A Response to “How to Read Texts Not Written For You?”

I’ve never publicly blogged before. Growing up as a rather shy person–in both my personal life and my writing–the idea of other people reading my work was enough to reduce me to a puddle. But as I’ve begun to find my voice as a writer in college, I’ve grown more comfortable with the idea of sharing my ideas on a public forum–and when I found out that a component of this course was public blogging, I was surprised to find myself more excited than nervous.

However, every time I sit down to actually begin to write, fear seems to keep creeping back in. But this time, it isn’t because I’m uncomfortable with my voice as a writer; it’s because, as a white person, I’m terrified I might do violence to the black community that Toni Morrison’s work was actually written for. In concluding her most recent blog post, Emily Peterson proposes the question: “How does one read something that is not written for them?” I can’t help but draw upon the advice that Dr. McCoy gave us on the first day of class: if we read the texts as thoroughly as possible, we’re more likely to engage with Morrison’s ideas, rather than the cultural scripts surrounding them. This isn’t as consoling as I thought it might be, though. How close of a reading is close enough?

Reading the texts in the privacy of my own mind is less daunting, however, than the thought of publicly engaging in a dialogue about them. How can I, a white person, interpret a text for black people in a way that does not seem like I am attempting to explain Morrison’s ideas to the black community through a white lens?

I anticipate that it will be a challenge to take on the role of a public blogger while simultaneously occupying the role of a perpetual novice in the field of black studies. When it comes to the black community, I hope to listen more than I speak; I neither consider myself an expert on the topic, nor intend to present myself as one. If I ever miss the mark–which we are all bound to, at some point or another–let me know. Call me out. I beg you to hold me responsible.

I’m still a bit hesitant to publicly write anything that may do unintentional violence, but that should go without saying. As a white person, I will forever be a work in progress in the field of black studies, and I expect my blog posts to reflect that. That said, I look forward to a semester–and also a lifetime–of listening and learning.

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