Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

A quest wrapped in mystery: Michele Magwood talks to SJ Naudé about his debut novel The Third Reel

Published in the Sunday Times

© Joanne Olivier
 
The Third ReelThe Third Reel
SJ Naudé (Umuzi)

In London in 1986 a young man awakes in a church bell tower. He has escaped conscription in South Africa and a bullying, homophobic father, and will be granted asylum in Thatcher’s Britain. After a night of sex with the bellringer he is elated, reborn. “His body is a radar, his skin a new country, his heart a shiny machine.”

So begins The Third Reel, the debut novel from SJ Naudé. Naudé seems to have sprung, fully formed, into the South African literary world. After decades as a corporate lawyer in London and New York – he holds masters degrees from Cambridge and Columbia – he hung up his suits and returned to South Africa to study a creative writing masters degree with Marlene van Niekerk in Stellenbosch.

The result was a collection of short stories, The Alphabet of Birds/Alfabet van die Voëls, which was roundly applauded and which won several prizes, including the UJ Debut Prize and a South African Literary Award.

“The stories were written after many years of me suppressing the urge to write fiction while being a lawyer,” he says. “They flowed remarkably freely – wrote themselves, almost.”

The Third Reel, he says, was a far more laborious process. “In my experience the creative process feels like hacking at a thick layer of ice, until suddenly, when you least expect it, you break through. A few precious moments of fluency then follow, of epiphany or swooning, entailing something like the dissolution of the self, a loss of personality, almost, a hiatus in which the pen starts making its own patterns on the page.”

Naudé is a slight, poised man, tightly composed, with the long fingers of a pianist. His bearing speaks of cool asceticism but his writing burns like dry ice.

Etienne, the South African refugee, is at first a spectral presence, virtually penniless, moving from squat to squat, leaving little mark on the world. He only begins to take shape when he falls in love with a German artist, Axel. Axel, who has a huge tattoo of an oak tree on his back, moonlights as a paediatric nurse.

Etienne is awarded a scholarship to study at the London Film School. When he comes upon the first of three reels of a German film made by a small group of Jewish filmmakers in the 1930s, it ignites an obsession in him to find the remaining two.

The story becomes a quest wrapped in a mystery, especially when Axel disappears in Berlin and Etienne follows him.

Naudé layers the story with film, architecture, music and art, but there is nothing genteel about this: it is Brutalist architecture (one of Etienne’s lovers gets aroused by concrete buildings), depressing wartime black and white films, shattering post-punk industrial music. And Axel’s art kicks hard at the boundaries of decency: his installations include a flask of fresh semen that he tops up every day, photographs of dead Victorian children, and figurines woven from the hair of dying babies, harvested from those on his wards.

Just as Axel roars at convention, so Etienne tries to obliterate himself, eradicate his past; he ignores the desperate letters from his mother in South Africa, screws up his studies, refuses to join the band of conscientious objectors working for the struggle.

Scenes are often erotic, sometimes depraved, both carnal and tender. The atmosphere is at times drenched in ennui, at others poundingly tense.

The writing is acutely sensory – Axel smells of “sweat and cordite” – and the themes of illness, madness, loss and alienation that Naudé explored in his short stories are unwound again, clinging fast to the narrative.

The Third Reel is a difficult, discomfiting book. But towards the end, when the quest is over, a state of grace finally descends.

Available in Afrikaans as Die Derde Spoel.

Follow Michele Magwood @michelemagwood

Naudé’s Best Books

This is a somewhat random selection of contemporary books that were exactly the right read at the right time for me, and hence made maximum impact (rather than necessarily a ‘best novel’ list):

The Book Of HappenstanceThe Book of Happenstance, Ingrid Winterbach: Invoking a cosmic scale to measure human losses provides unexpected consolation.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Mothers and SonsMothers and Sons, Colm Toíbín: Sober explorations of mother-son relationships in deceptively simple stories.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
ExtinctionExtinction, Thomas Bernhard: How the rhythms of seething anger can make for unexpected beauty!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
VossVoss, Patrick White: Extraordinary visions in the Australian Outback, a journey into the void.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
AgaatAgaat, Marlene van Niekerk: Proof of how a novel can overwhelm and forever change a reader.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In A Strange RoomIn a Strange Room, Damon Galgut: Sparely written and deeply affecting book about travelling, memory and the inescapable self.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Book details

Fiction Friday: read Efemia Chela's short story "Perigee"

Adults Only

Efemia Chela was born in Zambia but grew up in England, Ghana, Botswana and South Africa, graduating with a BA in French, Politics and Classical Civilisations from Rhodes University.

