Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

'Dear Black Body' Essay Contemplates Avoiding Becoming A Statistic

Anthony Conwright is pictured in this undated photo.
Courtesy of Anthony Conwright
Anthony Conwright is pictured in this undated photo.

'Dear Black Body' Essay Contemplates Avoiding Becoming A Statistic
'Dear Black Body' Essay Contemplates Avoiding Becoming A Statistic GUEST:Anthony Conwright, writer, Black and Wordy blog

We will hear from the writer of an essay about the challenges of growing up black called Dear Black Body. Brutality at the border was the subject of a keynote speech of San Diego's all peoples celebration. This is KPBS midday edition. Back I am Maureen Cavanaugh and it's Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday I am Maureen Cavanaugh and it's Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday, January 18. Our top story on midday edition is the essence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream that people be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. This is still a dream for African-Americans. The color of their skin often brings judgment and even threatens their safety. The rise of the black lives matter movement has brought this continuing racial inequity into our national dialogue. But the complexity of what life is for an African-American man growing up in San Diego has seldom been expressed more powerfully than in an essay by my guest. Anthony Conwright, his essay is called Dear Black Body. He spoke to me today from his current home in Mumbai India. Anthony you wrote this essay in honor of your 30th birthday why was that a particular milestone for you? Well I had been thinking about writing something to myself or to an audience when I turned 34 a couple of years actually I was thinking of writing an autobiography experience and he talked about a lot of writers that right from the place of anxiety. Throughout my life I have had a lot of anxiety, not only about the amount of pressure Americans put on themselves about being 30 but about avoiding statistics. So, I remember growing up in thinking well if I make it to 18 and I avoid extra just to can if I make it to 25 and graduate from college than I avoid gang violence and if I make it to 28 and I avoid this but if I make it to 30, now I am really in the clear. So, I think it was just one of my artistic ways to express anxiety that I had about aging within my own body. Now you address your black body in this essay as if it has a life or a legacy apart from the essential you. I am wondering do you feel that way or did you ever feel that way? No, but I think that I was sort of flirting with the idea of what it would mean to claim and embrace my body which happens to be black and I think part of that is going through the process or the feeling of being at war within myself and I think writing was my attempt to discover or uncover the way I negotiate owning or disowning my blackbody along the narratives of blackness that ownership or disowning snip evokes. So I am asking did you feel separate from your body that it was a limitation or a burden on what you, the essential you wanted? Sort of. I think in a lot of cases and specifically for black males I think the black psyche is divided and can be in conflict with itself or with attempts to conceptualize a sense of self. I think that is kind of what I was doing. I am human and a sense but I am in this body of because I am in this body there is sort of a preset condition that I have to live with because I live in America with America's history and how is it that I can conceptualize a sense of myself within this body in this sort of new milestone of age. Now there is a section in the essay where you describe what your body has seen and heard as you were growing up in southeastern San Diego. Can you read to us from that part of the essay? Sure I can. We were nervous that you had already seen us shooting at a park in the sounds from the anthem of the destruction of blackbody to become flew into your ears. The percussion of the fly, the base and the hammer the bang of the bullet the slashing of tires in the ones in the assignments the music of the neighborhood as a rating your room and you nodded her head along to the HIPPA playing outside your window. UDO deep into schools and peer groups and quickly realize that your neighborhood did not sound like other people's neighborhood and their bodies did not face the same threat of physical destruction as your body. You experience this as a foreign language to some so you held your tongue too prideful for pity and too prideful to sound like one of those kids from the ghetto. You had too much dignity to share stories that might this each emotional handouts. That is my guess Anthony Conwright his reading from his essay called dear black body. Anthony, I am wondering how much did that violence, did that noise did the sounds that you heard those experiences that you had growing up how much did that shape your identity to you think? Quite a bit. I think desensitizes not the right word but we get accustomed to it and it becomes your reality so there were a couple of times in my life where there may have been a shooting outside or whatever the case may be and you know that it is a shooting but it is not new. So, you do not go through the novel feelings of certain violence being new and I think that sort of shape to me and when I interacted with other people from other places in San Diego, I realized that oh, you know in the back of your mind that it is not a normal thing to grow up in but I had a sense of I don't know if I should talk about this because all of these other people do not really experience it, but I would say that I definitely was shaped into the person I am now by gang violence and drugs and shootings as anyone else. You were talking in the beginning about why turning 30 these milestones in your life you felt you sort of had the the odds are be the statistics and in the essay you write that you and your friends does not believe the statistics that said one out of three of you would be dead or in prison before you were 30. Did that turn out to be true? It did. That section was the owed to one of my really good friends, Courtney Graham who was murdered in the same neighborhood that we grow up in and I remember myself, Courtney Graham, and another friend Lynn Ford we were in the [INAUDIBLE] on 50th St. and we were just kind of playing in we didn't really caught you grow up hearing it and so you think if you did not get an education this will happen to you and one in four of you guys is going to end up in the correctional system at some point in your life and you hear these things that we were all really good kids. We were good boys. We were growing up to be growth -- good men and of unfortunately Courtney never have the opportunity because he was murdered and that paragraph really was about recalling that conversation and knowing that violence is happening in this particular neighborhood and still feeling like got you know it is our neighborhood we are always safe we are still safe this cannot happen to us. We all had great parents we had good homes. Unfortunately, that did come to fruition in my life. In your essay Anthony you say that there was a time when you tried to destroy your body your self, can you tell us a little bit about that? Yes. I think that is part of being at war with oneself. I think suicide is a very real thing that a lot of people contemplate. When I wrote about it there was definitely a literal meaning behind it but also it was symbolic in a way of a person trying to escape from their body and what made me in it. I felt like it was really important to talk about it because I think a lot of times especially within blackmail communities, there is a stigma around being feminine or not being masculine. So, I wanted to throw that in there to show that if there are other black males that are going through things or feel bad or lonely or depressed that it is something that you can talk about. It is not something that you have to hide and you do not have to do this thing where you sit there and pretend to be strong. I think a lot of times we are taught to just be strong and what strong means is a blackmail is sort of being impervious when I wanted to just show that it is okay to be vulnerable and talk about the way that you are feeling or talk about depression. You are living in Mumbai now, are you teaching? I am. I am teaching and I am hoping to start a middle school here. Is it different living in a blackbody in a different country Anthony? Yes been a very interesting way. Everyone kind of looks like me in an odd way so I always have a lot of culture shock when I leave Mumbai and come back to the states because there is so much more diversity. It is kind of different, here, I feel like there is more of a caste system in place more so than racism not the race can imply a cut type of cast but it is definitely different being in Mumbai than being in the states. I am wondering what did you do to survive and overcome the statistics? You know I have really good parents. My mother and father raised to me to avoid those things and I think my dad in particular always did a good job of raising us by example. So I remember as a little kid we were recycling bottles or something like that and this guy was playing really loud rap music that had a lot of cursing and and my dad walked over to the guy and asked him to turn it down not that he was being like that but I still remember that, I was really young, and I think that I took from that lesson that it is okay to stand up for the right thing. I think that I have been lucky enough to attract a lot of great mentors and my writing journalism, I feel like I can't say that I did something that more that I've been really lucky to have a lot of really great people in my life and I think it starts with my parents. Also, different mentors I have had in high school and throughout my life. You know you're as a Dear Black Body is important in a lot of different ways but in one way I would like you to talk about finally if you could there are still kids to ask their parents why they have to be black. Is there anything that you can tell them about loving their bodies? I think yes. I think it is a process and I think there are questions that if you are a black American or even a woman in a lot of cases you have to go through the process of embracing and accepting in a world that seems especially anti-black comic how can you embrace your body in a world that seems anti-black and from what I wrote that is my process of doing that. Unfortunately if you are black the act of embracing your body can be dangerous. So when Aaron Gardner says I am embracing my body and I am embracing my faith in the stops today that in itself is sort of an act that is dangerous. So I think in terms of embracing one's body or developing a love for one's body is almost some not somebody can tell you to do. I think it is something that is a process that a person has to go through. But, I would like to tell people that you are a person and it is okay to go through the struggle of discovering self-love. You are a person that matters even when you are struggling. I have been speaking with writer and teacher Anthony, in his essay dear black body can be found on his blog at body can be found on his Anthony thank you so much. No problem thank you for having me.

