Great interview with Debra Dickerson in the Atlantic Unbound. Dickerson, author of the recently released The End of Blackness: Returning the Souls of Black Folks to Their Rightful Owners, has been a senior editor of U.S. News and World Report, a lawyer for the NAACP, and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Her writing has appeared in The New Republic, The Nation, The Village Voice, The Washington Post, and elsewhere.
Obviously the interview is worth reading in its entirety but allow me to note a few choice quotes. In answering a question about focusing too much on white racism Dickerson’s passion comes through and I think her advice and perspective is right on:
Get over it. If we want them to get over race, we need to get over race. It’s not that I think it’s unimportant culturally and historically. My own identity very much gels around my lineage as a descendant of slaves and Jim Crow sharecroppers with a culture of fundamentalist Protestantism and cornbread and cabbage. That’s very much a part of who I am. I like being part of that community, even though I spend most of my time alone in my office reading books. As a black American I feel that I occupy a particular river in the American story but that it’s still a part of the American story. And I will fight to the death the notion that I should see myself through a prism of Kwanzaa and Afrocentrism.
People died and fought and suffered through too much for me to remove myself from the American context. It’s very seductive, but I think it’s a rejection. Our identity is ours to maintain. But our place as citizens is also ours to claim, and we need to do that.
On the other side she cogently argues that blacks and white should be seeking the same thing, what is best for America:
We have to look to our highest and best selves. Is it best for America to have an identifiable population under the boot-heel of a corrupt and brutal police force? No. Is it best for America to have this same very identifiable population lagging educationallyâ€”no matter whose fault it is? No. Is it best for America to have a certain group of people that doesn’t get good prenatal care? No. Is it best for America to have large numbers of a certain population in prison? No. Thinking that way is how white people can figure out what the right thing is. It’s the same way black people can figure out what the right thing is.
I don’t agree with Dickerson on everything and we have very different backgrounds, but it is heartening to read someone this intelligent and passionate on a subject that all too often brings out the worst.