Efemia’s first published story story, “Chicken”, won third place in the 2013 Short Story Day Africa Prize, themed “Feast, Famine and Potluck”. She has since been shortlisted for the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing, and is one of the editors of Short Story Day Africa’s 2017 anthology Migrations.

“Perigee” was first published in the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) award-winning 2014 Short.Sharp.Stories Anthology, Adults Only. The story is about youth, sex and losing.

Its title refers to the stage in the moon’s orbit when it is nearest to the earth.

Perigee

As soon as my phone brought news of where she was, I tore up my room looking for perfume and the cleanest of the clothes on the floor. I thought anything would be fine as long as I could cover it with this fine brocade coat that was hiding somewhere. In hindsight I don’t know why I bothered. I had known her for so long then that she knew how the crevices of my body drew in all fabrics, no matter how loosely draped. And how I smelt a little like alliums and sour milk when I attended early morning lectures without showering.

I slammed the door and jumped two at a time down the stairs. Behind me, my next-door neighbour shouted threats of filing a complaint. I wondered why loud noises bothered her in a way that my dealing never did. I ran, wind rushing in my ears, ricocheting off the clips in my hair. So fast, I didn’t even notice the girth of the moon. Only later I would realise how full, how round, how milky it was. And so close. It was at its perigee waiting to be plucked from that vast black cloth by someone brave. I avoided its pupil-less gaze, afraid of what I would see in its surface.

I got there quickly, my heavy breath arrived a step ahead of me. The bar was full of locals who didn’t bother look up when I walked in. They could smell I was harmless. I caught a glimpse of myself in the cracked mirror just before the pool tables. I looked uncharacteristically beautiful. Maybe it was the moonlight. My looks flickered on and off like a faulty lamp and I never knew when things were in my favour aesthetically. I took a second look in the mirror and saw a kind of mournful beauty like an old silent movie star, losing to the talkies. Losing. Losing. Losing.

I searched for her. Now that she had cut her hair it took double the time. Still that wasn’t very long. I had memorised her silhouette like a redemptive prayer. “Meryl. Meryl,”my heart murmured. I knew almost certainly she’d be in the outdoor bunker, under the fairy lights where you could smoke a joint with the owner’s blessing. I pushed the slow stickied door with an open palm and regretted it instantly. Should have used my sleeve. I put my clean hand on her sloping left shoulder. She looked up and smiled all the way to the curve of her eyelashes. That smile had the same effect on me every time. It stirred the pot and thickened the evening’s plot. My lips queasily formed the word, “Hi.”

“You look really bleak with life, friend,” Meryl said as I sat down opposite her in the bottle green booth. “I’m so glad you came. I was really worried about you.”

She reached over to clasp my hand. I felt the jab of one her pointy rings.

“Yeah. Well… unrequited love isn’t easy. It’s a fucking nightmare. It’s a lot like being a monk but there are no orange robes,” I said.

“Bummer. You look good in orange,” she joked. “But I don’t get it, monks? How? No sex?”

“You’re believing in something. Something… which most people don’t believe in. And honestly which can’t, with real incontrovertible proof, be said to truly exist.”

“Or a person. A person who doesn’t exist,” she said. “He can’t exist the way you want him to. You know that. He’s a bastard! I get it. I know what you see in him. You see everything that’s bad for you and that makes you want it more.”

“My moth tendencies…,” I offered weakly.

“He’s going to fuck you up!”

I ignored her. The pot calling the kettle harmful and all that.

