tv Discussion on Race CSPAN November 11, 2018 7:19am-8:22am EST
[inaudible conversations] >> you're watching booktv on c-span2. for a complete television schedule, visit booktv.org. you can also follow i a long -- follow along behind the scenes on twitter, instagram and facebook. and our final program of the day from the southern festival of books in nashville is a discussion on race in america. >> goodn afternoon, everyone. thank you so much for joining us here. my name is olusola tribble. [applause] i am the community and organizational development coordinator at metro arts nashville's office of arts and
culture, and i am privileged to facilitate the racial equity and leadership program as well as the restorative the justice in arts programs there at metro arts. and i am delighted and thrilled to be in conversation with these prolific authors this afternoon. yes. and so we're going to do brief introductions going here down thee line. we have kiese -- >> hello. [laughter] i'm going to be super brief. my name's kiese laymo, in the. i'm a black southern writer from jackson, mississippi. wrote a novel called long division, essay or collection and have a memoir coming out tuesday called heavy, and thank y'all for coming. [applause] >> hi. i'm rae paris, i'm from carson,
california, and i was a professor if at michigan state in east lansing, and i just moved to seattle, and now i'm a professor at the university of washington. and this is my first book. [applause] > my name is rochelle reilly- i don't know if this is on. [inaudible conversations] >> my name is rochelle riley, and i'moc the media. i have been -- [laughter] i've been a journalist my whole life. i was a tarheel, studied journalism at the university of north carolina at chapel hill, worked at six different newspapers including "the washington post" and the "dallas morning news". i'm now a columnist for the detroit free press, and i have decided after all of these years of journalism, i now want to write books. so i'm not a prolific thoracic i'm a prolific writer. you know, when you write three
columns a week for years and years and years and years, you get used to writing. i'm working on my first novel. i can tell you it's very different when you get something that has your name on the front and you get toe hold it, and is i've been crying since february. [laughter] but i was so honored to be asked to present at this festival. one of the best i've ever seen, and i love libraries. that was my first job. because it means that books still matter and reading still matters, so i am so glad there's so many people in this room to hear us talk about our books, so thank you very much. [applause] >> first, before we get into the meat of our conversation, i'm going to ask each of our authors to offer us a brief reading from their work. and if we could start with rae, that would with great. >> okay -- that would be great.
>> okay. also before i read i just want to acknowledge that the book fest, like, all of our businesses, institutions in our lives existay on indigenous lan, and we're gathered on native land, and i'm very grateful to be here. i'm going to read from the long essay that starts the book, and i'm going to jump over huge sections because of time. summer 2010, i take a solo drive across the country, tempe, arizona, to ripton, vermont, via new orleans on my way to one of the whitest states in the union to meet my husband who's working for the first time at what i'll eventually start referring to is the whitest school of english. my last stop before vermont will be auburn, new york, to visit harriet tubman's resting place. i'm in the middle of a literature fellowship, and this drive is part of my research. i'm thinking it might inform a future collection of stories possibly set in new orleans and other parts of the south or maybe some essays. i'm interested in the ways we preservey the past, we mostly
beingrl but not limited to the settler colonial nation-state most commonly referred to as the united states. i'm interested in what we build monuments to, the fictions we tell about our yesterday and how these fictions inform and shape our violent presence. i'm not quite sure what i'm doing. i'm guilty of remonth sizing the south to -- mow plant sizing the -- row plant seizing the south to a certain extent. my desire for black homes romanticize a place they've never actually lived for any significant amount of time and have constructed mostly from other people's shaky, loving dreams, joy-filled lives and heart-felt terror. but i do romanticize it, especially new orleans. when my parents left new orleans in the late '50s and moved to southern california -- first, to l.a. and then about a half hour south of downtown to our red line, black neighborhood where most, if not all of the families
were from somewhere south -- they, of course, brought their stories with them. as i say again and again, it's the silence that sticks with me. always at the edges and underneath their stories about what it meant for my if parents to come of age under segregation, to be poor, to be the first ones in their families and to attend and graduate from college, what it meant to leave their families. there was always something i couldn't quite reach in the stories they might have told when i wasn't in the right space, when i didn't know how to listen. i drive 12 hours the first day so i can get through texas, past the peak where they reenact one of the most western civil war battles every year, past border patrol through rands of the gila river and apache, always on native lands but not always thinkingng consciously about th. i hate driving through texas. i hated driving through texas
before they murdered sandra bland and before white supremacists dragged james berry
to his death. texas never ends. you drive and a drive, and you'e still in texas, and every write they remind you about how you're not supposed to mess with whatever lie texas claims to be. i drive so many hours that first day so i can be in louisiana the next. and so i end up going to a plantation, and then i ended up seeing my brother who had recently moved there. i'm jumping to the morning i leave new orleans. the morning i leave, i hear them before i see them. i'm packing the car when rattles and bells, shaking tambourines, beating drums, chanting and singing come fromm around the corner. a group of people, all black dressed in white, men in white pants and shirts, some shirtless, one of the men shaking a rattle is masked. the group move down nichols street -- governor nichols street. i stand by the open trunk of my car. the
masked man side winds his way to me, rattle in the air.
