« Modern Love

Confronting Race, Religion and Her Heart | With Zawe Ashton

2020-06-24 | 🔗

In this week’s essay, Lilian Oben writes about how essential it is to be seen in relationships — to be able to take up space, without being asked to change who we are. Her essay is read by Zawe Ashton ("Betrayal").

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Modern love, the podcast is supported by. Produced by the island, W B war. the. Oh, the from the New York Times and w you are Boston. This is modern. The stories of love loss and redemption. I'm your host magnetar puberty, the in this week's essay Lilian O'Brien, writes about how essential it is to be seen in relationships without being asked to change who we are Her pieces, read by Israeli Ashton Valley reason: they start in betrayal, on Broadway and in the film velvet bizarre.
Even before he spoke, I knew A woman I would meet years later described the sensation as feel in the skin. I felt the words he was about to say in my skin in his. I can't do this anymore. I had what he was really saying. something flashed read before my eyes, I was shaking holding the phone to one air screaming, but unable to speak. I thought maybe the west was I, but he Talk to state the obvious that I was black and not jewish He explained that he was not ready to handle the complexities of an interracial relationship in a country like this.
As if it were the nineteen sixties- and we were Richard and Mildred loving as if I had fooled him by making a racial and religious switch midway through our relationship. My throat closed my chest. Tightened my eyes stuff, I have myself call him a big hit the milder time, even though what I really wanted to call him was a racist. He said, I'm sorry feel that way. We had been serious tensions. if they exploring what our future might look like, I was in my twenties he in his thirties. He didn't date casually. He told me at his age. He was always considering long term potential. I hated myself for letting him off so easily.
It just felt like too high a mountain to climb. the black woman in Amerika. I climbed that mountain every day to have the climate again because of him was too much. Instead, I spent the days after our breakup replaying his words in my head. I rehearsed for a retake of our conversation In this imaginary conversation I was brave and strong. I spoke firmly and clearly
I held a mirror up to his prejudice, so he could not help but see himself for what he was and hear his words for what they were. My feelings were untidy, but I have no time to label. I tried to write that everything was me: and that resisted the urge to call. I reminded myself that I was black and not jewish. Over time the details became fuzzy until he was just a blip on my dating screen a story. I told my friends, my black known Jewishness, ceased being my problem and became his alone. I started dating again
before him. I had dated only women, so I picked up where I had left off, but ardently avoided anything into ratio. I wanted what made me think I could be with a man at all, let alone a white one. With hindsight, I saw all the signs that should have tipped me off dropping my hand when he saw his friends. And with the benevolence that comes from either forgiveness or a measure. I let it go when our paths crossed a year and a half later The hardest edges were gone, leaving only the Pope substance of shared history, coffee became lunch. Lunch became dinner dinner,
came fax, something in me raised a hand to object, but I ignored it and you what I was doing or thought I did. I wanted to prove The thing I was still desirable that I didn't care. It was just my body, I told myself my black known jewish body for him. I imagine the complexities of interracial casual sex in America required a different kind of logic different kind of bigotry during an inspired spell. I found myself transferring our relationship to paper I'm out was unexpected fresh, the pay it seemed gone. Our conversations now comical.
I needed a story like bread and it rose soon. I felt ready to share it with someone And I was aware I was going to send it to him even before I actually decided he responded to the email draft immediately and the affection and his greeting three me. He said my draft was good and human and filled with conflict as though critiquing another couples tail. But then, if MRS that, he was embarrassed by the story, I again so that flash of red from years before
but tried my hand. Objectivity. Thank you for the feedback. I began. You re some good points yet something in me. I've been unleashed and I knew there could be no backing away from them at this time. I e mailed him again this time. I did not hold anything back, calling him out felt both and liberating I worried about reopening a wound. I didn't have the resilience to men I wondered if he would respond but focused on how good it felt to find they say everything I had for the round for so long dawned on me, then how much I had addicehead myself during our relationship, afraid of scaring him two months later, his name,
appeared in my inbox. I hesitated wary but curious. His response was long yet concise, deliberate and measured. I read it twice on sure what I was searching for. Maybe I had simply hoped it would end with my letter with me getting the last word months passed, and I saw him in every season
springtime crossing the street summer, walking through the park full in the frozen food aisle at an organic food store. He looked unkempt and seemed startled to see me, so he filled the silence with nervous chatter. He had a son. Now today was his bris stumped for a reply. I shared that my car loan was paid off over coffee with a friend. His name came up. Whatever happened with e g, by the way she asked and suddenly words, I didn't recognize. As my own tumbled out, I told her about the heaviness. I couldn't quite place. I missed him. Sometimes, yes, still felt cheated yes owed.
