackson, Mississippi. When I rose, I dusted my dirty palms as the iron sewing machine whirred, stabbing and hemming, mending and sewing. Late...

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Where Do We Go from Here?

The revisions to my Mississippi novel have reached the “listening to the computer read to me” stage. I’ve received wonderfully helpful feedback from Beta readers and spent 2 months implementing it. “Implementing” sounds so neutral, but I wrote another 20,000 words and revised the ones I already had on the page. Now...

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Violent or Peaceful?

My last year at the University of Virginia, I took a masters-level Applied Sociology class. There I learned that small changes in our public spaces—placement of the exit on the bus, arrangement of an apartment complex courtyard—can lead to huge changes in group behavior. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated by forces that influence us in ways...

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Do You Want to Be Lied to, or Not?

They use it as an asterisk. Like when the governing commission is forced to add an explanation to a sports stat. Babe Ruth and Roger Maris or whatever. The sports hero is the greatest ever…except with this teensy asterisk caveat. The same treatment is granted to the white men who established America. Historians, politicians, we white people—we...

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My Date with a Neo-Nazi

I went to lunch with a Neo-Nazi. We had gyros and iced tea, I’m pretty sure, but the details of the food escape me. What I’ll never forget was my dawning realization that this man was a nutcase. He was tall and incredibly good-looking in a blond Aryan blue-eyed way. (Yes, this is a true story, though it’s starting to sound...

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White People’s Ego Will Get You Killed

The two young men had been high school friends. One was Black, one was white. The Black man went missing. He had last been seen with the young white man, his friend. The white man schemed with his half-brother to shoot the young Black man and rob him. The brothers buried the Black man in a shallow grave, and the white man’s wife allegedly later...

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The Mississippi that Might Still Be

When I heard that Mississippi during this massive moment of potential change was focusing on its racist flag, at first I thought, oh, dear Lord —that’s what Mississippians think matters now? But. I lose count when I try to say how many generations I’ve been from Mississippi (’cause, you know, we’re not very good at...

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When a White Woman Accuses a Black Man

He was a writer, a man I’ll call Jonathan. Jonathan was in writing group with me one hour before he was accused of having snatched a purse from a woman on the street, a felony even though the purse had less than $10 in it. I told the investigators that Jonathan had just left writing group when this crime supposedly occurred; there was no way...

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