our friend once told me how her father, who was also from new orleans but who died just before i met her, used to warn her don't let anybody ever shake anything at you this new orleans. the masked man shakes the rattle with feathers over my if face, over my shoulders, over my heart, down the frontn of my body. i know without completely understanding it's not the hex my friend's father warned her of, but a blessing, so i let him. i need it. the night before, my brother and i frank wine and talked about our family -- drank wine and talked about our family. a difficult conversation that left me exhausted. i told him stories of violence. it was his first time hearing me tell these stories. he listened. i close my eyes now while the man shakes the rattle. i try not to cry. i'm still tired from the night before and from being in a city where i always feel like i'm time traveling. the man finish it is his
blessing, and the dancers move to the tomb of the unknown slave where they sing ask dance their prayers of honor and remembrance. i watch for a bit and then go inside and tell my brother. my brother walks me to the car, he tells me to be safe, to text me from the road so he knows i'm okay. you're going to be okay, he says. it's a question and t a reminde. this ise the brother who got me writing. who because i was bothering him when he was younger, gave me a notebook and told me to listen to the music, stevie wonder, and write down how it made me feel. i turned the radio to wkoz and cry my way out over "do you know what it means" across the bridge until i hit mississippi. thanks. [applause] >> thank you. miss rochelle? >> oh. is this working now? oh, good. i don't have to take your mic.
thank you. that was very powerful, thank you so much for sharing that. i grew up in tarboro, north carolina. there were 10,000 people there when i grew up, 10,000 people there now. and so it's a segregated town. black folks lived on the east side ofsi town, and white folks lived on the west side of town. and i remember being 8 years old, and my grandfather -- who raised me with my grandmother -- being the best golfer in town and not being allowed to play on the public if golf course which, to me, meant slavery. once i learned, it's no that big a deal -- not that big a deal. so i knew at some point i wanted to talk about howow slavely didt really end, it just changed addresses and moved from plantations to courtrooms and boardrooms and newsrooms and classrooms and that we have never dealt withr it in this country, not in 400 years. but d i didn't do it because ifi was a journalism major who wanted to tell the news, and
post-watergate everything was news, and i became a journalist of the things that we thought howere real. but underthe surface the realest thing about america, we still weren't dealing with. so three years ago the columnist for the pittsburgh paper said black people need to get over slavery. it wasn't that bad, and they were better off than had we had black people stayed in africa. and that let me know two things about this columnist, jack kelly. one is that he'd never been to the africa, and, two, he didn't know any black people. you can write anything you want, even if it's wrong. so i couldn't write a column saying jack kelly's an idiot. so i decided to write an essay about why slavery and the vestiges of it and the pain and damage of it still persist. and then i decided, well, why should i be one person still railing against the machine, so i decided to get a chorus of voices together.
my first call went to my friend leonard pitts with the miami herald, and i said i'm writing this book about how slavery persists, and he was in the middle of writing his book, and he put it down and said i'll write something. and i called my friend hannah jones from "the new york times," and i said i'm writing this book, and she was in the middleover her book and said i'll write your forward. and then i called the great granddaughter of madam c.j. walker and said i'm doing this, and she was working on her book, and she put it down and said i'll write something. and then i add aye distinguish shah hines if she would write something. she said, i'm not a writer, but i'll try. i got 23 voices, and the thing that was most telling to me was i didn't say anything except this is the theme, and they all sent in essays, and not one of thees essays was the same as the other ones. so i'm just going to read you, literally, a paragraph there
nicole's brilliant forward to this book, "the burden," and then i'll tell you what the burden is. we choose to forget that slavery was a national scourge, that northern states also allowed slavery, that the entire nation profited from it. congress, after passing the 13th amendment,he realized that it ws not enough to outlaw the institution of layoffly, and so -- slavery, and so it passed zell rights laws in the 1860s to eliminate the badges of slavery. a hundred years later in ruling against a white community that prohibited black residents from moving in, the supreme court ruled that the 13th amendment had clothed congress with power to pass all laws necessary and proper for abolishing all badges and incidents of slavery in the united states. and that it empowered congress rad candidate the last -- to eradicate the last vestiges of a society half slave and half agree. the badge of slavery wasn't our skin,it it was the conditions created to demean, degrade, exploit and control those with our skin. we have never rid ourselves of
those badges, not in the 1860s, not in the 1960s, not know. we remain a nation of full citizens and part citizens, and our o original sin remains the thing for which we, the people the sin was visited upon, can never be forgiven. our very presence here reminds this great nation of all that we are not. so that was nicole hannah jones. so i got all of these essays, and i got her forward, and i thought, well, lord, what am i going to say? [laughter] in the introduction, the very first sentence is i will not shut up about slavery, and i won't. this is mys 60th appearance across the country to have the conversation about this, because we refuse to talk about it. we've refused to get to know each other. and because of, that hate persists in this country and is worse now than it has ever been except when it was legal. and it could be legal again if we're not careful. anyway, a short piece from my case. the scene isen seared from --
seared in my memory. red raises his hand to catch the attention of the manager. his white supervisor calls him over,, you don't need to ask me every time you need to take a piss, understand? red nods, he goes to the men's room. his h words in voiceover hang in the air, 40 years i've been asking permission the pisss. i can't squeeze a drop without say so. that iss what prison did to a grown man in a fictional film, the shawshank redemption. that is what being enslaved did to a people. there are thousands of examples in written history that detail the physical brutality, but what american america must pay more attention to is the emotional brutality that boils down to a single post-slavery word, permission. permission to speak. permission to vote. permission to work in jobs that allow us to use all of our talents. permission to drink from
community water fountains. permission to dine at public lunch s counters. er mission to sit anywhere on public buses that our taxpayers pay for. permission to embrace the freedom the deemancipation proclamation lied about. permission to run for the presidency of the united states of america. we, african-americans in the united states, have spent a century and a half seeking permission, hiding our lights under bushels, accepting less than we deserve because we've been trained to believe we don't deserve more. it is time to put that burden down. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> all right. thank you for that, rochelle. and i just want to talk for a second about permission. because i was lucky enough to read rae's book about a year ago, maybe a year and a half.
