What’s in a blog tagline? That which we call race by any other name would smell as sweet.
Okay, yes, I’ve twisted Juliet’s words found in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.
It feels apt though, as I, and Wendy Jane’s Soul Shake evolve during this journey of nearly two years of blogging. Presently, my WJSS tagline description reads “one white woman’s curious obsession with race.” It didn’t always read that way.Up until November 2013, my tagline read, “one white woman’s humorous obsession with race.” When I wrote that, in my mind I dubbed it as humorous because the obsessive quality of wanting to connect with people who were black became so pronounced when I moved from New York City to live in Tulsa, Oklahoma from 2003 to 2006–from land of diversity to a land that, when I first arrived, seemed whitewashed in comparison.
The use of the word humorous in my blog’s tagline was directed toward the way I behaved in Tulsa when I first arrived, which seemed to border on obsessive. The way I had to talk to every black person I saw at the supermarket, at Target, or at the library. How I had to buy from the black vendor at the Saturday flea market that I also became obsessed with for its charm and, compared to NYC “vintage”, its rock-bottom prices.
It got to the point where it felt like some kind of racial OCD, and instead of wanting to feel like there was something wrong with me, I laughed at myself and my overtly obvious attempts to, like my blog’s subheading says, “connect across colorlines.”
I had something to prove. Though diverse groups of people of color existed in Tulsa–African-American, Native American, Central American, and more, I felt like I was living in what I imagined life is like in most towns and suburbs outside of major cities like New York–more segregated, and with a white majority population much more visible in your day-to-day surroundings. As a young girl growing up in Waterbury, Connecticut during the civil rights era, relationships between white and black people had always been important to me, as did people being treated fairly despite the color of their skin. Going to highly integrated public schools ranked high on my list of values, too.
I remember being eschewed by a few of my Jewish friends, who after public elementary school, chose to attend private high schools. In fact, I was the only Jewish kid who went to public high school from my grade. They questioned my desire to go to Wilby, the neighborhood public high school, because they thought I wouldn’t get as good an education. At 14, I knew that perhaps my school didn’t have the same resources as their exclusive prep schools, but I also knew, and told my parents that I didn’t want to “just be around a bunch of rich, white kids.” I also thought that some of those friends comments were code for “you don’t want to be around all those black and Puerto Rican kids who aren’t as smart or as well-behaved, and who could possibly be dangerous.” Maybe that’s not what they were thinking, but I couldn’t help but think on some unconscious level it was.
Today when people ask me why I’m so focused on relationships between white and black people, I keep going back to those memories and ideals of my childhood and coming-of-age years. Those elements are the roots that took hold, that instilled in me this mission to connect with others different from me in particular the nearly equal majority of black classmates and community members that were a part of my schools’ and town’s social fabric. I knew that having all kinds of people in my life from all kinds of backgrounds simply made my life richer.
Still, what’s in a tagline? My blog’s tagline doesn’t say that I focus primarily on the relationship between black and white people, and I recently found out that my tagline didn’t sit right with some readers who picked up on that, and other problematic issues with my choice of words.
After attending the National Conference on Race Amity
in November, 2013, and connecting with a man there, who is bi-racial, and who has worked for over a decade in the field of diversity and inclusion in higher education, I got these remarks after he read my blog:
“…For example when you say, “one white woman’s humorous obsession with race…” I think, its a luxury and a privilege to be able to have a humorous obsession with race. I’ve never heard a person of color ever say anything like this. As for most of us race has been a painful and marginalizing experience. For others it has cut their lives short. This is serious business so for a white woman to appear to be cavalier with what for many is a life and death issue is really troubling to me.
Which then would lead me to wonder how do you think your going to connect across color lines when it appears this is more or less a hobby and something fun and humorous where the subject is rarely such? Nor do folks of color have such luxury…”
His comments definitely made me go, hmmmm, I see what you are saying there. I hadn’t thought of it in that way. The calling out of white privilege and the fact that I had this “unknowingness” of how my words might be seen by a person of color, stung. There was more said during these email conversations between the conference-goer and myself, and we were able to come to an understanding of his feelings and my intentions, which is what trying to create dialogue around race is all about.
During the time of this dialogue I also connected with my new friend, Debby Irving
, a racial justice educator, and author of Waking Up White
, who is deeply invested in looking at how white privilege and systems of institutionalized racism has shaped her perspective on race and race relations. She had wanted to link to a blog post of mine, but she was concerned with my choice of words in my tagline. Her feedback brought me to another aha! moment. One of the things Debby said was that she would never say…”my humorous obsession with the Holocaust…”
As writers we are constantly told about the power of choosing exactly the right words. The feedback from Debby and the conference-goer was enough proof for me that I hadn’t. Luckily, Debby kindly emailed me a slew of taglines she brainstormed, and “one white woman’s curious obsession with race” stuck.
But, it appears it’s not quite right still. A few days ago, Facebook friend, and someone I consider a mentor, Adrienne Wallace, shared her thoughtful take on my blog’s look at race. Her reflections:
“So, you know I have read a few of these right? The thing is… ” Race relations” is not about being “Black” skinned or ” White” skinned Wendy. ” Race relations” is interaction, study and commentary with and on Black, Asian, Indian, Hispanic: Latino/a, White, and the whole multicultural diaspora. You my friend have focused on Black culture in particular. In 2014… Perhaps you tell us why. What do you seek to cure, reveal, learn, and what do you need?”
I was able to respond to Adrienne that, yes, as I describe on the About
page on my blog, I purposely focus on the black/white relationship due to the time and place I grew up in, and in the bigger picture I do understand that race is about, as Adrienne states..”the whole multicultural diaspora.”
Yet her words made me go back, once again, to my tagline, where I’ve noticed that using the phrase “..curious obsession with race” does not truly reflect my honing in on the black/white relationship.
Dear readers, here’s where you can help. Help me create the “just right” tagline. Is it: One white woman’s curious obsession with black/white relationships...or, one white woman’s curious obsession with relationships in black and white. Please paste your suggestions in the comments below. I would like it to be concise, and to finally reflect what I am continuing to explore here.
I believe it will be helpful for me to take the lead from Adrienne, and others, who have asked me to do some further self-examination in my desire to explore my attraction to black culture, and the black/white relationship, how black and white people come together, how we can understand one another’s thoughts and feelings about race better, and how we can move forward together in more positive, interconnected ways. The why of why I want to, and what I feel I am lacking without it.
I think it is only then that I can shift my focus on the bigger picture of race, that goes beyond black and white, which as my friend–(aren’t I lucky to have so many learned, insightful friends along this journey?), Diana Fox, an anthropologist and anthropology professor specializing in Caribbean culture, says that to look at race in black and white is polarizing.
And, what of the multi-cultural diaspora that Adrienne and Diana both noted–and, what is black, after all? A person who is considered black may also be Jamaican, or Cape Verdean, or Dominican or South African. And, what of people who are bi-racial, Asian, Native American, Latino? The more time that passes, the more we have children made up of many different races and ethnicities, the way we look at race will change, and alas, the focus on the relationship between black and white people will be moot. Though, we must never forget the history of how a people were wronged in the evolution, and we must continue to work toward honoring one another and promoting equality for all of us, no matter our skin tone.
As we all work on this, I need to fix my tagline–to make the name of what I focus my curious obsession on as sweet as the rose that fuels my desire to bare my soul, and learn and grow. Thank you for helping me fix it.