I spent a few hours talking with my colleague Tom Levenson about the behind the scenes work of building "Fear of a Black President." Tom is a gifted science writer and historian, and so it was an honor to sit with him for a bit and talk craft.
Here I am talking with Tom about the perils, and yet the inevitability, of the "Twice as Good" route:
My editor, Scott, he said, "Well, this is an angry piece." And I said, "Well, I was angry." I was angry. I was. It was depressing. Yes. I was very depressed. I didn't expect to be so depressed. The sadness of the piece at the end was not something that I went into. And I think the sadness emanates from the fact -- like everybody says, "So what's your solution?" I think the sadness emanates from the fact that this is the actual solution.That what's going on is the solution. And that path, the twice as good....Right. I was on the radio. Somebody was saying yesterday on the radio, "Well, you know, Jackie Robinson did this." And I told him, "You got to remember Jackie Robinson died young. Don't ever forget that, every time you say that. Remember that." You know, it wasn't just a matter of being better. This actually costs. It costs.Any black person who has ever worked in any sort of corporate job can tell you about coming home and needing to have an extra drink, about the anger they feel. I was having a conversation with some friends a few years ago and we were talking about the subject of interracial marriage. And one of the points that one of them made was, "You know, I don't think I could do this because when this sort of thing happens at my job and I come home and I need to be able to talk about it, who am I going to talk to? You know, who really knows how that really, really feels deep down inside?"So it throws up barriers and even (in) really sort of weird, unpredictable places. I really wanted people who may not come from that world to get some insight into how that might feel.
This goes with a lot of what I'm talking about in my writing around Nat Turner. It's all well and good to say black people should be more like Martin Luther King Jr. But it should be noted that the country answered King's hypermorality with unremitting violence, culminating in him being shot in the head.
More than ever, I'm convinced of the logic of "Twice as Good." But people who don't have to walk it, should be very careful about talking it. It costs. Any black person who was a "First" or has a parent who was a "First" can surely tell you horror stories.