and at the time i needed permission to write into the folds of my familial history and things i didn't want to talk about, and rae gave me that permission, so thank you. what i want to do is just read a pageea and a half from this book called "heavy: an american memoir." it is a book that is written to you, and it is directly addressed to my mother. so she is to you in this page and a half. the next day, april 29, 1992, the night of the rodney king verdict, you held me in my lap and would not stop rocking for two hours. we watched l.a. burn as cameras showed a white man pulled from a truck getting beat up by black and brown men at an l.a. intersection. iha hope you see what they arent showing, you said. i want you to write an essay about what white folk feel tonight. i know they're blaming you. i looked at you like your bread wasn't tone because the last thing i cared about was what
white folks felt. i was tired of paying for white focus' feelings with manufactured excellence they could not give one fuck about. it didn't matter if it was white police, white teachers, white students or white randoms, i didn't want to teach white folk not to steal, the i didn't want to teach white folk to treat us respectfully, i wanted tore faiy fight white folk, and i wanted to knock them out. even more than knocking them out, i wanted to never, ever lose. to them again. i knew there was no way to not lose unlesss we took every bit f what had been stolen from us. i wanted all of the money, the safety, the education, the healthy choices, the second chances they stole. if we were to ever get what we were owed, i knew we had to take it all back without getting caught because no creation on earth was as all-world as white folk as -- [inaudible] they were absolute geniuses at
inventing new ways for masses of black folk with less to suffer more. ourou superpower, i was told sie i was a child, was perseverance, the ability to survive no matter how much they took from us. i never understood how surviving was our collective superpower when white folk made sure so many of us did not survive. and those of us who did survive practiced bending so much that breaking often seemed inevitable. when you finally started snoring, i crept into the kitchen, opened the garage, got in your olds mobile, put it in neutral, pushed it out the driveway. i didn't go far, i wait waited in the parking lot for the bread truck to pulmo. when the driver went in the store, i got out of the car, smashed as many packages as i could and took off back to my car. i sped away from the grocery store and drove to the parking lot overlooking the ross barnett reservoir. i ate cinnamon rolls that night
until i got the shivers. the next morning i served you some buttered wheat toast. you hugged my neck and told me thank you. you told me we would win our fight. you never asked me where the bread came from. [applause] >> wow. so met me get -- let me get my thoughts together, get my if life together here. the thread that i'm finding in each of i your books is the promissory nature of hope, right? and it's what you guys are all performing here and requiring of blackness, right? of the -- and blackness that is always stalked and stolen and
broken. and the, the performance is remembering that which has been broken, right? i would love for each of you guys to talk about there's this great line in kiese's book here whenen you say i learned how to assemble memory and imagination when ior almost wanted to die, right? and it seems that the three of you guys are doing that in your own way. the space between living and dying and even beyond death, right? rae, you talk about visiting places, but in a sense you were making these bones and long-dead
ghosts live, you know? when we talk about slavery, we are resurrecting the dead in a sense. and so i wonder if each of you could talk about that a little bit. >> that's a lot. [laughter] yeah, thank you. so to talk about that, i mean, it might get boring, because i'm going to have to talk about art and the importance if of artistry in making back lives. >> right. >> you know, a lot of my friends have actually within on the ground working with the black lives matter movement, and i think that we sometimes -- those of us who love ourselves and are trying to love ourselves -- we think so much of the idea about black lives mattering that we don't think about the idea of artistry thatde goes into black lives being constructed. one of the things that i was trying to do with my book is create an art object that
actually honored the brokenness and the attempt at mending. but there is no deliverance in my book.o i'm writing my book to my mother. my mother and i are working on loving each other. one of the hindrances is anti-blackness and white supremacy. but i think everything that i read, the american memoir in general, i think, encourages a kind of, like, resolution. and i just did not want to create a pieceo of art that gave in to that sort of resolution. and in doing that, i felt like that was one way i could honor a particular kind of blackness. particularly, a particular kind of deeply southern blacknesses. and so the brokenness that i think you do hear running through everything we doat is a kind of art. and i think, i think tending to the that brokenness is the artistry. but i don't think purporting that that brokenness is mended is what i'm interested in doing, though i do think that the market really wants us to do that for deliverance sake and
everything else -- >> exoneration. >> exoneration and progress. so i can just say that i tried to create -- in order to create an art object with integrity, i had to write it to, so that the most intimate relationship of my life, and that is to my mother. and then, because i know people always want black boys to end saying i love you mom, and i do love my mama, the last sentence in my book is, please, ma pa -- mama, do t not be mad at me. i do think that's part of what our love has to end tail. -- entail. [applause] >> if we could all hold our applause until the end so we can -- [laughter] make sure we have a full hour to have a full discussion. thank you. >> thanks for that, kiese. yeah, it's so much. i think i'll pick up on the brokenness and trying to create art. and so the second part of the -- of the book is the forgetting tree of rememory. so it's thinking about toni