yes, but there is something else I struggled to articulate as she watched me patient, open listening. Pausing emotions that had existed only as masses in my chest was like trying to suppress a gag reflex or the mouth crammed full of marbles All this time it been easier to be angry with him to blame him his wrong. for obvious and easy to do label different him already existed. It was nothing new, but in the end it was my own feelings of shame that were hardest to unload. The disingenuousness was not in fact his all along
He had been only exactly who and what he was. I was the one who shrank myself. I had tried to whitewash my blackness polished myself, to a colourless, sheen howled myself up for his inspection searching for the best light in which to stand to make him forget. I had so desperately wanted him to find me worthy to have failed in that at the expense of my integrity. Shamed me more than any rejection of my black non duration. Ass ever. Could my friend listened as if she were hearing a secret, she had long suspected
It never mentioned, and I loved her for it. She rub my shoulder as I cried asked the right questions. Listen to all of my answers when she told me. He didn't do anything but love honey. I was filled that void in me. Apparently, as every self help book purports, love really does start with the self and over the next two years I went back to basics. It was not smooth and there were countless false starts, but with each one I learned new lessons, while keeping that mantra.
From an center, I felt like a toddler learning to walk first said Ben Crawl, then stand and full stand and for it felt simultaneously like the hardest and easiest thing and gratitude started to replace the heaviness that had weighed me down when I met a woman whose The answer to everything I was ready for. I was eager to test out myself, love sea legs and all seemed rosy for a time. Soon, however, I realized she was less an answer, then a test and the fact that I could see that so clearly seemed like further proof of my group. We parted as friends, and I continue learning standing falling.
Waiting at across walk one spring. I saw him in a car stopped to delight he was in the passenger, said a woman at the where the years had not changed, and I recognized him before he saw me when our eyes met. They have- and I heard in his gaze all the words I had wished for and I am doing I'm sorry. You were right, I wish, if only I didn't, know what my own eyes said to him, but as the two rest as children in the back bobbed up and down in that car seats, their mother, oblivious to her distracted husband. I felt myself soften.
The children waved- and I smiled back somewhere on my shoulders. The loss of something rose and free gently away that said Ashton. Reading Lillian opens essay fronting race, religion and her heart. More from Lillian in a minute, the. I love felling, my boyfriend and I often play falling, be together by together. I mean sitting next to each other playing individually and not
sometimes when I open up spelling bee, and I see that you have completed a few words on your own. I feel a little betrayed It may have happened again today. I have one friend who I will send screenshots from spelling bee of inappropriate words that I always get nervous that I sent it to my parents or something like that was my bad. It was the first time together and I was out- I think I got to see it J C K. P o t yeah yeah nice. I'm same is risky. The digital puzzles editor for the New York Times. You can try, spelling bee and all our games at annoying times not come flash games. William Urban's essay was published in two thousand and seventeen, but the relation if she writes about happened well before that in two thousand and three
as it was a memory that lingered it felt like the messiest ending ever and also I remember dating a woman once and she knew about the relationship with the the man that I wrote about, and I remember when she flung in my face in the middle of an argument something to the effect of how could I date a man who treated me this way stuck, and I think it kept me Why did I wait? You know? Why did I? How could I have? Did I stay in that? But yeah? I think I was just fat. I was fascinated because it was the one relationship that left me constantly discomforted and feeling messy curious to know why, after the essay was published, Leon, didn't see or hear from her ex again, but she did here hear from a lot of other people, including a former king, she ran into on her way to work, hey Lillian. I read your piece in the New York Times and in my head
