It’s Different

“Begin with yourself,” said several of the panelists at today’s Memphis United People’s Conference on Race and Equality. They were talking about racism. “Begin with yourself and ripple out from there: to your household, your family, your neighborhood, your community.” This ls a paraphrase, but the concept was repeated many times.

This is where I begin today:

We went to the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum for a Door of Hope Writing Group outing. Every other month we go for lunch and a field trip. The site usually is picked by the group but, at the last minute, our site for this month’s trip proved unavailable. With a hasty substitute, we set off.

I was walking through the museum, noticing that all the initial voices on the tape leading us through the museum were white. I also noticed an exhibit describing crooked landowners cheating sharecroppers—I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an admission before. I listened as Rufus Thomas described sneaking into the WDIA control room to learn how to twist the knobs. He wanted to learn but WDIA—which I thought was a Black-owned radio station because its audience was African-American and the writers who wrote about playing for the baseball team were African American—was owned by white folks, hence the sneaking. All through the museum, I noticed Whites Only signs and other reminders of the times. I noticed these things because how we choose to tell the story—or not—is important to me.

The next day we wrote about our trip. I reminded the group they could write about any aspect of the trip, and sometimes what we experience in a place is not what the organizers intended. I said this because on the way home from the museum, one of the African-American writers told me how hurtful the initial exhibits on sharecropping were to her. Because she’d been in the fields with her grandmother. She remembered as a little girl what the words were describing. Others chose to write about this aspect of the museum as well. The pain caused by the Whites Only signs. How much these reminders hurt.

Earlier that week, I had mentioned to a friend that my husband and I visited Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum. I’d gone to the museum because I’m from Mississippi; I live in Memphis; race is an important issue to me that I’ve responded to by reading books, attending lectures, listening and learning, trying to educate myself. My friend told me the way she and I experienced Slave Haven would be different. “Because I am Black and you are white,” she said. “It’s different.”

I heard her then, but I did not understand until I went to the a museum that had nothing to do with race; experienced the museum, including its racial aspects; then heard African-Americans write about their experience of the same museum. Then I understood.

It’s different.

here’s to creative synthesis . . . .

creative synthesis, Memphis United, People's Conference on Race and Equality, racism, story, Writing

Comments (4)

  • I hadn’t thought of the Rock and Soul Museum as being such an effective reminder of our racial legacies. Perhaps it would make a good field trip for
    R2R1.
    A powerful and candid comment. Thank you.

  • Great post, Ellen! I have definitely had a few “It’s different” moments in my life as well. It’s a weird, warm seat to be in, wanting so much to understand and with your whole heart, and knowing full well that it is just not possible in the way you want to–in the way you thought you could. Here’s to the striving–it takes someone to listen for any story to keep its breath. The stories the writers shared are stories we ALL need to hear.

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