‘White On Black’ by Tess Slesinger

Slesinger, Tess 1930

White On Black by Tess Slesinger, 1930

The magic trick:

Recording with tremendous accuracy the tenor of a particular racial dynamic

When Slesinger writes about race relations at a junior high and high school in pre-Depression New York, I know she is doing so with total accuracy. How do I know? Sadly, I know because the repressive and repulsive dynamics she describes are 100-percent familiar to those that I grew up with and continue to see around me today.

Of course I am not saying there hasn’t been any progress during the last 100 years of race relations in this country. But it’s shocking how so much of this story still relates to today. That’s a testament to the author’s power of observation, understanding and expression; and a big ugly testament against our American society. And that’s quite a trick on Slesinger’s part.

The selection:

There began to be whispers among us of what we would do if Paul asked one of us to come to a dance with him, or offered a treat to a soda. We admitted to feeling uncomfortable at the thought of being seen on the street with him. At the same time we realized that what we were contemplating was horribly unfair. But Evelyn – Evelyn, who led our class in social matters because at fourteen she wore rouge and baby French heels – said, “School is school; it’s not the World; it’s not our Real Lives,” and we let it go at that.


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