Being simultaneously the past and the present America in our race relations

by Mr. Sheehy

In another sense, though, the ways that Handler’s comments have shaped our conversations about Brown Girl Dreaming shine a light on another trick of memory, the ways that Americans are especially prone to pretend that the past is past, that the troubling history of American racism is part of a national childhood that may be left behind now that we have achieved enlightened adulthood. As Woodson suggests in Brown Girl Dreaming, though, “past” selves can coexist with present ones, and that’s as painfully true for the nation as it is for the individual. We can be the America Du Bois described at the same time that we are the nation Woodson described. When it’s 2015, it’s also 1963 and 1903. Sometimes it takes a children’s book and the kerfuffle surrounding it to force us to acknowledge that.

Carissa Turner Smith, reviewing Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming for Books and Culture, observing the ways race issues operate and how they don’t go away in the manner we might wish they would.

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