At Least We Talk About Race in the USA: Zadie Smith on Writing, Race and Color

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

Last week Wednesday I skipped out of work as early as possible so I could get a front row seat at the University of Pennsylvania’s Speaker’s Series on Color featuring one of my all-time favorite authors, Zadie Smith. I’ve read (and own) almost all of Smith’s fiction, but I am also a big fan of her critical essays, especially those dealing with race and culture. I like her writing and I love her mind.

Zadie Smith and Jed Esty "in conversation" at the University of Pennsylvania.
Zadie Smith and Jed Esty “in conversation” at the University of Pennsylvania.
So, my biggest takeaway from the almost sold-out event, is that not only is Zadie Smith absolutely brilliant (and gorgeous, and taller than I expected), she’s also got a terrific sense of humor. Rather than present a formal reading of her work, Smith sat “in conversation,” (which is clearly a thing now.) with Penn English professor, Jed Esty who peppered her with questions about her books, her upbringing as a Mixed child in London and her process as a writer. She answered every query with honesty and held none of her opinions back, even when they may have insulted the vast majority of the mostly White audience.

I found myself nodding in agreement with so much of what Smith said regarding the difference between being Black in the USA vs, the UK. Having spent the summer in London, I felt like she nailed it, but of course my opinions were based on a six-week stay as opposed to a lifetime. Still, Smith perfectly articulated what I sensed; that being Black in London isn’t something actually worthy of discussion, since everyone is supposedly “British.” That may feel like progress, but the reality is that it feels more like one is being silenced. “In America, at least the conversation is out loud,” Smith said. “In London you aren’t meant to discuss [race].”

So, while America seems overwhelmed with “race talk” these days, fresh from my experience in London, I’m at least thankful that our voices aren’t being silenced.

For those of you who have traveled to the UK, what are your impressions of their comfort level with racial differences? London is an extremely diverse city, but all that glitters isn’t a rainbow coalition. Am I Right? I’m so listening.


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