Anthony Conwright is an African-American writer and teacher who grew up in Southeastern San Diego. His autobiographical essay "Dear Black Body" was published by the Huffington Post and on his blog, Black and Wordy, in December.

Conwright wrote the essay on his 30th birthday. In it he reflects on how he grew to accept and embrace his black body "in a world that seems anti-black."

"Because I'm in this body there is sort of a preset condition I have to live with," Conwright told KPBS Midday Edition Monday.

He said the color of his skin and the neighborhood he grew up in caused him to be desensitized to violence in a way that, as he grew older, his peers weren't. And he said it added pressure to beat the odds.

"Throughout my life I’ve had a lot of anxiety, not only about the amount of pressure Americans put on themselves about being 30, but about avoiding statistics," said Conwright, who is currently working to build a middle school in Mumbai, India.

He said he remembers growing up thinking that if he reached certain age milestones he'd be OK.

"If I make it to 25 and graduate from college, I avoid falling victim to gang violence," he said. "If I make it to 30, now I’m really in the clear."

Here is an excerpt from the essay, "Dear Black Body":

"You were nervous, but you had already seen a shooting at a park, and the sounds from the anthem of the destruction of black bodies had become fluent to your ears: the percussion of the slide, the base of the hammer, the bang of the bullet, the scratch of the tires, and the horns from the sirens. The music of the neighborhood saturated your room and you nodded your head along, as if 2PACALYPSE had been playing outside your window.

You carried those beats into schools and peer groups, but quickly realized your neighborhood didn’t sound like other peoples’ neighborhoods and their bodies didn’t face the same threats of physical destruction as your body. The experiences to which you spoke were like a foreign language to some, so you held your tongue. Too prideful for pity, and too prideful to sound like “one of those kids from the ghetto.” You had too much dignity to share stories that might beseech emotional handouts."
Conwright said he owes his success to his parents.

"My mother and father raised me to avoid those things and I think my dad in particular always did a good job of raising by example," Conwright said.

He had these words for black youth still trying to find comfort and strength in their bodies.

"You're a person, and it's OK to go through the struggle of discovering self love," Conwright said. "You're a person that matters."