I suspect many people like myself are using the added gift of time during quarantine (yup, CA is still locked down) to educate ourselves about racism. I enjoyed hearing Ibram Kendi speak at the on-line Aspen Institute, and will continue with his book HOW TO BE AN ANTI-RACIST. It contains gems full of hope such as this:
‘Racist’ and ‘antiracist’ are like peelable name tags that are placed and replaced based on what someone is doing or not doing, supporting or expressing in each moment. These are not permanent tattoos.
It’s helped blur (probably not erase) my tattoo to read THE BOOK OF DELIGHTS by Ross Gay, African-American poet and professor at Indiana University. I’d enjoyed his first book, a catalogue of unabashed gratitude (Please don’t correct; he prefers the lower case title), all poetry.
With this one, he set out to write “a daily essay about something delightful.” In doing so, he discovered the development of a “delight radar” or “delight muscle.” So too, people who keep gratitude journals find that the regular discipline of writing down what they’re grateful for increases their appreciation. Themes emerge: travel, gardens, food, kindness, cafes, relationships. His lyrical prose touches lightly and insightfully on racism, but for the most part, we’re on happy, shared, human ground here.
Some of the more unusual delights are friends who dutifully write their names and phone numbers in the spaces provided in journals or backpacks, a trust in human decency—someone will return this if it’s lost. Or a “new brand of flummoxment” when Gay, a large, athletic man, is caught off kilter and almost sprains his ankle trying to re-align his arms for a friend’s hug. Or the purple stain on the skin from mulberries. Or carefully carrying a tomato plant on a plane, seeing the friendliness it evokes.
While many of the themes are familiar from religious traditions (valuing the meal, “the encyclopedia of human gestures,” the ego’s come-uppance), it’s a joy to read fresh, non-religious language. The word “vulnerable” must be over-used, so Gay’s “small and hurt-able” seems stronger. The poetic phrasing helps us see anew and think twice. His description of a grove of pawpaw trees could fit CA redwoods or mid-western oaks too: “something ancient and protective”… “the groveness also a kind of naveness.” Lotsa sacred places outside of church!
Popular media has conflated suffering and blackness, so Gay brings a unique twist: “A book of black delight. Daily as air.” He also challenges us to find our own: what delights might this day hold?