I’ve sat in silent, exhausted rage around dinner tables listening to men and women argue about rape and which factors that lead up to it are under a woman’s control. Sometimes I leave the room and go into the kitchen to bang my head against a hot stove, because that feels better than listening to good men, many of whom I like and respect, explain with care and patience how women shouldn’t get so drunk, especially late at night, how they shouldn’t walk alone, shouldn’t wear certain outfits, that it just is not safe, how they wish so much the world wasn’t like that for women, but it is. What a revelation, I think, thanks for solving that whole rape thing.
We have a rape problem because men rape women. That’s where the conversation begins. How do you change a culture in which, at such a deep level that it’s nearly invisible, there is a belief that women are prey + men can’t control their sex drive = rape? You start by pointing it out. By talking. And with recognizing that men have to change that culture.
That right there is as close as I can come to even beginning to imagine what it’s like to be black in my country. And the way to start changing a culture in which racism is so systemic that it’s barely noticeable to white people is for white people to point it out to each other, to have those hard conversations. It is not the responsibility of black people. This is on white people.
Yesterday I walked past a little free library. The first book I saw in it was The Poetry of Our World, which I took with me. In it, as a bookmark, was a quarter-folded sheet of paper with poems by Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks. If I were a superstitious person who looked to the universe for signs, I would have taken that as a sign that one of those poems should be the poem of the week. I’m not that kind of person, but Mr. Hughes, I see how beautiful you are, and I am ashamed.
I, too, sing America
– Langston Hughes
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
when company comes,
but I laugh,
and eat well,
and grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
when company comes.
say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Besides, they’ll see how beautiful
and be ashamed–
I, too, am America.
For more information on Langston Hughes, please click here.