What it sounded like he said is like hey Lillian. I see you walking around there naked I did go through a period of extreme social anxiety, thinking holy crap. Everybody knows my life did you do, but then. when I steeled myself enough to really read the comments. I was really overwhelmed by them, so many people wrote about how vindicated they felt house how they experienced the same thing, some people that it had to read because it was so truthful and spoke to such a truth that they themselves knew but hadn't been able, hadn't been had the courage enough to articulate Feedback that comments like that. Just that made me I you know what for all the nakedness and vulnerability and social anxiety that I feel right now, the exposure that I feel it's worth it Lillian says that one reason she was so nervous about publishing the piece and even writing it in the first place, was because of how explicitly she writes about race race. Was
interval part of this relationship. I was aware of that when I was in it and afterwards- and you know, I was aware that the messengers had to do with that in general. Race was just one of the topics that I I never felt comfortable discussing for any number of reasons, I think, being a a man in a country like America. Racism is a thing, it's a mountain that we are constantly. Carrying on our backs almost every day. We just don't want the climate, you know, but I also knew that I took to get to what I needed to get to I needed to climb the mountain I couldn't go round. I can go through. It to confront. The ways in which we. Shrink ourselves and how impacts yourself with and and ultimately how it impacts? How you view yourself, your your level of self love and self acceptance, asked Lillian does the moment we are living in now change the way she thinks about her essay.
I am glad that I wrote the piece when I did it was published when it was an proudly it's leaned into that fear of Discussing this huge topic, when I did because it's empowered me to to continue to try to act on that fearlessness, My feeling towards you know: okay, where are we now and Black woman, I think my first thing was to do an inventory of have I. Where I can have, I used my voice in protest right. I feel like inventory that every human should be doing, especially every human who claims to be anti racism? have I been doing to you. My voice in protest at peace fills empowering to know that I have Lillian a single now she's, looking forward to dating again after the pandemic, and she told us
Even though the relationship she writes about was difficult, it shaped her approach to love. So we asked her what changed? Oh, my god, everything, My whole self. I think I was always away the prior to that relationship. I was always kind of giving bits of myself just bits. the result of that relationship and introspection in the writing of this peace. It's just really embolden me to just keep trying as much as possible to walk in total fearlessness and to lean into vulnerability, and it all came down to just self love needed to love myself, majestically. I know what I was also deserving us of that we all are that's Lillian, open, she's, an Actor and writer living in New York City
more about her work go to Lillian, open dot com, that's l, L! I ate an o b e en dotcom. We ve got more after the break. I love spelling my boyfriend and I often play spelling bee together by together I mean sitting next to each other playing individually and not I think, sometimes, when I open up spelling bee- and I see that you have completed a few words on your own, I feel a little betrayed in salary. It may have happened again. I have one friend who I will send screenshots from spelling bee of inappropriate words that I always get nervous that I sent it to my parents or something like that was my bad. It was the first time together and I was out- I think I got it- see it J, a c k, p o t
yeah yeah, nice I'm same is risky. The digital puzzles editor for the New York Times. You can try spelling bee and all our games at an why times, dot com, flash games. here, Zowie Ashton, I'm a huge fan of modern love, the podcast and so. Choosing between the stories is extremely hot.
