The Meditations is a curated series of reflections on writing and storytelling from contributors to Going Down Swinging #35. This reflection comes from Kavita Bedford on her piece ‘The Most Northern Southern City’.
In Baltimore, race was articulated daily. People referred to each other as white or brown or black. “Just play the race card,” said a white classmate when I mentioned applying for a scholarship. “Rhonda and Angel are doing it.” On the scholarship form a list of boxes read: Hispanic, African-American, Native American, Asian and Other. I uneasily ticked the latter.
— excerpt from ‘The Most Northern Southern City’
No one in Australia cared that I had lived in Baltimore until The Wire came out. Suddenly, years later, I had an edge. At parties I was asked about my time of being a sophomore in this hard, sexy city. Invariably the questions most asked were: had I been held up at gunpoint; and, how dangerous was it, really?
When I thought back to that time, however, the most dangerous thing seemed more the perceived threat of violence, and how it was intertwined with ignorance and race. But this didn’t make for good party banter.
So I sat down and tried to write my way into understanding how racism worked in the States in comparison to Australia, and why this was so shocking to me at the time. How race has a vocabulary in the States that makes it an ever-present issue – but also means it is discussed – and how it is swept under our shores in Australia where we don’t even really know how to initiate this conversation, let alone enter a dialogue.
I have been lucky to live in different countries growing up, and this has cemented in me an outsider perspective that feeds into my writing (or perhaps writing feeds into being an outsider). I have tried to write these perspectives into fiction and journalism; but it was only when I began reading personal essays and narrative non-fiction that it felt like these ideas and experiences could finally culminate into a distinctive piece and voice – where the experience of a city, a country, or any place is defined by where we are at in our own personal struggles and questions. And the way memory not only warps things but also provides a unique perspective on what a time really meant for us. I find it is in these spaces – somewhere between fact, interpretation and fiction – where truth resides, and writing into these gaps gives us the freedom to explore a little deeper.
Kavita Bedford is an award-winning Australian writer with a background working in journalism, anthropology and publishing. She is the current recipient of the Walkley Foundation for Journalism Women in Media Mentorship and a Westwords Writers’ Fellow. She is currently developing a series of literary non-fiction episodes on Sydney.