Culture

Jamaica Kincaid and Charlayne Hunter-Gault on Hope in the Black Community


[upbeat music]

[Jelani Cobb] We’re here to talk about this collection,

which is, you know, over my shoulder here.

And you know, this book

emerged out of a series of conversations that

David Remnick and I had,

and the really chaotic aftermath of George Floyd’s death.

I wonder if we could talk a little bit about your

perspectives in the immediate aftermath of seeing, you know,

George Floyd’s death and where that brought you as writers,

you know, what’s your vantage point?

[Jamaica Kincaid] Oh, sure.

Well, I have never seen the video.

I couldn’t bring myself to see for me when I hear his last

words are calling for his mother. He feels like my son.

And in fact, I think I could very well have been his mother.

It was the one thing I was unable to write about.

I could write about the..

I’ve written about the pandemic I’ve

I’ve written about, but I, I,

I just couldn’t write about it.

I don’t understand why anyone

would want to say they’re white.

I mean, it’s like one thing about

when I first came to America, um,

I met all these people who would say they’re white.

They were from Lebanon.

They were from Poland.

They were from Italy.

They were from Spain.

They were from all over places that British people never

thought of as white.

It’s interesting because, because, you know,

Toni Morrison has an essay in the collection, you know,

talking about that, you know,

kind of cataloging the idea of being white and how people

from Europe were, were turned

into white people in this country for ideological reasons

and hierarchical reasons.

And you know, the kind of social catastrophe

that unfolded as a result of that.

[Charlayne Hunter-Gault] I have a little bit of a problem.

Absolutely.

I hear people all the time

generalizing about white people.

I come out of a generation where the civil rights movement,

where people white people die for us.

And I don’t want us to forget that.

I was also thinking about some of the other people who,

who you’ve included in the book The Matter of Black Lives,

who have, who are not themselves black,

but who have written wonderful,

wonderful pieces about people of color.

But there are things that I have learned

from people of all colors.

But having grown up in the south during segregation,

I learned a lot of this

from my black parents and church people and neighbors.

But we, we can’t be pessimistic.

Otherwise we’re going to lose our democracy

and lose what’s important to us.

Let’s don’t give up on this country.

It’s too important to preserve and all every news news show

today that I listened to are talking about,

is this the end of democracy?

Well, Hey, no,

we got to fight. We fought before.

This is not new.

COVID is new, but the rest of it is not new.

And I came to the, the magazine

right after Trayvon Martin’s death.

And the first thing that I wrote was a piece called

Trayvon Martin and the Parameters of Hope.

About the paradox of having a, of the first black president

and this language, this political rhetoric of hope.

And at the same time, seeing this young man dead

with no real legal recourse.

One thing about the African-American communities,

in spite of everything,

it, it is full of hope and it does not give up.

So she’s right about when people say democracy is dying,

democracy is done.

Well, African-Americans have been living with the death of

democracy from forever, and they still believe in democracy.

So a great big thank you to Charlayne for not only her life,

but you said so many wonderful and important things are

today that I will think about. So thank you.

It’s an honor to be on any panel with you really.

Well thank you. You’ve just made my day.

I don’t know what it was, but I I’ll give you a call.

We can talk about it.

[Jazz music]



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