When you find one that resonates with you, it just cuts to the absolute core, because the person who's writing it is is writing from such an incredible place of truth, and this particular story went straight to the heart, because two reasons, I suppose, as a biracial woman who is a product of interracial love, I have such an awareness and and some retroactive admiration and gratitude for my parents who got together and formed a loving union in order. to make me and my brother and my sister, but at a time that was completely different to the time that I live in now, and there were more, there were more taboos that were the that presence was even more political than than than it might be. Now and
and I suppose. Secondly, we at a moment in time when we are women, a wave of revolution with regards to race and our awareness of of systemic oppression and violence,
that is, unlike anything, many people have seen and their lifetimes, and certainly I haven't, and its also June and its pride mountain. We are talking about the way that marginalized people wanting to be seen and acknowledged, and I feel that this is a story about a woman who wanted to be seen and acknowledged and wasn't and instead made herself small and where, at a time when we are saying now, we will not make ourselves smaller. We will not shrink our experiences. We will not whitewash ourselves, we will not bend to the majority. We will
love and be vivid and in color in every way, and so that this story feels extremely pertinent. Against this backdrop, thank you to Sally for recording herself at home. She was we start in betrayal on Broadway. and here's Daniel Jones editor of the modern love column for the New York Times, who often tell writers that the interesting story is not a story of blame. That's not to say that blame is equal in a breakup or any other. Conflict or the one person is more deserving of blame than the other Interesting story is the one where wigs call bill the and our own involvement in decisions and in denial and of those of complicated
emotions that in examining them. I would lead us to grow. Lillian's essay is really remarkable in that blame was the impulse and blame was justified, but that the I was had to come from the self exam. nations, and The sense of complication of who she was trying to be and whose approval she was trying again and it's a truly reckon with what it happened in to get past it had become back to her own sense of value, and that was the point where she could In two free herself and to feel a sense of grace about what had transpired.
well. This is usually the part where I read the credits. You know how that our was it starts. Modern love is a production of the New York Times and Wbur Boston NPR station. it's going to be a little bit different this time, because it's all so the last time I will be reading these credits to you, W B, U R is bringing its relationship with the podcast to a close, don't worry there will still be a modern love. Podcast it'll be back in your feed from the New York Times and it'll, be as one full and as moving as ever since it will be in the hands of Daniel Jones. Modern love editor for the New York Times and Julia Simon, honest Remy, Anne and merely at the times too, and the Tobin as well, who conceived of the modern love podcast, but since
this is my last time together with you, just bear with me for a few extra moments, because there's stuff, I want to say, like singing the extra praises of producer direct an editor Caitlin, O Keefe and of sound designer Matt Reed. They are truly the heart and soul of this podcast and executive producer. I was Adler and editor Katharine Brewer and also the technical help we receive from Michael Garth. We are all still here at W B, you are but we're saying goodbye together to the pod cast. And finally, most importantly, I want to thank you we've, been together across millions of downloads and hundreds of incredible stories. Thank you you so much for listening for sharing and for reflecting with us people have really let us into their lives in the most remarkable ways
So in thinking about saying goodbye, I started thinking this week of one of my favorite movie scenes it this tiny little moment in saving private Ryan. It's the scene where Miller and Ryan Yup, Tom Hanks and Matt Damon their sharing memories of home. Remember there in a battlefield in world war, two. And when their sharing their memories Miller, simply says. Well, when I think of home, I think of something specific, I think of my hammock in the backyard or my wife pruning the rose bushes in a pair of my old work, clothes, then private, Ryan, its Matt Damon. Again, private Ryan talks were a long time, a really long time about his brother's antics. He goes on and on and on and on and finally he stops. And he remembers how Miller had basically said nothing. so he turns back to Miller and he says: hey
Tell me more about your wife and those rose. Bushes. and then Miller replies. No. That one I save just for me. Well, I have always thought that Miller was exactly right, It is the reason why I love that seen so much he's basically saying our stories are so precious so private that it makes perfect sense that we want to keep the most tender, the most meaningful ones secure in our own hearts that we want to protect them. So for people to be willing to share those stories with a world wide audience. Well, that's one. The reasons why it has been such a privilege to be alongside all of you for this podcast cast so much beauty and bravery here, the everyday people we featured
Have led us into their lives first with their essays and then with the follow ups. So thank you so much for trusting us with your stories twice. That's it from me a magnet Chakrabarti I'll, see you around.
Transcript generated on 2022-04-15.