Roll of Thunder

Roll of Thunder

I’m queasy. Feeling a little sick to my stomach right now, and it has nothing to do with those damn iron pills my doctor wants me to take. Tonight, while doing research for a paper I have to turn in tomorrow (I know that smells of procrastination, but it isn’t–we have papers due every week), I came across a fascinating, haunting piece of literature. My hands are trembling. This thing shook me. I nearly cried.


I want to share it here and I also don’t, but I know I need to because dammit, it’s so fucking real and so fucking unreal, and to my knowledge it only exists in one place in the whole entire (virtual) world. But first, let me explain how I found it.


See, the subject of my paper is “Race in America.” We are to write a 2-3 page response to Claudia Rankine’s Citizen in the style of the book itself. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a work of art that uses images and imagery and prose-poetry and personal narrative and news clips and social commentary to shed light on some aspects of racism that typically tend to go unnoticed or unacknowledged. Subtle racism. Marjorie Perloff says of this book, Rankine’s “tales of everyday life… dwell on the most normal exteriors and the most ordinary of daily situations so as to expose what is really there: a racism so guarded and carefully masked as to make it all the more insidious.” Of all the assignments I’ve had this semester, this has been one the most challenging for several reasons, but I won’t get into that here. What I am going to get into is the racism that’s not so carefully masked. The kind that gets more openly exposed when it’s safely surrounded by itself. I was looking up “cognitive dissonance.” I found this on a message board:


(Warning: it’s offensive–one of the most offensive pieces of text I’ve ever read.)




Cognitive Dissonance

This is the feeling of uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time.

Dissonance is often strong when we believe something about ourselves and then do something against that belief. If I believe I am good but do something bad, then the discomfort I feel as a result is cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is a very powerful motivator which will often lead us to change one or other of the conflicting belief or action. The discomfort often feels like a tension between the two opposing thoughts. To release the tension we can take one of three actions:

* Change our behavior.
* Justify our behavior by changing the conflicting cognition.
* Justify our behavior by adding new cognitions.

Cognitive dissonance appears in virtually all evaluations and decisions and is the central mechanism by which we experience new differences in the world. When we see other people behave differently to our images of them, when we hold any conflicting thoughts, we experience dissonance.



I see more and more examples of racial cognitive dissonance as I go about the course and scope of my work. The following was a most profound example.

I was processing employees for a client of mine. One by one they’d enter the office I was in. Part of what I was doing required that I verify the identity of each employee. This one lady entered the office and I bade her to sit down and be comfortable. There was nothing remarkable about her. An attractive, middle aged White woman she seemed to be of a similar background to me. Well dressed, she wore a small golden cross around her neck and spoke with that wonderfully smooth, easy on the ears accent of south Georgia.

Well, I asked for her driver’s license. She pulled a good sized wallet out of her purse and flipped it open. Her license was there in a little clear plastic pouch and above it were pictures of four young people ranging in age from what seemed to be about six up to a pretty girl of about seventeen. I smiled at the lady and said, “Are these yours?” She nodded that they were. “Good job, mom! We need more kids like these.”

Then, it happened. All of an instant, a look, a look of panic, confusion, and I must say, hope passed over her face and in her eyes. She hesitated the barest of moments and said, “Yes these are all mine . . . but here, let me show you my heart, my grand-baby.” She pulled out a picture of the ugliest little wire haired, cloven footed, monkey muzzled, mud skinned, halfrican niglet you ever saw. I mean the little beast, as they all are, was simply hideous! She cooed, “Ain’t he beautiful!”

In her eyes was, “Please don’t say so, mister. Please don’t say the truth. I couldn’t stand it if you told the truth.” But, my bet is that even under torture she would continue to lie to herself and the whole world about the truth. She built up this lie until it dominated her, even in the presence of a total stranger, she still had to pretend.

I locked eyes with her and focused as much rejection into my look as I could muster. Then, I finished processing her without ever again acknowledging her in the room. When she got up to leave, I glanced up at her and she had tears in her eyes.




When I finished reading this, I was very confused. It sounded real, but it also sounded like a well-crafted work of fiction. Such a profound character study! Such pain and ignorance and hatred! It had to be a work of fiction, right? No way this could be real in 2017 America. So then I Googled chunks of the text to find out about the writer. The first part was taken from another website (and cited), but as for the story itself, nothing. It didn’t exist outside of this specific post on this specific message board, so it couldn’t have been a work of literature. It was real.


It is real.


I’m so naïve. The user goes by “Live Free” from Havana, Florida. He or she has 256 posts on this message board. One of them, on the question of whether or not it’s acceptable to have friendships with people of other races, states, “The ONLY contacts that I have with non-whites are in commerce or other areas wherein I have no choice.” The responses I read from others were even worse, and when I finally looked up to see what the heck kind of web site this was, it suddenly all came to light. “We are a community of racial realists and idealists. We are White Nationalists who support true diversity and a homeland for all peoples. Thousands of organizations promote the interests, values and heritage of non-White minorities. We promote ours. We are the voice of the new, embattled White minority!”


How does one contend with this?


The answer’s right there, at the heart of it: a mother’s love.

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