Ben Folds Five has been rattling around in my brain lately.
A bit melodramatic, but “It often makes no sense, in fact, I never understand these things I feel” has seemed particularly applicable to my feelings on the hyped 2012 picture book Unspoken. (Also, do you see the Bill Clinton-Anderson Cooper-hybrid horn player in the background of that video?)
Unspoken is a gorgeous wordless book by Henry Cole. My kids said they loved it because the pencil drawings reminded them of Wonderstruck. It’s pretty lovely, but something keeps hitting a nerve.
It’s a nerve that I suppose SHOULD be struck whenever I read any book about the Underground Railroad. It’s the white people savior business. The idea that we should all be soooooo grateful for the white people who helped the poor minority out. What I’m struggling to understand is why I’m so grouchy at Unspoken while I’m fine with other books that address a similar theme.
I CANNOT STOP THINKING OF THIS SKETCH whenever I see/read/think about Unspoken.
As someone who grew up in the 80s and 90s in a suburb of Detroit, I was sharply aware of racial tension/awkwardness/sensitivity and how touchy people got when white folks wanted to meddle in the city’s affairs. I heard things like how Mayor Coleman Young told white people to get out of Detroit and let black people take care of things. Or how Dennis Archer wasn’t a successful mayor because he was “too white.”
In researching this blog post, though, I found some evidence that the legend of Coleman Young telling white people quit meddling with Detroit might be just that — a legend. Which is cool, but I still feel awkward when I think about how all the hipsters are coming back into town… I just hope that things just don’t re-gentrify and that residents can work together. Lofty, naive goals, I know. But the Christian Science Monitor observed that it just might happen.
I’ve dealt plenty with my own white privilege and white guilt, so I don’t know how much that plays into ALL THESE FEELS. (I love Macklemore’s song addressing it. LOTS OF NAUGHTY NAUGHTY WORDS, BE WARNED)
“WHITE PRIVILEGE, WHITE GUILT AT THE SAME **** TIME.”
Anyway. Yargh. I thought writing this post would help me, but I still can’t seem to articulate why Unbroken rubs me the wrong way. I mean no offense to Mr. Cole, nor to the scads of readers who love his story. I just think this angle deserves to be explored. What do you think?