Writing every day has been a bit of a struggle bus. Each day that I approach the blank page, my mind and body resist:
Why are you making us do this? What more can you possibly say about relationships or religion or race that hasn’t already been said? Why must you write about racism? Remember when we used to write funny things that made people laugh, why can’t we go back to those days?
I’ve been thinking about that question lately. Why do I find new ways to write about the exact same problem every day? What is it about racism that compels me to tussle with it so– to unveil it. To strip it down to its essence and hold it up to the glaring light.
The closest answer that I can find comes from this video of the producers/creators, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, of the Making a Murderer documentary on the Late Show. In reply to Colbert asking them
a lot of people look at the documentary as a whodoneit….Why did you make this? What do you hope the message of the documentary is?
Moira Demos responds:
Well, we actually like to say it’s more of a “Howdoneit.” What we were documenting was the process, you know. And that’s what justice is, it’s a process so can we rely on these verdicts at the end?
That’s probably the best way that I can explain why I do this.
For most people, Institutional racism is so normative –so commonplace –that they have a hard time even seeing it. It’s almost magical in its essence, like one large (and never-ending) magic trick.
The lovely assistant hands the Magician his black tophat filled with race-neutral laws, self-professed “good people without-racist-bones” and the entirety of the (now race and sex neutral!) civil religious cannon (the Constitution, Declaration of Independence et al). The Magician waves his hands, says a short incantation, maybe a hocus pocus or two, and boom: post-racial America emerges on the other side. An America where study after study after study reveals a rigged system in the disparate impacts on health and poverty and even walking that happen to black people in America.
Think about it: It’s a system that you can’t see (and most can’t explain) yet it still manages to affect whole groups of people. I mean, if there are no racists in America and no longer racist laws on the books, then where’s does racism come from? See what I mean by magic? (It’s kind of like how everybody you know -especially your conservative friends- swear they aren’t voting for Trump, but he’s steadily winning. How?? Magic)
Of course there’s nothing magical about it — it’s all manner of cognitive dissonance, deflection, distraction, and really fancy smoke and mirrors. I like to think of myself as a Reverse Magician. Kind of like a Reverse Engineer. I may not be able to disappear the Statue of Liberty like Copperfield, but I can show you how he did it. I can make that which is invisible to most people, visible just by talking and writing about it. By pointing out the myriad of ways that it contorts and transforms itself I identify it. And once you can identify your enemy, you can destroy it.
Naming and identifying a thing also destroys its power over you- it frees you from its death grip.
And that’s ultimately why I write. My blog is a Howdoneit; it’s a documentation of the process.