Had a fantastic day at USA Today headquarters where Nichelle Smith, features editor for the National News Desk and leader of several award-winning race and diversity projects (center), interviewed Jesse Holland and me about our books! Wonderful questions from the audience in the newsroom and out on the network. Culture and living diva Jamila Robinson handled the Q & A. It was such a productive day!
ROCKY MOUNT and DURHAM, N.C. _ There is nothing like going home. And I was so thrilled to be joined at Blanche’s restaurant, the new hot spot that my college pal Reuben and his wife (and my soror, Neva) have opened downtown. The space, in a word, is awesome! It felt slightly weird reading excerpts to family and friends who have known me since I was a little girl talking about doing what I’m doing now. But it also felt good. The conversation with my friends is the same conversation I’ve been having with strangers, one that is long overdue and must be had for race relations in America to get better. My brother, Donald, tolerated me telling stories about him, and my Aunt Dale – the one I wrote about when she retired last year as church pianist after 70 years – said afterward that she forgot to make a speech about how, when I was little, every other little girl played with dolls, but I had my books. (And the signing gave me a chance to spend time with my favorite great-niece, Hayleigh, pictured above with her dad). The next day, I was surrounded by love again at the Barnes & Noble in New Hope Commons in Durham, where I was blessed to have in the audience (and I’ll get in trouble for naming some names and not others): two line sisters (thanks Sheila Whitehead-Exum and Wanda Page), one of my best friends from high school, Angelia McNeil-Joyner and my best friend of thirty-something years, Barbara Pullen Smith. My pal and fellow Knight Wallace Fellow Kevin Clemens and his wife, Loree Kalliainen, were on hand as well. It was an amazing discussion and I’m grateful to everyone who came out and bought out The Burden. And I offer eternal gratitude to Lesleigh Mausi, who arranged everything beautifully!
My latest book signing at Pages Bookshop in northwest Detroit was, as expected, a blessing. A diverse audience of people who care listened to excerpts from the book and then, as at previous signings, just talked with me and each other about race and discrimination and expectations, or the lack of them.
I was so moved.
My friend, Fred Lauck, asked what to say to white people who spout disturbing language, including their belief that they shouldn’t care about black people because they take care of their families and their children.
That prompted an entire discussion about how the institution of slavery disintegrated black families, splitting them between plantations. And how the continuing pseudo-slavery that discriminated in job and housing made it harder for black families to work, literally and figuratively.
But I suggested to him that he tell them most black Americans in our country are middle and upper class. Period.
At least two people suggested a book, a distillation of what I’m learning on this tour with “The Burden.” That is a great thought.
One woman talked about sometimes being the only white woman in a group conversing and feeling afraid of stepping on toes by speaking too much.
I asked her if a crowded subway car pulled up and she had to get to work, would she get on anyway and risk stepping on a few toes?
“Do what you need to do and just apologize if you offend,” I told her. “But don’t skip the conversation.”
That is vital.
We have to keep talking.
I’m grateful to Susan Murphy and her husband, John, for her hospitality – and the tea.
I’m so excited that the next conversations will be with family and friends in North Carolina in Rocky Mount and in Durham. Then the next stops are Indianapolis and New York (in beloved Harlem). Visit this page for daily updates on signings in Michigan and across the country.
The woman appeared to be in her 70s, white, beautifully coiffed. She wanted to know whether Donald Trump being elected to the presidency had led to a rise in hate.
I told her that his election did make it easier for people who are racist to feel they no longer needed hoods or anonymity. And what she said next chilled me, even as it didn’t surprise me:
“I’ve been most surprised by some of my friends. I thought I knew them, but I notice that they’re saying things that I never heard them say before.”
The hoods are off. So what better time is there for a conversation about the lasting impact of slavery? That’s what we were doing at the Mount Clemens Public Library, latest stop on the tour for my book “The Burden African Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery.”
Why don’t we deal with the burden that African Americans have dealt with and the hard work still being done by racists (and not all people are racists) to continue a system that perpetuates the myth of white superiority versus black inferiority?
It begins with us getting to know each other, for the first time in nearly 400 years.
She sat on the front row and talked about how she had been seeking permission to be great for years – and that she would no longer do so.
He stood, in tears, and talked about the failing students at the charter school where he works.
And she talked about her “racist, pig brother” who forced his mother to leave her beloved home because black neighbors moved in next door. Her mother, who wanted to die in the home she loved, was, in the end, not able to do so.
All of them were part of the audience at the Southfield Public Library signing for “The Burden: African Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery, where I read excerpts and held a conversation – nothing formal, just a conversation, about how slavery’s lasting impact continues to damage lives.
I am so grateful to the library, one of my favorites in the country, for hosting me.
The conversation continues today at noon at the Mount Clemens Public Library and on 6 p.m. Friday at Pages Bookshop in the Grandmont/Rosedale neighborhood, one of many neighborhood signings I plan for The Burden.
Come and join the conversation!
LOS ANGELES _ What a joy it was to attend the African American Film Critics Association annual awards honoring what’s good in Hollywood. I did thehair and make-up thing, which I learned is dubbed “lip and lash.” I wore the dress, which got lots of attention – and Sherri Shepherd, whom I love, was going to take off me.
But in that room full of people I recognized or knew had major roles behind the camera, the most noticeable thing were 1) They are real (personable, funny, pass gas) people and 2) are either ungracious or gracious.
Every star I met was gracious, unfailingly gracious.
AAfcA honored Ava DuVernay, Jordan Peele and many others whose lights are shining bright right now. The evening was very “A Wrinkle in Time.”If anybody still has doubts that DuVernay is one of the most important directors working today, they don’t know film. And the anticipation for Wrinkle may be overshadowed by “Black Panther” right now, but it’s time is coming – and it’s going to explode.
But in every room like that, with every gathering of stars, there is always one that makes you stop mid-conversation to say: There she is.
For me that was spotting the incomparable Frances McDormand, whom AAFCA was honoring as best actress for her role in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri.” I’d loved her since “Fargo.” I didn’t know she was being honored. I didn’t know I’d see her. But I had JUST seen “Three Billboards” a few hours before the ceremony So I had achance to tell her in person what I’d written down to tweet when I landed: “I just saw “Three Billboards” on my flight to LA, and the pilot had to tell me to stop giving you a standing ovation while the seat belt light was on.”
That was a moment.
DETROIT _ Contributors Tamara Winfrey Harris and Carolyn Edgar and I had an amazing conversation with wonderful guests at The Burden book signing at the Source Booksellers. We can’t be afraid of the having the conversation about our mutual history, our mutual hurts, our mutual achievements and our mutual goals and dreams.
Rochelle joined Cynthia Canty January 31 on Michigan Radio’s Stateside.