morrison's concept of you two to places, and what's happening in those places is still happening. you can't go back to sweet home, because if you go there, it's going to be waiting for. so i was actually working on prose beforeid i did this, and then my father passed. he had dementia for a while, so i had already started to think about what happens to memories. but when he passed, whatever i was working on faded away, and i started writing poetry. there's images in the book, there's poetry, there's prose pieces. and the only way i could talk about the historical violence, the intergenerational trauma was to create a book that was fragmenteded and that, hopefully in the fragmentation, there is a kind of wholeness in it. but again, i don't think anything gets resolved in this book. it's more going deeper into the fragmentation. and the other piece of it, too,
is thinking about what we remember and what happens to our guys and thinking what happens to theo work of black women in particular, how our work often gets erased or claimed by other people. and so the book itself becomes an archive of these historical eventsve of family stories and becomes a way to remember things that my family has tried to forget,o that history has tried to forget. but i think the collection is just a collection of chards, and i don't think -- it comes together in its brokenness. >> yeah. >> that is a lot of question, but i'm going to try to deal with the part that has to deal with and history. with death and history. the reason america remains broken is because it refuses to deal with what would be its greatest death, and that's the death of white supremacy. this is a nation that is based on white supremacy. it is no different now in the efforts to make sure that black
children don't learn than when black people were not allowed to be taught to read. and i talked about growing up in the south. my parents divorced, so we were in new york. my father got new york, my mother got north carolina, i thought the world had ended until i realized that north carolina was much greater for writing. but in new york there was this battle, intellectual ballot against racism. and in north carolina, as in everywhere in the deep south, it was a way of life. but what we've done in this country is done a great disservice to ourselves and generation after generation because we literally are fighting against thisin tide of making sure that the history is killed, making sure that the history is dead and buried. let's not talk about slavery, let's not talk about what happened in this country. all of my jewish friends, literally, have invisible tattoos that say never forget. but we are taught in this country to try and always forget, to be more in the mainstream, to be a part of the
human race and not the black every single guy there's a guy who writes me and says why do you write so much about black people? i tell him every single time, well, first of all, i'm black. [laughter] but second, why does it bother you? what is it about my writing about my people and my history and if my my culture that makes you so uncomfortable that you feel it needs to be disappeared? i am not going to let it disappear. so one of the greatest disservices we do is with education. i want one america, one history. instead, we teach this history that is incomplete so that black children grow up not knowing how great they are. drake was wrong, wen didn't start at the bottom and now we're here, we started here, came here and have risen, and they tonight know that arc. but also -- they don't know that arc. but if children of all races knew that, they wouldn't feel some greater e or sense of superiority from the time they're 3 years old. so i think the biggest death is the one that we don't want to
deal with, and that's the death of white supremacy which keeps our country from being as great as we can be. we need to stop pretending that racism is not real. >> make america great in the first place, right? >> yeah. the great america that could be greater. >> right. the, this is a perfect segway to my next question. last week i participated in an anti-racismee training, and onef the trainers said that a primary mark of white supremacy is an epistemology off forgetting, right? and what you said, rochelle, about you werebo reporting on things that we thought were real was very striking, and this -- the way that the three of you gather stories together really shifts that e first nothing -- e
dismoll such that we're able to feel it in our bodies not just through reading, but a literal, atyou know, gathering of memory, of bones, of ghosts, of all of that. i would love for each of you to talk about whether or not you fell that shift -- felt that shift, ifin that's what you were trying to do? yeah. [inaudible conversations] maybe let's start with rochelle. yeah. > where'd you go to school? [laughter] >> a couple places. >>e oh, or yeah. i mean, the questions are very deep, so i'm trying to figure out the best way to answer it in a way that makes sense for me. >> yeah. >> i never shifted. my goal from the time i was 8
years old has been to tell stories. and what i realized early on in my career is that the stories i wanted to tell were different from the ones that everybody else i worked for wanted to tell. and i had no problem fighting to do that. so my gathering of information -- i'm'm not a black journalist. i remember when jesse jackson ran for president and we were forced to ask, answer the question are you a black journalist or are you a journalist who's black. and i remember my dear friend gwen ifill talking about how ridiculous the question was. and it still persists. where people want to have two parallel tracts of stories in america, when there's one satisfactory -- one story that you keep plucking things out of. whether it's the cabal of folks in texas who try to keep things outth of textbooks or call us migrant workers who came to build america and they just forgot to pay us, which is insulting finish. >> right, right, right. >> to leaving out entire bits of