Betty swaggered up to Meryl, the intrusion stopping wherever our conversation was going. All bound breasts and big lies she placed her hand firmly where mine had just been. It seemed to fit there better. It might as well have been a hot brand. Fuck, I hated her and her greasy confidence. She could make you feel like you were enough. “You were all and that was it,” her exes all testified. Betty had the pushiness of someone much older spiked with the hard-headedness of someone much younger. I’d never seen her sit down. Her grasping nature wouldn’t permit it. That and I’m sure one of her exes had a hit out on her. She used her ruthlessness to beat her way in the world and beat people out of it. She didn’t meet people so much as manhandle them. Sometimes I thought I could see the very cogs whirring behind her sharp temples.

This was who Meryl had chosen to be hurt by. But people can live off hurt. They can’t live off nothing. So they kept on.

Continue reading here.

 

Book details

 
 

Migrations

Short Sharp Stories 2017 winners announced

The winners of the 2017 Short Sharp Stories Award have been announced.

The “Short Sharp Stories Award” for South African short-story fiction is made each year by the National Arts Festival. An anthology of selected stories is published annually and the theme set for writers differs from year to year.

The winning stories, selected from the stories to be published, by a panel of independent judges, are announced at an annual launch event at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

It is the aim of this award to encourage, support, and showcase established and emerging South African writing talent.

The Award is curated by Joanne Hichens.
 
 
 

Best Story

Wedding Henna
by Mishka Hoosen

“A powerful exploration of the erotic taboo behind the hijab. Tender and sensual writing that weaves a haunting tale as the narrator decorates her ex-lover’s hands before her wedding. At its core it’s about a broken heart and the longing that comes of it, but also hints at greater themes of personal
identity and the questions of higher power. Beautifully bittersweet” – 2017 Short.Sharp.Stories Judges’ Choice

Runners-Up

The Line of Beauty
by Mapule Mohulatsi

“This is different — courageous, intriguing, thought-provoking, undeniably South African. Mohulatsi will prove to be a strong voice on the SA short story writing scene. A literary storytelling journey of note, about a storyteller and where stories come from” – Tim Richman

Eye Teeth
by Megan Ross

“This is a lyrical psalm of recovery written from the worst type of betrayal. The reader is treated to a masterful rewriting of trauma narrative by a storyteller who reclaims the geography of her body to effect a re-imaging and re-imagining” – Liesl Jobson

Handle With Care
by Amy Heydenrych

“Most South Africans have horror stories about the postal service. This tale of redemption is successful at an allegorical level; it touches on fixing that which is broken in the country. The story is enlivened with a dose of magical realism and underscored by a heart-warming empathy and romantic optimism” – Phakama Mbonambi

Click here to view the full list of winners.

Short story writing course with Niq Mhlongo

Niq Mhlongo is leading a new short-story workshop aimed at both new and experienced writers. The workshop runs over four weeks, held on consecutive Saturday afternoons. Based on his own success with his short story collection Affluenza, and his three novels, Niq guides writers in developing their creativity.

Your writing skills will grow through in-depth, professional feedback on how to develop elements of your story including characters, dialogue, plot and setting.

You will also read and discuss the work of other writers in the group. Held on Saturday afternoons, the course is designed for anyone seeking to improve their writing.

To help writers expand their range of reading, participants in the course received a 15% discount on any books bought at Bridge Books during the month of the workshop.

Workshop details

Sessions will be held 3-5pm at Bridge Books on the following Saturdays:

22 July

29 July

5 August

12 August

Cost

R1,500

Goals

Writers will be expected to have completed a story by the end of the course.

About Niq Mhlongo

“My advice to wannabe writers is to write, and do not try to sound like any writer except yourself. The world is waiting for your unique story that is still trapped in your head. Get it out before it drives you insane. How did I get there myself? There was a story that was troubling me and giving me sleepless night. After getting it out, I felt healthier again. Reading a lot of literature will only help boost your confidence and give you an idea of how to write. But you must still write. I write stories that get published because I believe in my stories. I don’t tell the story like other writers. I use my original voice.” (Interview in Panorama Magazine)

Niq Mhlongo was born in 1973 in Soweto. In addition to Affluenza, Niq has written three novels – Dog Eat Dog, After Tears and Way Back Home.

