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Clifford Thompson's What It Is
Credit: Courtesy of Other Press

Clifford Thompson confronts race and indifference in the Trump era

Writer Clifford Thompson had made a sort of peace with being a black man in America. Then white people, and the Electoral College, made Donald Trump president.

Perplexed by that turn of events, Thompson looked for a way to fathom what had happened. He was inspired by the example of writer Joan Didion to employ memoir and reportage. He started by interviewing three Trump supporters at length. He compared what he learned from them to the experience and writing of other black Americans.

The result is his collection of essays What It Is: Race, Family, and One Thinking Black Man's Blues. In it, Thompson comes to the partial conclusion that the main problem isn’t ignorance and bigotry, but indifference.

“For a black man who has based his life on a belief in treating everyone as an individual and on an identification with America, what is the right response to a successful presidential campaign that brought out xenophobia like lava from a volcano? How did I respond to the fact that the majority of white voters, whom I have refused to hate as a group, supported this man?”

Clifford Thompson received a Whiting Writers’ Award for nonfiction in 2013 for "Love for Sale and Other Essays." His personal essays and pieces on books, film, jazz, and American identity have appeared in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Village Voice, and The Times Literary Supplement.

Thompson spoke with journalist Adam Shatz on April 23 via livestream, presented by Town Hall Seattle. Shatz is a contributing editor at The London Review of Books and a contributor to The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, and The New Yorker.