pre-colonialism to make children believe nothing start before white people discovered places that already existed. so i think for me -- actually, there was a shift. the biggest shift for me is that i will not be silenced about it anymore. i havee now'v reached a point iy career as a columnist where i can write whatever i want, and i literally do. i wrote this book while continuing to do my job. i'm working on the second book now while continuing to do my job. and if my job in my life is to write whatever the hell i say i want to write. that's the best freedom in the world, and i still do it for a white newspaper. but there is a shift that still needs to happen that a lot of people have not had the courage to do. and anything i can do while mining those stories and finding people tond help them do the sae thing, that's gravy. >> i'm not sure what the question is, but i'm going to talk about something. [laughter] i think it's about shifting,
okay? >> yeah.>> >> ihi think, i mean, the shift for me was i think the stories in here, some of them were stories thate i'd been sitting with for a very long time. and and so the naming that there are stories of violence in my family was a very big thing. and thinking about those stories, that naming of that violence within the context of this historical violence was also something, understanding that those two can't be separate, understanding that we can't talk about the history of this country without talking about sexual violence. without talking about sexual vinyl of indigenous women and black women. and so that was a huge thing. and so -- and i actually don't go into much detail about those stories of violence. but the specific naming of that was a huge thing. and being able to say i'm naming this here, but you get to know
this but you don't get to know this. and if so -- and i'm echoing, i went to a great panel this morning, sandra -- and actually, sandra lambert, right? sandra has a new memoir out, and we were in a workshop together, and she gave me 24 great advice about where to start the essay. she was talking about what we reveal in moment missouris and -- memories and what we don't. so that notion of i'm going to name this, but i'm not going to name this was a huge thing. and dealing with that memory. even that was a lot for my mother if. hthe conversations we've had since the book was published have been really important and really difficult in terms of talking about what doou we do wh these stories of violence and how do we name it and what's the kind of healing that can happen within the context of all of this. >> that was good. i'll be brief. so i think the question of shifting is an important question, and i could talk about
it foreverring because when i was in college, i went initially to school to play basketball ask football, just a college called mill saps college in jackson, mississippi. and, you know, i remember going to my first classes dressed in suits, coming into class with briefcases. i never asked any questions in class because i was one of the few black people. i didn't want the white people in palaceeo to think that i or - in class that i or we, god forbid, were studious in asking questions. i didn't want to be a student which means i needed to be bum. i didn't think ticked -- to be dumb. think i could be dumb. at the same time, i started rereading ton it is of baldwin andin morrison and lord, and at some point -- well, i mean, and then i got kicked out of school for some of the shit that i was writing. wthat actually did cause a shi. .but the shift for me was, like
are, i remember literally sitting in my dorm room saying, yo, i'm fucking trying to write to these white people begging them to be their best severals when i'm not -- selves when i'm not writing anything about what i wantt to lie about as a human being, but i'm calling myself a writer. so even though i can pat myself onon the back for form jousting with white supremacy, i remember after i got kicked out of schooling i was, like, they didn't listen to fannie lou hamer, to baldwin, who was the illest to do it in my estimation. why the fucs am i wasting my time when i need to be writing about the cracks and the holes and the gaps this myself? when i got kicked out of school, there was a shift. but when i think about, again -- i'm going to tie this to the first question. in a perfect story, that shift would be, oh, i realize what happened, and everything that i've done since that point has
all been about liberation and contesting violence. but again, like, a lot of thisve shit is market-driven. i would come here and tell people i wrote this black ass book called heavy. my editor is white, the publisher isus white. everybody involved is white, so that doesn't mean that i can't work within those lower frequencies that ellison talk it is about. but, like, the shift is there. but often the market necessitate it is a shift backwards. and so when i think about shoplift shifts, i can say, yes, i made some shifts. but grandma needs some new teeth, so i had to shift back. you know? mama needs mortgage pay. so i had to shift back. i'm interested in how to shift, how our existence always necessitates particularly kinds of shifts. and i do think there's artistry to that shift, but i also think there's a consequence to that
shift that sometimes we don't want the talk about. >> thank you fort. that. the last thing i'll ask is about lies, about witness, being witness to lies and being witness to the truth. i think the first two lines of your book, kie sexer, what is it -- kiese, i did not want to write you, i wanted to write a lie. and there is, for me, the shift is i about being a witness to truth and testifying about it. right? and so if each of you could talk around that theme and also what you want people to know about your memoir. as you are being, as you are
testifying about the truth. >> i'll go. okay. son when i got the invitation to come here, first of all, i was thrilled. love nashville, love book festivals,as and this is one of the best things i've ever seen. but then i saw the time, and it said reverberations of racism, memoirs of personal freedom. and i thought, you know, i've wanted to write a memoir since i was 8 and thought i could. and if there was nothing really to write about when i was 8. and i didn't see that this way, except i realized in writing the essay that i wrote and choosing the essaysss that i did, it reay is a memoir in choosing the things that are important to me. so what i would tell you i learned more than anything when you're talking about lies, america is a glorious lie. it has been a lie since 1776. actually, since before that when they made thomas jefferson take out the clause about everybody being e squall abolishing slavery. well, you can say everybody's equal, but you can't add
