Wendell Berry’s *The Hidden Wound* turns 50. It is an “exercise in white *anti*-fragility.”


Over at Commonweal, Joshua Hochschild reflects on the 50th anniversary of Wendell Berry‘s book on race

Here is a taste of his piece “Race & Anti-fragility“:

Chapters four through eight of The Hidden Wound (the only ones included in the 2019 Library of America edition of Berry’s selected essays) recount his memories of neighbors who worked on his father’s farm: Nick Watkins, diligent, loyal, and “possessed of a considerable dignity,” and Aunt Georgie, eccentric and forcefully intelligent, simultaneously superstitious and sane. Aware of the awkwardness of drawing lessons about race relations from his youthful experience of two beloved neighbors, Berry acknowledges the potential for what some today call microaggressions: “[I]n the face of the extreme racial sensitivity of the present time, I can hardly ignore the possibility that my black contemporaries may find some of my assumptions highly objectionable.” What is Berry’s goal in taking this risk, of offending others by recounting his personal attachments?

I am trying to establish the outlines of an understanding of myself in regard to what was fated to be the continuing crisis of my life, the crisis of racial awareness—the sense of being doomed by my history to be, if not always a racist, then a man always limited by the inheritance of racism, condemned to be always conscious of the necessity not to be a racist, to be always dealing deliberately with the reflexes of racisms that are embedded in my mind as deeply at least as the language I speak.

The conditions Berry describes here are now commonly referred to as systemic racism, white privilege, and the curse of implicit bias (not to mention white fragility). It is clear that Berry finds the stain of racism so stubborn that it would be foolish to think anyone can be exempt, individually or collectively, and we should be suspicious of even our attempts to seek healing as themselves deceptive and defensive “reflexes” of racism. In a move that was not yet common, Berry even criticizes “Western individualism,” and the notion of transcending race through art. Racism, he argues, is no less real for being socially constructed, and evasions of racism are themselves a “cultural disease.”

But Berry cannot be suspicious of his own deeply personal experience: he was formed by Nick and Aunt Georgie, and is still formed by his memories of them. In writing this book, he is formed by his ongoing reflection on and renewal of these memories. Berry relates how he invited Nick to his birthday party, and then, realizing that Nick would not be welcome inside with the white guests, stayed outside with him at the cellar wall. The experience awakened in Berry a consciousness of race, in and through a consciousness of others’ consciousness of race. Young Berry had invited Nick and chose solidarity with him, but he sees now that he had also become more conscious of race because he had “scratched the wound of racism.”

Read the entire piece here.