An excerpt from CT’s Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year. Here is the full list of CT’s 2021 Book Award winners.
I was eight years old the first time someone called me a nigger. It happened in elementary school one morning when I started to feel sick. I was in bad enough shape to call my mother at her factory job at Chrysler.
I dutifully went to the school office, where they dialed the number on the emergency contact card and handed me the phone. Nervously, I asked to speak with Laurie McCaulley, but the man on the other line said I had the wrong number and abruptly hung up. We tried calling a second time, but the same man replied with something like, “I told you that you have the wrong number. . . . Can’t you niggers even use the phone?”
I was aware of my blackness before that phone call, but it was wrapped in the soothing warmth of normalcy. My church was black; my school was black, and my sports teams were black. When we cleaned our home, black soul music played in the background. On the phone that morning, I experienced my blackness as the object of derision. I recall the rage building alongside my awareness of powerlessness. I had been emotionally assaulted, but there was no way to respond.
Black children collect these slights as they navigate the cities and towns, the highways and back roads of these United States. The anger grows, and we often have no place to put it, so we turn to the closest thing at hand. We harm each other and violently demand the respect of our black friends and neighbors because we are hounded by disrespect in white spaces. I grew up around black men who hit black women, and I was helpless to stop it. The rage grew. I was mad at white people. I was mad at my own people. ...1
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