slavery. and he was probably thrilled about that, because he'd have to get rid of sally. but that's a whole other story. i really want to at some point do that piece about america being the glorious lie, except i realize i don't have to because it is evident in everything. it is evident every time somebody literally is reported to the police for breathing while black. when you have kids in school. i remember when my daughter was in the fourth grade and her teacher told w her it was okay that she got a 90 instead of a 100 on a test because minorities are taken care of in this country. and i became a room parent the next day the make sure she never said anything like that to another kid ever. and then we changed schools. we don't deal with the obvious in this country. we don't deal with what we live with all the time. racism doesn't reverberate, it permeates. it envelops, it molds over us like chocolate on an ice cream
sundae, except ice cream is bad, and we try eat it any kay -- try to eat it anyway. okay, i'm beginning to sound like i'm highing. i'm not. [laughter] -- it is so overwhelming and so overpowering that the fact that one of my best friends is white is a miracle to me. because i a never look at her ad see all of that glorious lie. i never look at my friends -- i don't have an agent. i don't have, you know, i was so honored that wayne state university press published my book. they're a small university press. they said we loves. it, we'll te fit before i had written a book, and they want my next one. but i'd love to have a sense that someone iss reading anythig that we've written. and everything you said, i want to just reach over and grab your book right now. [laughter] i'm hoping that when people hear these things and we write these things, that they're actually thinking about the greatest lie, because if we don't ever fix that, all we do is just go in
these cycles over and over of the same thing. >> yeah. i mean, i don't know how we can write anything without thinking about that lie, the lie of this country but also, again, thinking about how this lie permeates relationships and the ways it's easier to tell stories about some lies than it is others. and so i think you asked what we wanted people to take away from the book. i think -- i don't know. that it's possible to tell these stories lots of different ways, that we can't tell the story about black liberation and justice without also talking about indigenous sovereignty. and i think also, i mean, this book is a story about, again, about personal violencee and historical violence, but it's
also about writing and becoming a black woman writer and how, how it's possible to do that in a country that is, continues to tell lies, that's based on lies. and so i hope that that piece doesn't get left out too, that it's about how do you -- how are black women able to do this, tell these stories within the context of this violent nation. >> i mean, i actually don't have anything more to say, anything important to say than what has justha been said except if, lik, when i read, rae, when you sent me your book a while ago to read, i mean, i think part of being a writer is also admitting when we haven invested in the lie, right? so i realized i had invested heavily into that lie that the left often says about, you know, slavery being our -- what is it, original sin? and then you just talked about
indigenous sovereignty. like, i hadn't even -- i'm a professor, i teach kids, and i don't know if i've ever said the original sin is slavery, but i know i never said it was indigenous sovereignty which meant that if i was going to go forward as an artist, i needed that particular truth to guide me. but i thinknk it's also importat to admit when we fail, because i'm thinking about thene work ie done in this book, not just the people i left out, but the lies i still have propagated, and i just think next time around maybe i can get it right. but what do we do for the fact that i probably got it -- well, i did get it wrong, and not just get it wrong, but i invested in lies in this text. i don't have any closing thoughts to say other than reading people who are smarter, better writers, better at being human than me helps me get closer to not lying as a human being. but even then you still gotta do the shit over and over again. and that's definitely the hard
part of the artistry of being human. >> thank you. i'd like to open it up to our audience p. if you have any questions, we have a mic over here. we have about, we have a few minutes. we did get started late, so i'm going steal a minute time from the next. yeah. yes, ma'am. >> [inaudible] >> there's a mic, actually. >> oh, i've got a teacher voice. can you guys hear me? >> i think it's being recorded, yeah. >> get up, nicole. [laughter] >> i just had a -- [inaudible conversations] testing. >> okay. >> during this process what was the most, like, surprising thing that you discovered along this
journey of writing, of writing your books? if. >> maybe start with you. >> okay, yeah. i mean, so initially i was book, it was going to be a weight loss book -- [laughter] shame, people laughing, wow. [laughter] that's interesting. so i was a big kid and then i lost, like 0 pounds, and -- 150 pounds, and then i was really, really thick and skinny. people who knew me when i was skinny never knew me when i was -- so i was going to lose 150lk pounds while talking to my family about food and sexual violence and talking to hi mom, my grand many and my auntie. that's the book i sold. and i wrote that book. one to have last interviews i did with my grandmama, i was talking to her about something we both knew happened, but when i put the thing on, she said it
was not trump when i cut it off, i'm like, why are you lying? of course i'm lying, you're going to put this in a book. but the artistry of the lie was so good, right? [laughter] and so one of the things that i learned in this was, that like, even when we do invest heavily in lies, particularly my family, i think there's something to be gained as an artist in how the words are put together. and that might not mean anything to anybody else in this room, but the way my family, which is all black women, attempt to artistically evade what we all know is the truth for performance, t like, knowing that and just saying that shit, it just gave me freedom to write back to them in a way that was, you know, mostly truth but partially lie. but i had, to i had to listen to my grandmama tell me exactly why she was lying in order to get there. >> wow.
