Little did I know that three years later, I would be asked to write an essay on shame and have it published in by Seal Press. The book is Dancing at the Shame Prom and it was released Sept. 18th 2012. Two weeks later it had already gone into its second printing! Here is an excerpt from my essay. PLEASE buy the book!
“Mm, mm, mm, that’s a stinkin’ shame!” was a common chorus in the songs of my childhood. That tone seemed to be reserved for whenever an African-American individual was caught doing something stupid, violent or otherwise shameful. “Mm, mm, mm that’s a stinkin’ shame” Meaning: ‘That fool just set back the whole black race.’
Watching the evening news was a breeding ground for the Stinkin’ Shame Chorus. I grew up in the sixties and seventies; a time when news reporting was taken more seriously. News anchors were authorities; they were the arbiters of what was good and right and what was bad and wrong. And almost every evening at 6pm a similar scenario took place in my family. An intelligent looking Caucasian reporter (because they were all intelligent looking back then - and Caucasian) started a story about an armed robbery, a riot, a murder, arson or some other horrific crime. We often watched TV with my mother’s family – aunts, uncles, grandmother. They were waiting- anticipating the moment when the photo splashed across the screen. If the perpetrator was black, there was guaranteed to be at least one utterance of the Stinkin Shame Refrain. Sometimes the whole choir sang it. If the perpetrator of the crime turned out NOT to be black, there was an audible sigh of relief, often punctuated with someone saying what everyone else was thinking: “Thank God he wasn’t black.”
This, I believe, was the origin of both my shame about my racial identity and my aversion to watching or reading the news. It wasn’t until the 2008 election of the first black president that I realized how much shame I had been carrying….”
Read the rest of my essay in Dancing at the Shame Prom