It's Always a Good Time for the Truth
This article was published in the October 2016 Voter.
It’s Always A Good Time for the Truth
By Florence Sprague
“You will not be able to read this book without changing. Minnesota will never be the same.”
In the spring of 2016, with little fanfare, the Minnesota Historical Society Press released a powerful book, A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota, edited by Sun Yung Shin. Within its pages six-teen Minnesota writers of color write with remarkable openness and honesty about the challenges, pain, disappointments, and hope they have experienced living in Minnesota.
This is not a sugar-coated lovefest praising the joys of living in a diverse community, but rather a direct reflection of the hurtful, less than perfect inclusion too many experience. But neither is it just Minnesota bashing. The essays contain a reality in which people can find a home and a community, but not without also enduring bias and insult. As Sia Her notes about the situation of people of color, “The writers show how America has failed to deliver on its promise, while they simultaneously paint a vision of our capacity to thrive when the color of our skin is no longer the gatekeeper into the gar-den of the American Dreams.” Let’s take a peek into some of the essays.
Recently MPR talk show host Kerri Miller led a discussion about parent shaming, the way people often judge a parent harshly when a child misbehaves or is out of control in a public space. The panelists and callers pointed out how this is often done with too little information, too little compassion, and too much hubris about our own parenting. Shannon Gibney points out that this phenome-non has yet another cutting edge for a mother of color, what she calls the “Fear of a Black Mother. This is the sometimes concrete, more often nebulous fear that those around you project, because they unconsciously believe you are unfit to mother your own child simply because you are a Black woman.” (p.21)
The anecdotes and scars reported in these essays have occurred over the lifetimes of the writers. They reflect the accumulated weight of incidences of “driving while not white,” “sounding too black,” “where are you really from” experiences that influence attitudes and darken dreams. And lest you think that they are all just history, over and done with, I was startled and shocked when a Hmong friend told me of driving up I-35 in September and passing a raucous group on a bridge over the high-way waving Confederate flags and shouting their anger at the passing cars! This is Minnesota in the 21st century? The Stars and Bars are not our heritage; there can be no rationalization for this symbol of bigotry. What direction are we evolving, anyways? And why?
Bao Phi writes of wanting to protect his daughter and the rainbow of kids in her preschool, and “instead of feeling encouraged [at the diversity in the group], I got scared in a different way for each of them.” The world is not al-ways a welcoming place.
Reflect with JaeRan Kim on the pluses and minuses of growing up in Minnesota as a Korean adoptee, belonging to a family, yet always different. Feeling hyper visible and suffering the racist taunts of other children, yet invisible, expected to be Minnesotan, not Korean, wondering about roots and identity.
Ponder the challenges of cross cultural marriage with Kao Kalia Yang. Partners love one another, yet cannot fully share some experiences, the life of the other opening windows onto the privilege and the prejudice in our com-munity. Wince at the disparate guidance given to graduate students of color by white professors, and the “oppressive white-ness” of Minnesota felt by other writers.
It is tempting to brush off some of these experiences with a “that was then, this is now” attitude. I do believe in change, growth, moving forward, fresh starts, progress. However, our community still contains so many who were shaped and harmed by the “then” biases that we will only hold ourselves back if we fail to acknowledge, respect and seek to heal. These voices need to be truly heard.
These essays are courageous in their honesty and each is in a unique voice. These voices may be angry, sad, melancholy, hopeful, warm, funny, and share many emotions with us, the readers. They are all important to a fuller under-standing of Minnesota. Is Minnesota really so nice? How can it be nicer? How can we individually and collectively see more of the stories around us and not just the stereotypes? I hope that Aleks Pate is right and that reading this book will lead to change and not just a passing twinge. Our future will be better if the children of today grow up in a more welcoming, self-critical, and less racist community. Read, contemplate, share, discuss, grow.
Editor’s note: Florence Sprague is a member of the League of Women Voters of Roseville Area.