[laughter] >> i think your question was about discovering something about -- >> [inaudible] >> i'm an excellent journalist. i was a fraud as an thunderstorm i've written -- fraud as an author. i've written eight books that nobody has ever seen. i would keep writing things and write something else which, for me, means i never finished anything. i can write a column in ten minutes if it's got to be in at 5:00, but i didn't finish any of these things, and i thought, what is wrong with you that you don't want to do that? both of you have helped me so much today to crystallize that. it's this whole idea that i, as a black woman -- even if i'm doing these things in journalism -- can have my say this other way. and this book is not the book, but this book has paved the way for the book that i'm writing. this book came out of anger and out of being -- it could have been a column. so it was almost easy. the book that it has helped me the write is the novel, sort of
an autobiographical novel. i won't call it that, because i don't want anybody to know which parts are true. butio that i started ten years o as a short story when i was a knight-wallace fellow at the university of michigan. and there's all this stuff in it, there's all this stuff that has to be in it. but i didn't feel free to do it until i saw my name on a book. and so now that's what i discovered that -- i now can become an author and write my, and finish that book. >> one of the surprising things was the stories that i learned while i was writing it. one story was the story of a young enslaved girl who was, might have been 14, but she was executed. she may have been the youngest person in maryland to be executed. but she, in 1834, poisoned her, the sons of her so-called owner who were, i think, 5 and 7 years
old. and when they suspected her, she poisoned them with arsenic that she stole from the doctor's office. and when they suspected her, they sent one of the boys' stomachs to be tested, and it came back positive for arsenic, and they were like, judah, we want to talk to you. so it says -- the records are very limited, but in the newspaper reports it says they interrogated her, and she readily confessed. which could mean a whole bunch of different things. but apparently in the confession, she said remember the fire that started a year ago? i started that. and she tells them the year before that, they had an infant daughter who died, and she said i killed her too. so learning stories like that, thinking about the power of black girls and what they can do, but also i had been reading
about her and believing, well, of course she did it. and then someone said, well, but we're not even sure if that's true, you know? she could have been protecting somebody. there's all these kinds of things. and so learning these stories where the narrative is not certain was surprising. and it released me from any kind of mar form for the book -- particular form for the book, just choosing the form that mattered, and that was a huge thing for me. [inaudible conversations] >> okay. >> something that i don't understand which i suspect y'all have given a lot more thought to than i have is why, for 400 or 500 years, have white people thought that they were better than black people. >> out of necessity. if you want to be a colonial
stronghold and be superior, you can't be superior without an inferior. so if you create one, you have one. >> right. >> and you keep having one. >> so they really -- >> white people really know better, but they have to believe the lie so they can do things. >> right. i don't understand why america gott started -- >> [inaudible] the library is now closed. [laughter] >> we're all trapped forever. [laughter] >> that was perfect. >> see, you're asking hard questions now, we've gotta go home. >> yes. i'm -- >> we have a little bit. >> i'm very much ashamed that america was -- i don't with understand where the english people who came over here from europe, were they already biased against back people? you know -- black people? you know, how could they dare to go to africa and bring people
over here, although i guess african people were enslaving some of their own already in africa. but it certainly makes me ashamed that america got started by people with that attitude and that it's, as you've pointed out, is still prevalent. >> well, slavely wasn't new, you know? >> right. >> it was a world scourge. but here's the question that we should always ask yourself ourselves, how is it that these colonialists could not enslave the indigenous people. there's the question that we don't go back far enough. i'm so glad you said what you said about the original sin. i've got to really focus on that a lot. there was a whole attempt to do this a different d way, and thee was no enslavement of the people who were here first. so if they're going to get somebody to do the work, you know, when people talk about the rice of south carolina and uncle ben's, it's because the people who taught them to plant that
rice were from gambia. but we don't ever talk about the bigger picture. but slavery was not just a north american thing. most of the slaves that came fromam africa, they got off the boat south of here, you know? but the idea that somebody said, oh, wait a minute, that's not a bad idea, let's do that here, it wasn't even an original sin for english settlers. its. was, like, we need some workers, we need some people to do this work that we don't want to do. where can we get some. >> i think for us to think about racism and the construction of race we need to investigate the pape possibles -- pape bls that happened in the 1400s, capitalism, theal emergence of nation-states in europe were, the fight for land over there and, therefore, conquering of other lands and the theology, philosophy and all of that that
made it necessary to enslave people for the purpose of capitalism. so it's not just about liking people or thinking you're better than other people. this is about making money, right? and if we are going to be serious about learning about race and racism, we need to re-investigate that history, right? >> and we also need to call things weird, right? which is like i feel you and -- it's just weird when, i have no idea how old you are, brother, but it's weird that that question would be posed to this panel when i believe you might know w folks who might know that answer a little bit better than we do. not trying to do that thing when we front people for asking questions, because it t takes courage to get up there. but it's -- thank y'all for y'all generosity and your love. but it's just, it's a weird thing that always happens to me. because i want to ask you. that's what ii want to know.
