The Real Story

What could be more significant than the moment in my car this morning, a quarter mile from my work parking lot, when I lost composure and sobbed for as long as I would let myself, about sixty seconds. I was hearing, on the radio, about all of the black artists who weren’t nominated for Oscars. And the black director who redirected protests toward talks with the Academy. 

I am now remembering the truth about a different day, maybe 15 years ago, in a conference held by the Hurston-Wright Foundation. It was in its infancy, this conference, and I was one of only two white people in my creative nonfiction workshop. One of my classmates, among other remarkable women, was Medgar Evers’ cousin. And another was a white woman confused about what her story was. She’d been in an affair with the black man who was the home health aide to her quadriplegic husband, and she’d come to the workshop to share her writing about her lover, profoundly unclear about the racist characterizations she was throwing around. 

The rest of the class, all brilliant and strong women with their own stories, told her the truth about her writing. It wasn’t just racist, it wasn’t true. It wasn’t the real story. 

This woman’s heart was broken by the road cycling accident that severed her husband’s spine, and she wasn’t writing about it. The rest of the class worked their own ways past her offensiveness to the truth. I did what I could, but mostly watched them take the weapon out of her hand, while making clear it was a weapon, and counseled her successfully toward writing something real.