How to Deceive Yourself

Heather Gemmen Wilson

Move to large home in the country with over four acres of rolling land and delight in the wholesome upbringing you are giving your children.

Disregard the history of the nearby town, where Frederick Douglass was almost beaten to death on the bank of the same waterfall where you take your kids to picnic.

Ignore the rumors of Klan enclaves existing nearby.

Notice the academic ranking of the school district and believe that your kids will thrive in this small but progressive educational setting.

Slowly forget how your decade of inner-city living gave your two white sons a foundational sense of comfort with people who look different than them; tell yourself that all of your kids are much better off here.

As department chair, listen to one of your adjunct instructors say that her black students cannot be expected to reach the same level of achievement as whites do in her writing class and gently correct her. When she reasserts her view, give her another section anyway because she is reliable.

Initiate hosting an event on your campus to dialogue about race and policing but back pedal when a senior professor (i.e., an older white man) drops by your office to question whether it’s a good idea to “provoke the issue.”

Get used to comments that denigrate African Americans and Mexicans and Arabs. Allow friends and neighbors to brush aside their “lapses in judgment” with assurances that they were joking. Stop challenging them.

Hesitate to visit your friend’s church because you will be the only white person there.

Follow news stories about missing white kids and skip over similar stories about black kids.

Don’t fully believe your daughter, who is of mixed race, when she tells you a customer at the restaurant refused to let her serve him because of the color of her skin. Become exasperated when she quits.

Feel concern but do nothing when your son, who is black, tells you a white kid urinated in his locker because the white kid’s sister had a crush on your son. When your son won’t take the bus anymore for fear of being bullied, convince yourself it has more to do with teenaged drama than race. Don’t allow him to switch to the lower-ranked but racially mixed city school that he begs to attend.

Quickly remove the racial slurs spray-painted in thick sprawling letters on your concrete driveway. Don’t raise a fuss when the police tell you it was just a teenage prank.

Recline on your deck with pink lemonade and a good book instead of revolting against the escalating brutality erupting against people of color in your country. Don’t even post #blacklivesmatter to Facebook.

And then insist you’re not racist.


Heather Gemmen WilsonHeather Gemmen Wilson earned her MA in Creative Writing, and her thesis was selected as the Outstanding Creative Project. She’s also earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Her memoir, Startling Beauty, sold over 20,000 copies and has been translated into 9 languages. She has over 20 children’s and youth books, including one bestseller. She enjoyed a 20-year career in publishing as a book editor before teaching writing courses to undergrads.