A Frisson of Racial Recognition
November 21, 2015 marks the fifth anniversary of my outlining the structure of READING RACE READING AMERICA, a project that began long ago under the title "Responsible Iconoclasms." The book will have four parts: I. Autobiofragments, II. Evidence of Things Once Seen, III. Exploding Language and Beautiful Minds, and IV. Pre-future Beginnings and a total of twenty-two essays. Twelve of the essays have been completed, and eight of those have been published. The book is still in-progress for many reasons. My nation is so preoccupied with "race," the legacy of European irrationality, that writing about a subject I have lived with for seventy-two years is downright draining and dreadful. How should daemonic arguments be segregated from emotive platitudes? Writing about race is the great staple of American publishing. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to ask whether the world needs one more book on the subject. Where is the redeeming value of the terrible subject located?
As I revisit the outline, the paradoxical answer is nowhere and everywhere. Perhaps I should continue the project once I have finished co-authoring WORDS AND BEING with Reginald Martin. A frisson of racial recognition encourages me to continue, because so-called white Americans know as much about their being people of color as a horse knows the date of its birth. Like Oedipus, they have blinded themselves to see better, and the cruelest joke is that the majority of them see nothing that evolved human beings would deem worth seeing. READING RACE READING AMERICA should eventually be in print to remind them that blindness is a blessing from their God. They are not the Chosen; they are the Yet-To-Be-Created, promises from Walt Whitman, William James, Sigmund Freud, Gertrude Stein, Ralph Ellison, Albert Murray, and James Baldwin notwithstanding. And my thankless task is to create the features of their faces.
The book requires no raison d'être, because the histories of lynching and systemic domestic terrorisms, election and re-election of Barack Obama, a Kenyan American, as our President, American government's repeated authorizations of capitalist criminality, and the current spectacle of Donald Trump are necessary and sufficient contextual justifications. The progressive decay of American democratic values deserves nothing less than the absurdity of existential laughter. READING RACE READING AMERICA will provide generous measures of such laughter. The essays will cover the benign genocide implicit in America's racial contract, William Faulkner's protest fictions, the deceptive ends of American educations, the prototypical status of Hurricane Katrina narratives, the failure of American satire, and the sublime paradox of race. It would be unpatriotic for me to deny my nation the feast it has labored since 1619 to purchase at a cosmic restaurant.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr. September 29, 2015