This page contains previews of what you’ll find in the book; click on different titles to read brief passages from four of our stories
Excerpt from “Separated at Birth” by Phyllis
Just before lunch on the first full day, our chairperson thanked the gospel choir and the morning’s speakers, then announced the afternoon breakout sessions. There was one for Asians, one for Native Americans, a session for Hispanics, and several different workshops for African-Americans. I waited, but the entire list had been read. There was nothing for “others.” Though I hadn’t really expected a session specifically for European-Americans, I wasn’t sure where to go. I finally chose to attend a panel discussion led by several women who had recently been to Africa; it had the word “Sisters” in its description, and I figured at least I could relate by gender. It was a popular workshop attended mainly by black women, although a few men squeezed into the crowded room. I sat in the back, perfectly content—I thought—to remain an inconspicuous observer.
But when the panelists’ presentations were done and the group was engaged in passionate dialogue, I began to notice a twitchiness in my body, as though it wanted to stretch itself taller. My neck lengthened in a turtle-like movement, and the slightest feeling of impatience hovered in the air around my inconspicuous chair. Had I given these feelings a voice, they would have shouted, “HEY! Call on me! Back here in the corner. You can’t miss me; I’m the only white person in here! Aren’t you interested in what I have to say?” I told myself to be patient, that surely before the session’s end, someone from the panel would notice me sitting back there all by myself. I imagined her standing, clearly concerned at the oversight.
“Hold on just a minute, everybody,” she would say. “Let’s hear what our white sister has to offer!”
But it never happened. The workshop ended, and the women filed out of the room in little animated groups, ignoring me completely. I was kind of stunned, to be totally honest. I had never in my whole life felt so . . . invisible.
Excerpt from “That’s a Lid” by Gene
In the dining area I navigated around the tiny tables propped on silver pedestals, careful not to dip the bottom of my jacket in someone’s gravy. I headed toward an unoccupied table at the far end of the room, smiling at patrons along the way and hoping for something in return—a smile, a nod, or a gesture of welcome. Nothing. Each table was an independent pod of life, isolated from the others.
Suddenly a man’s voice cut through the chatter in the dining area. “What the hell is that?” Everyone in the room looked out the wall of windows, and I followed their gaze to see what had caught his attention.
A large white truck was streaking through the parking lot; on its side a single word was painted in big black letters—MOVING. The truck hit a puddle and disappeared in an enormous sheet of water while I stood transfixed in the middle of the dining area, waiting to see what would happen next. The truck reappeared, headed for an empty part of the lot and skidded to a halt, taking up three parking spaces.
Two black men emerged from the vehicle and made their way toward the restaurant entrance. Inside, the shift in energy was abrupt; diners hunkered down in their tiny swivel chairs and tried not to look at the doorway through which the two men would soon enter.
Everyone in the restaurant was white. Since we’d arrived in this part of Washington, I had seen very little racial diversity, and I’d asked a new acquaintance how folks in the area viewed issues related to race. “Well, we don’t really have a problem,” he’d said. “In this neighborhood, about 95% of the people are white; the rest are Asian. No blacks to my knowledge. So it really doesn’t affect us here.”
The door made a whooshing sound as the two men entered. Now I could see details that had been obscured by the fog.
Excerpt from “Robbed!” by Phyllis
When I was nearing the intersection with the main road, I slowed to look at a small lot on my left. I’d passed it before but thought I’d seen a sign that said parking was restricted; now I stopped the car to read the sign more carefully. It was April—a warm time of year in the high desert of the Southwest—and I’d left my passenger-side window open after talking to my daughter. My purse was on the front seat, along with bags of groceries I’d picked up for the party.
While I sat there deliberating, a man left the group he’d been standing with on the sidewalk and approached my car on the passenger side. He was older than a teenager but most likely younger than thirty; his clothes were casual but not shabby. From his features and complexion, I guessed he was Native American or Latino, or perhaps both. He was smiling as he walked toward me and had his hand held out, as if he hoped to reach through my window and offer me a gift. I hesitated for only a second, then looked away, shut my window, and drove off, staring straight ahead to avoid making eye contact with him.
Excerpt from “The Pitch” by Gene
On the phone, Jim had seemed curious about the people we’d met during our travels, and he had made an appointment to hear our proposal. I was hopeful that our meeting with him would result in an opportunity to talk with students and listen to their thoughts and feelings about how racism affected their lives.
“Oh, before I hang up,” Jim had said, “I, uh, well I hope you don’t take this the wrong way. Well, uh, you don’t sound . . . M mm, what I mean is that from the way you speak, uh, you sound to me like, uh, you’re white, I mean European-American . . . are you?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Your wife, too?”
“Yes. Is that a problem?”
“Well, no, not really. I was just wondering what you as white folks can offer about racism that others would find useful.”
“I’ll be happy to explain what we can offer when we meet you next Tuesday. Okay?”
“Alright. See you then.”
Now Phyllis and I stood at the door to Jim’s office, one of a series of small boxes that bordered the periphery of a large box, Building D. I adjusted my tie, then knocked. We heard drawers closing, someone grunting, the clatter of an object hitting the floor, more grunting, and finally, the door opened. Jim greeted us and invited us in.
He pulled a chair from the corridor into his tiny workspace, placed it next to one already in front of his desk and, after Phyllis and I sat down, somehow managed to close the door behind us. He then squeezed between the desk and a filing cabinet to get to his chair, sat down, and quickly scooped up papers and folders and plopped them on top of two teetering stacks on either side of the desktop.
Jim’s office was now stuffed beyond capacity, not only with three adults, three chairs, a large desk and file cabinet, bookshelves, a wall calendar and schedules, but also with his personal items: trophies, several model boats, pictures of boats, family photos, and children’s drawings.
When he finished his housekeeping, Jim looked at his watch, folded his hands and placed them on the cleared area in front of him. “So, whaddaya got for me?”
I looked at his hands resting on the shiny wood grain surface in an attitude of routine duty I’d seen before, then glanced at the towers of paper that threatened to collapse at any moment and bury everything in the little valley between them with administrative rubble. I wondered if Jim or the college had any space left for a workshop devoted to racial unity.