A white man clutching a brown paper bag stands in the dirt-and-gravel lot that fronts Jones Bar-B-Q Diner in the Arkansas Delta town of Marianna. Grease splotches the bag, a stain that envelops the bottom and flares up the sides.
A poll conducted by the website The Loop 21 and UNITY: Journalists of Color, Inc., and released on Feb. 19, 2009, shows that 92% of American journalists of color believe that, even in the Obama era, “mainstream media are not effectively covering race relations.”
On the heels of this report, and almost as a challenge to it, The Oxford American boldly releases a special issue devoted to the “Past, Present, and Future” of Race in what may be among the first white-run, mainstream publications to be written by a vast majority (in this case, 88%) of writers of color.
The subject of race is still a very hot topic and can lead quickly to polarizing debates. Some pundits claim that the recent presidential election represents an “end to race.” Others believe that there are deeper undercurrents that still need to be discussed.
The history of the South, with the brutality of slavery and Jim Crow, and the hyper-resistance to Civil Rights, looms large and can even be considered a magnification of the country’s racial conflicts and attitudes. As a Southern magazine addressing race, The Oxford American, even at the risk of being controversial, aimed to inspire intelligent and meaningful discussion on a complex and often painful subject.
But in truth there is freedom and whether that truth can be found in commentary, fiction, personal history, art, or poetry, the contributors in this issue—ZZ Packer, Arthur Rickydoc Flowers, Juan Williams, Julian Bond, Sarah M. Broom, Jerald Walker, Randa Jarrar, Solon Timothy Woodward, Lolis Eric Elie, Rita Dove, and many, many others—all provide meaningful and honest insights.
Cover art by Hank Willis Thomas, courtesy of the Aperture Foundation.