Contact SwirlPlanet Publishing with questions or comments:
The Wheat Money
Kristl Tyler was born in the Summer of 1968 just two days after Robert Kennedy's assassination. Two short months had passed since April, when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and cities like Chicago and Washington D.C. exploded in protest.
When Kristl was four years old, the Supreme Court declared that busing would have to be used to integrate her town's schools. By that time, almost two decades had passed since the Supreme Court's declaration that segregated schools were unconstitutional, yet most of the nation's schools, both within the South and outside of it, remained segregated.
Her parents had attended desegregated colleges in Washington and California. So while other white parents frantically scraped together fund to put their child-
ren into private schools, she and her siblings were sent off to the neighborhood elementary school blithely unaware that anything controversial was afoot.
Racists had long railed against miscegenation and claimed that segregation was the only way to keep whites and blacks from forming romantic relationships and later, mixed-race babies.
Sure enough, by the second week of first grade, Kristl was crushing on a classmate nicknamed "Big Red." Not only was he tall, cute, and a good athlete -- he had the coolest bell bottom pants anyone in her hometown had ever seen. If those things weren't enough to captivate and intrigue her, he also wore a Black Power Afro Pick in his hair everyday, even though he knew he'd get in trouble for doing so.
Kristl wasn't just smitten with Big Red, she gravitated toward her black female classmates as well. They had a confidence she aspired to emulate. Throughout elementary school all her best girl friends were black girls.
In those early school years, Kristl often wondered why nearly all the blacks in her hometown were poor, while almost none of the white families were. Then, when she was in fourth grade, she watched the Roots mini-series on television and it all seemed very clear, and very unjust.
During middle school and junior high, Kristl bent to peer pressure and ran with the all-white popular crowd. She felt guilty when her white friends said things that seemed racist but she held her tongue in order to fit in. Then, during her sophomore year in high school, she broke ranks with her clique, crossed over the color line a second time and never looked back.
By 2005, she'd been dating a former NFL player with a phenomenally promising 2nd career for almost a decade. Then, shortly after moving to an inner-city neighborhood, she broke off her existing relationship. She'd become romantically intrigued by a kind-hearted, homeless felon.
When her family learned of her strange new relationship they erupted with disapproval. Visiting her sister's house, her mixed-race nephew broke an awkward silence by paraphrasing a popular song:
"We know Kristl ain't a gold digger, cuz she's messin' with a broke n!99@"
She and William would go on to marry and have a child together. Kristl began to research genealogy for both sides of the family shortly after her daughter, Leah, was born. Learning that slavery was just a few generations in the past came as a shock to her, but having a new baby and a husband battling addiction meant most of her research results got pushed into a shoebox and shoved in a closet.
In 2011, with her mother's health fading, her parents called a family meeting to explain that some wheat land in Washington State was going to be passed on to her and her siblings within months.
"We own farm land," Kristl told William, "You and me. Isn't that weird? We're like, farmers."
When a three-thousand-dollar check arrived in the mail a few months later, Kristl went into a tailspin. She'd always been painfully aware that most whites had things easier than most blacks but now it seemed almost comically unjust. In an attempt to ease the guilt that came from spending the check, she wrote a short mea culpa essay for an Austin, Texas magazine. The article was complete and published but she couldn't seem to stop writing.
As she turned out draft after draft, she also underwent several crises of conscience. She'd always thought of herself as a Good White Person, but as she learned more about the formal study of racism she began to question how much good she'd actually done anyone (besides herself).
When Kristl began writing, she didn't fully grasp why movies like "The Blind Side," and "Precious" were offensive to some of her black girlfriends. Thanks to their willingness to answer her questions and develop recommended reading lists, her positions and perspectives on racism and anti-racism matured.
Much to the relief of those same black girlfriends, The Wheat Money is not a story about a heroic white lady that saved a downtrodden black man. Quite the opposite, there are no white heroes in The Wheat Money.
Still, whites who choose to read The Wheat Money can come away invigorated about the possibilities for real changes and join the fight to fix racism in the US once and for all.