Politics and Prose in Black and White

“There’s going to be an announcement tonight at eight…Hmmmm!” said April Ryan as she took the floor at Politics and Prose on Tuesday evening, “I want someone to tell me about that. I hear it’s going to be Apprentice-esque.”

Ryan is, of course, referring to the expected announcement of President Donald Trump’s pick to join the Supreme Court. According to her website, Ryan has served as a White House Correspondent for twenty years. This is not the first time she has been known to take her work home with her.

As she walks across the stage, she frequently admits to the habit of putting on her “reporter hat” in situations with her daughters. Sometimes this is useful, such as when she and her daughters encountered Black Lives Matter counter-protesters with Confederate Flags, which her daughters had never seen before.

“That,” she told them “is a symbol of hate.”

This description, while brief and concise, could be described as lacking the objectivity that is demanded of journalists. However, in her other capacity as a black mother of black daughters, Ryan describes feeling the need to articulate to them the torrid history of race relations in this country.

After all, that is what her new book At Mama’s Knee: Mother’s and Race in Black and White is all about.

At Mama’s Knee is a collection of essays and autobiographical sketches that examine the balance between Ryan’s occupations as an eminent White House Reporter, and the proud mother of two black daughters.

As Ryan walks across the stage, she describes the surreal nature of spending her day talking to “President Obama. Then President Obama. Doesn’t that feel strange? Calling him Former President Obama?” and then going home to her family in Baltimore and having to explain to one of her daughters why their great aunt had forbidden them to play outside.

This was in the immediate aftermath of the Tamir Rice shooting in Cleveland, Ohio, and Ryan’s aunt did not want them to play outside because she felt it was unsafe.

Ryan said that “My first conversation about race with my daughter was telling her it was true that a 12-year-old boy was shot by the police for playing with a toy gun.”

“I am a proud African American woman and I am not going to apologize for that” Ryan says, “but I don’t care about race at all.”

She goes on to describe having many friends from many cultures, and holding no form of prejudice. She describes a worldview that does not have any social ramifications of race, but rather acknowledges its history and how that affects the experience and safety of individuals.

Race is an important part of her life. Both in the home and in her career. “I’m known as this black reporter who asks black questions” she says with regard to her presence in the Oval Office. Despite her lack of personal prejudices, race is very prominent in her professional life.

“We are a United Divided States,” she says, “Issues of policing are very important.”

She goes on to read a passage from her book about “The Talk.” The talk is a speech that father figures in the Black community give to young men who are coming of age. It is very direct, instructs them as to how to interact with the police, and informs them of how bad policing can lead to death for Black Men.

The most common crime that members of the Black community are targeted for? “Driving While Black!” Ryan says. “So common in black culture, that it is referred to simply as DWB.”

At the bottom of everything Ryan says, is an underlying theme. Racial inequality permeates our society.

Ryan tells an anecdote from near the beginning of Barack Obama’s Presidency. First Lady Michelle Obama was advocating personal fitness and health, and as part of that decided to start taking some public walks in the area around the White House. Nobody noticed her. Not disheartened, and possibly enjoying the privacy, she persisted. Still nobody noticed.

“If you didn’t notice her, a tall, beautiful, and famous woman,” she says “you certainly aren’t going to notice other African American Women.”

This statement illicits an audible “Whoa!” from an audience member.

“I am five generations away from the last known slave in my family,” she says, “and none of them would believe I’m at the White House.”

Ryan frequently states her feelings about the state of the racial environment in the United States. They are no secret. Progress has been made, but there is so much more to do. She illustrates this with another story, this time from President Obama himself.

Ryan and the President were on Air Force One together, flying to Selma, Ala. For the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. She asked him a question about what he thought his election meant for Black culture.

According to Ryan, the President said that he didn’t view his election as a moment on par with desegregation or African Americans receiving the right to vote, because “it didn’t represent a change in fundamental rights.”

Shortly after 8pm, Neil Gorsuch was nominated to fill Antonin Scalia’s vacated position on the Supreme Court.

 

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