Last week began with a flurry of writing and editing and ended with a birthday surprise. “We need to talk about American whiteness,” an op-ed in The Washington Post, along with the author’s research for a new book, Dying Of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America's Heartland, were so resonant that I sent off a letter to the editor. Especially after agreeing with my husband that some of my phrasing was academic and unclear, I dismissed the fantasy of a reply. However, a day or so later, I heard from the Post. You may know the drill. Several emails ensued, requesting and suggesting edits. By week’s end, on my birthday, the letter appeared online. The Post’s unintended gift was all the more meaningful because of the collaborative process with several editors. Could it be that they, too, were inspired by the book’s call for mutually respectful listening and dialogue?
In bold, below, is how the editors conveyed the edit they sought:
Jonathan M. Metzl’s April 30 op-ed, “We need to talk about American whiteness,” used yet another woeful incident of racial discord as an opportunity for healing. This research psychiatrist’s prescription of open, reflective, neighborly dialogue to mediate the “politics of resentment” that white privilege generates is a process for learning and living together in our increasingly crowded, interdependent world.
However, with respect, I challenge Mr. Metzl that organizational efforts “among groups with common socioeconomic interests (rather than identities) are more successful in achieving shared objectives.” In my research and lived experience, there is little daylight between interests and identities. They are constantly interacting, overlapping and shifting. To serve us for the moment or the long haul, we activate single or multiple identities. Our identity-based interests are what constitute our diversity. We fail to (ad) minister[[Could we say “apply” instead of administer here? Several of our editors were tripped up by administer. Thanks]] them without equitable government and civil society institutions — not to mention gatherings at Politics and Prose and other privately operated venues.
I hadn’t been able to write what I really meant until they pinpointed where I was tripping up. It was easy to reply:
Thank you for the update. As to the edit you request, I welcome a clearer word than "administer." I intended to refer to "interests" in the prior sentence, so if you all find "apply" makes more sense, I defer to your judgment. Perhaps a different wording, e.g., "We fail to recognize these interests without equitable government..."
And soon they wrote back:
I like your proposed wording and can change it to that.
Thanks so much,
I thanked the editor and then Jonathan Metzl:
The letter looks great in print and online and I appreciate the editorial skill you demonstrated in the publication process. It was the most unexpectedly positive birthday gift (May 3d) I've received in years.
Cheers for all you do,
And she responded!
Dear Dr. Metzl:
I was sufficiently inspired by your research and April 29th op-ed that I replied to the editor. It's here if you are curious. I look forward to reading your book (maybe I will even drive down to Politics and Prose for a copy) and applying it in my own practice.
I hope this month visits you with intentional acts of kindness. You never can tell what your reading and writing will lead to!