What a story John Jodzio’s “The Narrows” was [July 2018]! Let’s hear it for the old ladies who pulled suicidal men from the water. And to think I’ve been wasting my time with online dating. I’m going to find me a river and a man hook.
After I read about Krista Bremer’s friend Elaine, who could no longer afford her rent [“Become a Friend of The Sun,” July 2018], followed by Pema Chödrön’s essay about becoming familiar with fear [“Intimacy with Fear”], I had to respond. I am seventy and was living in low-income housing. When my monthly rent was raised by a hundred dollars, I could no longer afford both a car and an apartment. Like Elaine I work and volunteer in the human-services field and need my vehicle.
After facing down my fears, I put my belongings into storage (giving away my furniture) and traded my car for a small van, in which I’ve fashioned a cozy bed. I am going to let life determine where I go and not be afraid of change. I have a “roof” over my head, a comfortable bed, food, and a membership at the Y — more than many others have. Things are not important. People are.
I wiped away tears after reading LaToya Watkins’s unforgettable tale of the heartbreak so many of us may someday endure [“Took Us All like We Was His,” June 2018]. I had one thought: “More, please.”
As I often do when The Sun arrives, I read your June 2018 issue from back to front. Every piece was terrific, especially the “Love and Justice” poetry section. Then I delved into Airica Parker’s interview with Camille T. Dungy [“Poetic Justice”]: what a climax!
I was intrigued by Airica Parker’s interview with Camille T. Dungy. Sister Camille said the designation “African” in front of “American” changes the way she moves through the world, as it should. Recognizing our African heritage is a start. But we should move beyond simply being proud of it. We must consider the presence of an African gene within every human, and how its existence negates the concept of race we’ve become accustomed to.
I agree with Dungy’s description of racism as toxic, but disagree that a person would be wrong to say, “I don’t see race when I see you.” This is not an erasure of one’s identity but rather a recognition of a common bond. Since race is a concept we created, ignoring it encourages unity. Yes, diversity and variation exist, but none of that can erase the African gene within the DNA of even the palest individual. Eliminating racism means not just changing our perception and how we treat different groups; it means eliminating the concept of race itself.
Instead of recognizing diversity, we should pay attention to the similarities that will reinforce our own identities. Acknowledging Africa as a place of human origin erases the racial lines we have drawn.
Camille T. Dungy says, “America would not be the wealthy country it is without slave labor.” But we also need to acknowledge how this land was stolen from its indigenous peoples.
Even though questionable treaties were signed, most have not been honored. The losses and injustices the first “Americans” have endured are barely noted. History books written by the conquerors’ descendants are still unable to tell the truth about this part of the “founding” of the U.S.
People talk about reparations for slavery. I believe Native Americans are worthy of them, too.
The terms “black people” and “people of color” are used throughout the discussion between Camille T. Dungy and Airica Parker. Perhaps because of my interest in anthropology and my world travels, I stopped identifying people by skin color long ago. We are all mixtures of our ancestors, and skin color should be the least important factor in our relations with each other.
The term black is, to me, a political one. It does not describe my granddaughter, who is the color of honey and whose ancestry is a mixture of African/Caribbean, Mayan, Swedish, Welsh, and Dutch. My own skin color represents ancestors from Sweden, France, northern and southern India, Peru, and the northern Sonoran Desert. How are we to be categorized? How about simply as human beings?
Camille T. Dungy responds:
To Thia Tsuruta: You are absolutely correct. Later in the interview I acknowledge some of this history when I say, “Racism — and resistance to racism — is part of the fabric of this country. . . . Our twenty-dollar bill celebrates a man who is connected to the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of black people.” When I write about land in my memoir, Guidebook to Relative Strangers, I frequently incorporate the stories of the first Americans you describe. We cannot have a complete knowledge of this nation, nor a clear and just path forward, until we have a more accurate reckoning of the histories of all her people.
And to Mikael Henderson: I smiled when I saw you live in a town called Utopia. Your vision of a world with no racial identifiers perhaps seems like a perfect solution, but it is not one that aligns with the reality of most people in this country who live in skin that is not categorized as “white.”
I am not only referring to the hardships of living in a black body in America. There are many aspects of black culture that are qualitatively different from “white” cultures. As someone interested in anthropology, perhaps you can understand that cultural affinities are important to people, and the markers of these affinities come from the way people look as well as from common foods, music, and other interests. I am proud to align with many of these signifiers of blackness in America. I am proud of the qualities that identify me as black.
Danez Smith’s poem “Trees!” [June 2018] delights me more every time I read it. I feel grateful for Smith, for trees, and for The Sun.
Thank you for the June 2018 issue — all of it, but especially the “Love and Justice” poetry section, which tore at my heart and then helped heal it. Kudos for that editorial decision.
I recently received a call from a health-food-store owner in Connecticut who had tracked me down after reading my Readers Write entry on “Odd One Out” [June 2018]. We laughed together like old friends as he shared his own stories about raising his three children on a healthy diet. He said he’d made copies of my piece and mailed it to each of his kids — now adults in their thirties — who “are probably still recovering from carob trauma.”
This is the reason I have been a Sun reader for more than half my life: Your magazine reminds us that, no matter what our struggles or triumphs are, we’re never alone. Two strangers can connect like kindred spirits.
Les Leopold explains quite well the complicated financial system in the U.S., where both major political parties are controlled by Wall Street [“An Embarrassment of Riches,” interview by Tracy Frisch, May 2018]. The secret maneuverings of Wall Street have made it so that the rich get richer, the big banks wield too much influence over our economy, and the rest of us have little control over our own financial affairs.
My friend Liz, who loves everything about The Sun, wanted to attend your retreat at Wildacres in North Carolina, and she invited me to come along.
I had never heard of The Sun but trusted Liz.
Then it turned out she couldn’t go. I went anyway.
It soon became clear that I was the only person in the group who knew next to nothing about the magazine. With trepidation, I approached your circulation and events manager, Molly House, and confessed my ignorance. She presented me with a copy of the latest issue. Great writing, great ideas, great magazine.
Everyone that weekend was friendly and welcoming, but the stars of the event were the instructors, who showed such brilliance and insight. Top that off with a gorgeous setting (even in the rain), good food, and good company. What more could I want? That my friend Liz could have been there. Oh, well, there’s always next year.