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Uncle Tom's Cabin

By Kathy Y. Wilson · January 1st, 2003 · Your Negro Tour Guide
The grounds are rocky where my intellect turns somersaults. It's a conspiracy of time and place that I navigate this malaise.

It's an emotional/spiritual/professional End-of-the-Year Clearance Sale. All energy, self-confidence, vision and ideas are up for sale.

Consider metaphors a mirage.

Here's context.

I don't make resolutions; they make for self-loathing when I fail to resolve them. Rather, I make commitments. Commitments rebel against the socialization of dodge-the-accountability.

My commitments are minuscule and amount to little more than navel picking to outsiders.

My latest and most serious commitment is writing good sentences.

In doing so, words are currency; therefore, they're precious. I work hard for them and I spend them wisely.

Countless of my previous sentences have been damaging, damaged, disappointing and outpourings of all manners of insight, humor, ridicule and perception.

Two years and four months into this column, articulation remains the challenge of the basic concept of my brand of opinion writing. That's all this is and was ever intended to be -- a rolling/roiling opinion, week in and week out.

Ask any columnist their greatest fear or apprehension in the undertaking of a steady discourse, and they'll tell you it's the loss of ideas that makes for the consistent cocktail of anxiety.

But I get an outpouring of mostly unsolicited ideas. All columnists do. They come by e-mail, snail mail, cocktail party conversation and passive/aggressive suggestion.

People take on a frightening familiarity once they realize you're who you are. I bear down and grin it.

Then the whispering commences. Everyone has ideas on how you can best/better do your job and after about a minute of feeling mighty beholden, it starts to stink.

Ideas and constructive criticism are one thing. I like those. Agendas are another.

Maybe it's the title: Your Negro Tour Guide. White people respond by being either put off, bemused, entertained, guilty, educated or nonplussed. The response of black folks runs to confusion, skepticism, laughter, envy or misplaced/transferred bitterness.

They think I'm speaking for them. Or that I'm here to put the fear of God into every devil-eyed white person while simultaneously putting Whitey on notice that the revolution is rolling down the hillsides like thunder.

Wake up.

If (and when) the revolution comes, it's gonna be real, to quote Sarah Jones. There will be no mistaking it. Meantime, the whisperers misconstrue my take on truth-telling with some sort of a deficiency. It's morphing into the tired "blacker than thou" refrain I've heard above my head my entire life.

It started in the fourth grade when my presence dethroned Erika as the sole pretty, pigtailed colored girl at Heritage Hill Elementary School, and it continues with e-mails belched through the ether only moments ago.

I've heard it all: From the wrong-gender designation of Uncle Tom to the hiss of race traitor, my personal favorite.

There's something peculiar about the name-calling Negroes undertake that's exclusive to both our identity crisis and the social cannibalism besieging us at the embryonic stages of the 21st century, but that's as ancient as the caste system of the house, porch and field niggers of yore.

A black woman once blasted me for inquiring into the life of a known drug dealer who died in police custody after ingesting crack cocaine. She felt that as a black reporter, I shouldn't have been helping the white man uncover open secrets about us.

I hold to my belief that we place blame only as far as we can see. And when I look at what's plaguing black progress, I see blacks. That's at the risk of sounding like a bootstrap black Republican advocating personal responsibility that lets systemic racism and white male privilege run like the wind.

Not so. It's just that battles are best fought with information.

Why harp on the builders of the crumbling house when the dwellers have the option of moving out?

Whisperers use the co-opt as fertilizer. They survey their circumstances, picture me as spokeswoman for black feeling/black talk/black judgment (for which they've deemed me deficient as a member), then they vomit agenda all over my shoes.

Not that we're talking about white standards, but since we should be, can you name the last time white folks played out their racial insecurities in public?

Banking scandals, political lies and war don't count.

Back to malaise and good sentences.

Expect the disappearance of the former and an abundance of the latter in coming columns.

I am but a black girl from Hamilton with a head and a notebook full of ideas, none of which jive with yours.

That's not an excuse. Take it as context and a yardstick with which to measure growth -- yours and mine. Every week it's another chance.

There are fools in my sights. But I'm not out to kill, torture or maim. My bullets elevate.

Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.


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