Some people say they don’t see race — they claim to be color blind and that, with the election of a black President, we now live in a post-racial society.
I say I always see race. But I see it only in black and white. When I first began writing about race ten years ago, I couldn’t stop thinking about, writing about, or wanting to connect with black people. It felt like an obsession, and as I once heard Bruce Springsteen say, “…sometimes you have to get crazy with your obsessions.” (Let this be the only time a white guy is quoted in this blog.)
I’m hoping this blog will help me identify why I have always been so attracted to black people and black culture. Did it start with my fantasy of marrying Michael Jackson when I was 10 years old? Did it stem from memories of growing up mid-way through the civil rights era in Waterbury, CT, a diverse old industrial town ? Was it stewing when I told my parents I didn’t want to go to private high school? They were worried about me going down the wrong path. I was worried about being in a homogenized milk-toast pool of rich white kids.
All I know is the lid got blown off when I moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2003, after living eighteen years as an adult in New York City. I had resided in the East Village when it was still a heavily Hispanic and Latino neighborhood, took daily subway rides where I literally rubbed elbows and all other kind of body parts I wished I hadn’t, with people of all races and ethnicities, and worked side-by- side with many black staff members in a homeless services agency. I went from that, to Tulsa, to a neighborhood that appeared white as far as the eye could see, to a city that was home to the horrific Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 that destroyed the affluent black Greenwood neighborhood—to a city that had Native Americans, Mexican Americans and African Americans, yet there didn’t seem to be too much mixing it up among these diverse groups of people.
Though I speak of diversity, the people I really cared about were black people. And when I got to Tulsa, I missed them. I mean, I really, really missed them. So, I signed on as a volunteer at The African American Resource Center at a Tulsa library on the North Side—the side that all the white people said to stay away from because of, you know, that’s where all the black people live. I also became a stalker. I approached random black people in public places like Target, or the supermarket. I struck up conversations with the African American owner of an upscale bakery. I did this just to say hello, and let them know (wink, wink) that I was a cool white person who wanted to connect with them. I started writing about my personal experiences with black people. It was the only outlet I could think of; the only way to try and make sense of my obsessive thoughts and actions. It was at this point, that I knew I’d never be normal again—that I could never just relax about black people and take my interactions with them in stride.
This blog, Wendy Jane’s Soul Shake, is where I get to reflect and share on my attraction to black people and black culture. And, I just know that my writings will, at times, or maybe all of the time, seem to patronize, exoticize, idealize, romanticize, or exhibit some sort of white-gaze racism even, but hopefully you will forgive me, right? I am thrilled to share my posts and short memoirs with you, and to make connections across the color lines of black and white. I look forward to hearing your comments and feedback.
Thank you’s: I’d like to thank the many people who have helped and supported me in my writing, and in the creation of my blog: Susan Hradil, Ellen Taylor, Mary K Connor, Wanda Rickerby, Myrna Griffith, Marie Esposito (my writing group friends), Aaron Kent Warder for the amazing logo, Atinuke Diver of Yes We’re Together, Amy Marcott for blog tech-set up and consultation, Hollis Gillespie and Michael Alvear for their most awesome Atlanta’s Famous Blogging Workshop, Dan Blank for his great on-line blogging workshop via Writer’s Digest, friends, Anisa Raoof, Cathy Carr Kelly, Marci Rosenthal, Eric Ward, Andrea Sparkman, Denise Necie White, Jay Seay, and Eric Jerome Dickey, for their encouragement, and my family, especially my two daughters, Darla and Leni for their love and support.