WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA? BREAKING THE CODE OF SILENCE: A COLLECTION OF PERSONAL NARRATIVES
Edited by Gabrielle David and Sean Frederick Forbes
One of Ms. Hen’s hen friends lent this anthology to her because she wanted Ms. Hen to write a review of it. It is a very large book, but the woman wrote a list of what she thought were the most important essays in the book. Ms. Hen read them, and they made her think about the world and how America has gotten to this point in time.
This anthology is a collection of personal essays, all by white people, except one, about racism, and race in America. Some people might think that white people have nothing to say about race and being white in America, but these essays have varied opinions. Some of the essays made Ms. Hen angry to think that people could believe that if minorities simply worked harder, they could get ahead, such as in “What It Means to be White,” by Darci Halstead Garcia. Society isn’t as simple as that. Success isn’t something as simple as working hard and getting a better job and moving on with life.
Deep-seated racism takes hold in this country, such as how it is described in “The Risk of Greater Privileges,” by Abe Lateiner. Ms. Hen has never stopped to think that our entire society is a result of blood, the blood shed by the Native Americans, and slaves, and everyone else that built this country. In the essay, Lateiner talks about how he can’t enjoy his life because he can’t help but think how every comfort he has is the result of blood. The essay is beautifully and poetically written. It made Ms. Hen stop to look at the things in her house, and realize that almost everything she owns is made in a sweatshop. She found a few things that were not, however; and that made up for the pain a little bit.
Even though she doesn’t like owning things and living a life that is full of material possessions that are a result of blood, she realizes that she cannot change the whole world. If you stop to think how miserable everything is, you suffer, and you’ll never find peace. She realizes that you have to do small things in your own part of the planet to make things better, and not to agonize over the entire world. She believes it’s important to know about global issues, but not to let them ruin our own lives.
One of the essays, “So Tactlessly Thwarted,” by Elena Harap, made Ms. Hen stop to think that everyone has regrets in their lives, and we can’t be held accountable for what we did as children. When Ms. Harap was a teenager in Nashville Tennessee, in the 1950s, she was a member of the Nashville Youth Orchestra, an orchestra for which students had to audition in order to become a member. It was an honor to be in this orchestra. Some students said that the black students from the other, segregated high school should have an opportunity to be in the orchestra, and they were allowed to audition, but they were not permitted to be in the orchestra because the orchestra board would not stand for it. The young Elena Harap did not like this, but she went along with it anyway, even though it bothered her. She wrote about it when she was young, and went back to her writing many years later to put together a theater piece. She felt guilty that she didn’t do anything to try to change the minds of the adults who were in charge. She still questioned her actions many years later, but there was nothing she could do, since she was so young. Sometimes we have no control over circumstances in our lives. This situation was wrong, and hopefully it would never happen today, but if we look back on it, instead of being angry, people can question, what were they thinking? And they can hopefully learn from this and not let this happen again.
Ms. Hen carried this big book around for a couple of days, and she wasn’t sure what people on the train or anywhere else would think of the title. She wonders if people look at the books that other commuters read and judge their lives. Ms. Hen doesn’t think it's right to pass judgement on others by what they read. Ms. Hen liked this book, but it made her upset. But sometimes it’s good to be upset because it can propel you into action. She doesn’t know what actions she will take yet. But she’ll figure it out because she’s an industrious hen.