i want to know, shit, tell me how it happened. [applause] >> to wrap up this panel, thank you so much for your questions -- >> let me, can i just add too? also they did try to enslave indigenous focus, but there was genocide. and so -- >> that's the thing, it didn't work. >> yeah. and so, but it's important to remember that. >> it is, definitely. >> and i think, i would encourage all of us to look up the papable of 1493 to think about how it was a religious decree to enslave, kill and rob other beings who were deemed less than human, right? and so, yeah. anyway, so to bring us back together -- >> apparently the writer of the book of genesis had the same racist attitude. >> i think that's for another
panel maybe. [laughter] butme i appreciate your comment. to wrap us all up, i do want to, again, think about this idea of truth and lies and what i think each of you have said in your own way is a sort of discovery of the truth that is. somewhere between what happened and what we imagine, right? because as, you know, we have been dealing with the lies that have been told about us, about the things that are conveniently left out in order for white supremacyma to be so prevalent, that in order for people of color to die, in a sense, to tell the truth is a mixture of
what happened and what we imagine imagine. so if we could close on that theme and talk about how your book does this, and i'm sure everybody will want to go out and buy the books and ask the authors your own questions as they're signing your books. but if we could go on town the line here. -- go on down the line here. >> so i'll just say i wish my book did that, but i'm not, i'm not good enough yet to get there, right? so i had to write the first two books to bee able to write this one, but think this book is, among other things, like, a sort of spectacular failure. but thankfully, because of the readings of other books, i can accept that it is a spectacular failure and, hopefully, i'll do better with my own, with my next one. so i'm trying to get to that
next -- >> it's b a really great book, though. [laughter] there is an artistry to failure. >> absolutely, that's what i'm saying. >> somebody will find their truth through yours. >> oh, no question. i definitely hope so. but i think that what i'm trying to say is that, like, i was born in jackson, mississippi, to a 19-year-old black woman, and being able to sit in front of a room of peoplee and create an at object that i know is partially a freedom is a free -- failure is a freedom that my mom and my grandmom don't have. that is a kind of freedom for me. >> and i read kiese's book, knottsk a failure. [laughter] no,w but i know what you're saying. i think, again, being able to name a particular thing in this book is what was possible for me. and i think the next book, i think, i mean, kiese talked
about permission. one of the things i get from reading his writing -- not just this book, but other writing that h he's done -- is permissin to talk about things in a very detailed way that i don't do in this book and so i know the next book will be about another kind of naming of stories that doesn't happen in this book. >> i didn't know my if grandmother's real name until i was 24 years old. i used to force my grandfather to sit on the porch of our growing-up house to try and talk about early life, and we would only go back so far. thisis whole idea about truth in lies that we live as a country, as people, we are never going to be all that we can be until we deal with that. and i think one of the greatest lies is that it's only white people who did it to other people. we have done a lot of it to ourselves by what we accept, by whaty we allow.
when i tell people -- and i have judge friends, these are federal judges, prominent judges who cannot stand whennd i say this. but o one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century was the brown v. board of education case. because what we did was fight to sit in a room next to people we thought by sitting next to them would makegh us equal. and we tried to desegregate this country on the backs of young black children, and we see that it failed because schools are as regular she gated now -- segregated now as they were in 1964. so i'm glad you ended on that, and i'm glad that you reminded because this is so important. when i talk about superior and inferior, slavery has always been about economics. racism now is about economics. it's all about money. follow the money, know the money. if we ever want to change, we have to stop living lies and believing things are better than they are. the worst thing we can do in this country is to wish for or try to get to a postif racial society. -- postracial society.
i will never give up my culture to make someone else comfortable. thank you.u. [applause] >> thank you all for joining us. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies. and today we continue to bring you up filtered -- unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court and public policy events in washington, d.c. and around the country. c-span is brought to you by your cable or satellite provider.