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My Favorite Essays of 2016

Last year, I pulled together my favorite essays that I wrote in 2015. This year I thought I would do the same.

While some writers like to direct readers to their most popular essays of the year, I like to remind you of the essays that proved to be my favorites. Some of the essays listed are essays that I still can’t believe that I wrote. I read them and wonder how those sentences landed in that particular paragraph in that particular essay. They make me proud because they show how far I’ve come as a writer. Other essays are the ones that I’m proud to have written because they felt impossible to write. They required me to step outside of my comfort zone, required new skills, or were hard to write because of the vulnerability and emotion that they required.

What’s striking to me is how much things have changed for me in 2016, this dumpster fire of a year. I thought 2015 was bad, but 2016 proved to be both worst and better. Last year, I had applied to an MFA program. Hannah, our 15-year-old dog, died in March. She missed 16 by a little more than a month. She witnessed my life, so I witnessed the end of hers. Some day, I’ll write about what she meant to me, to us, but not yet, I can’t.

By mid-year, I received a rejection. Over the summer, I curated a series of essays on albums and our feelings, which was pretty damn amazing. By fall, I became editor of Women in Higher Education.  In November, Tr*mp became president, and suddenly, my work on white supremacists seemed relevant. After Thanksgiving, I even had an op-ed published in The New York Times, which led to white supremacist trolls calling me a race traitor (and much worse) on Twitter and in email. (more…)

White Supremacists and Racism

For 11 years, I’ve been writing about white supremacists, white nationalism, and the Klan, but this is the first year my work appears to have wide cultural relevance. I’m unsure how to feel about this.

In 2016, after all, a Klan endorsed the Republican nominee, Donald Tr*mp, who will become the 45th president of the U.S. The alt-right, a white supremacist movement that the press had a hard time calling a white supremacist movement, rose to national attention. In March, I told my partner that Tr*mp’s candidacy would make an interesting contemporary afterword for Gospel According to the Klan, when I still didn’t imagine he could win the election.  The University Press of Kansas decided to publish a paperback version of Gospel this fall, and now, they’ve moved up the publication date from mid-March to late January and added a Kindle version, due to the “relevance” of my work.

This is a weird moment for me. I’m proud of my Klan book. I’m glad folks continue to read it. I’m happy and surprised professors continue to assign it in their classes. But, at the same time, my joy is tempered by the knowledge of why book is relevant right now. White supremacist organizations appear visible now in a way they haven’t in years (partially because folks quit paying attention to them), and so many of us are worried about their impact on the new administration and our country. Since November, I feel like I’ve only been writing and tweeting about white supremacists. Relevance means that (some) people are ready to listen to what I have to say about white supremacists. I refuse to pass up that opportunity. I refuse to be silent. I’m still not quite sure how I feel. (more…)

Writing about white supremacy

On Sunday night, I received a notification from Facebook that someone had posted to my page for Gospel According to the Klan. I set up the page for my book before the book launched in 2011 to point folks to coverage, reviews, and events. When I noticed the notification, I had to suppress a shudder. These days, the only people who post on my poor book’s page lately are white supremacists who don’t realize the page is dedicated to an academic monograph or the occasional person who threatens to “beat my ass” for me being a Klansman (I’m not a Klan member or a man, but that’s often beside the point).

Sure enough, someone posted a racist meme with images of Donald Trump, hooded Klansman, a white Jesus, and Hitler. The accompanying text declared, “Join the Clan! Vote Trump! America Was Founded As A WHITE NATION! TRUMP 2016! It Is Not Racist To Take Back What God Gave Us!” I took a screenshot and deleted the post. I now have a file with screenshots of racist memes and threats from that page alone, just in case I need a record. I don’t want to think about what that just in case would include.

“I have to deactivate this page,” I tell my partner, “I can’t take this anymore.” (more…)

This essay

Sometimes, I make big plans for an essay that I’m writing. This essay becomes THE ESSAY, the important one in which I say all of the things. It emerges as the most important essay I’ve ever written. It comes to define who I am as writer, but also as a person. I start thinking about this essay for days, then weeks, and then a month (or months). I might pitch this oh-so-important essay to an outlet familiar with my work. I might even have a deadline. I tell myself that this essay will be easy to write because it is THE ESSAY. Plus, I already know what I want to write (or at least, I think I’m sure that I know what I want to write).

In my head, this essay begins a life of its own. It becomes groundbreaking and earth-shattering, smart and analytical, lovely and true. Most importantly, it becomes SIGNIFICANT and CRUCIAL. It starts to gain mass before I’ve even put words to the page. Its weight becomes heavy, veering closely to unwieldly. This essay appears more and more significant. (more…)

Feminist Resolutions

I know it’s June. (Related, how is it already June?) Six months into the year seems an unlikely time for New Year’s resolutions. (You make resolutions in January, not June, Kelly!) But maybe now is the time to re-up those resolutions about making yourself a kinder human being and to forget any resolution that only makes you hate yourself. Here are my suggestions of a few quality feminist resolutions. This essay first appeared in Women in Higher Education’s February 2016 issue. I’m returning to these five goals now to remind myself to be a better person than I often am. I hope you enjoy. Also, never forget to act like mediocre white men when you need that extra shot of confidence.

It’s February, but I’m thinking about New Year’s resolutions. The start of the new year is a moment to review the year before, decide what you want to accomplish for the next year, and figure out what bad habits to drop. It is time for fresh starts and new beginnings. Anything seems possible at the beginning of the year.

Every year passed without a new me, who equated happiness and success with my weight and how much academic work I completed. At the start of 2016, I decided I’m over that noise.

New year…same resolutions

For years, my own resolutions revolved around weight, goals, feelings, and career. On January 1st, I would resolve to lose 10 or 20 lbs, find a tenure-track job, or finally be happy.

After the satisfied glow of resolving wore off, I felt worse about myself than I had before. When judging myself by society’s vision of success, I felt like a failure. I critiqued my body and mind, and found myself wanting a different body, brain, and life. (more…)