Affluenza

Book details

 
 
Dog Eat Dog

 
 

After Tears

 
 

Way Back Home

Fiction Friday: read Bushra al-Fadil's winning entry for the 2017 Caine Prize for African Writing

The Sudanese writer Bushra al-Fadil was announced as the winner of the 2017 Caine Prize for African Writing on 3 July. His story, “The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away”, translated by Max Shmookler, was published in The Book of Khartoum – A City in Short Fiction (Comma Press, UK, 2016).

Press release from the Caine Prize for African Writing:

Bushra al-Fadil has won the 2017 Caine Prize for African Writing, described as Africa’s leading literary award, for his short story entitled “The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away”, translated by Max Shmookler, published in The Book of Khartoum – A City in Short Fiction (Comma Press, UK. 2016). The Chair of Judges, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, announced Bushra al-Fadil as the winner of the £10,000 prize at an award dinner this evening (Monday, 3 July) held for the first time in Senate House, London, in partnership with SOAS as part of their centenary celebrations. As a translated story, the prize money will be split – with £7,000 going to Bushra and £3,000 to the translator, Max Shmookler.

“The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away” vividly describes life in a bustling market through the eyes of the narrator, who becomes entranced by a beautiful woman he sees there one day. After a series of brief encounters, tragedy unexpectedly befalls the woman and her young female companion.

Nii Ayikwei Parkes praised the story, saying, “the winning story is one that explores through metaphor and an altered, inventive mode of perception – including, for the first time in the Caine Prize, illustration – the allure of, and relentless threats to freedom. Rooted in a mix of classical traditions as well as the vernacular contexts of its location, Bushra al-Fadil’s “The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away”, is at once a very modern exploration of how assaulted from all sides and unsupported by those we would turn to for solace we can became mentally exiled in our own lands, edging in to a fantasy existence where we seek to cling to a sort of freedom until ultimately we slip into physical exile.”

Bushra al-Fadil is a Sudanese writer living in Saudi Arabia. His most recent collection Above a City’s Sky was published in 2012, the same year Bushra won the al-Tayeb Salih Short Story Award. Bushra holds a PhD in Russian language and literature.

Read “The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away” here:

The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away
Bushra al-Fadil

Translated by Max Shmookler

 
There I was, cutting through a strange market crowd – not just people shopping for their salad greens, but beggars and butchers and thieves, prancers and Prophet-praisers and soft-sided soldiers, the newly-arrived and the just-retired, the flabby and the flimsy, sellers roaming and street kids groaning, god-damners, bus-waiters and white-robed traders, elegant and fumbling.

And there in the midst, our elected representatives, chasing women with their eyes and hands and whole bodies, with those who couldn’t give chase keeping pace with an indiscrete and
sensual attention, or lost in a daydream.

I cut, sharp-toothed, carving a path through the crowd when a passerby clutched his shoulder in pain, followed by a ‘Forgive me!’ Then a scratch on a lady’s toe was followed with a quick ‘Oh no!’ Then a slap to another’s cheek, after which was heard ‘Forgiveness is all I seek!’

So lost in dreams I could not wait for their reply to my apology.

The day was fresher than a normal summer day, and I could feel delight turbaned around my head, like a Bedouin on his second visit to the city. The working women were not happy like me, nor were the housewives. I was the son of the Central Station, spider-pocketed, craning my neck to see a car accident or the commotion of a thief being caught. I was awake, descending into the street, convulsing from hunger and the hopeless search for work in the ‘cow’s muzzle’, as we say.

I suppressed my unrest. The oppressed son of the oppressed but despite all of that – happy. Could the wretched wrest my happiness from me? Hardly. Without meaning to, I wandered through these thoughts.

The people around me were a pile of human watermelons, every pile awaiting its bus. I approached one of the piles and pulled out my queuing tools – an elbow and the palm of my hand – and then together they helped my legs to hold up my daily depleted and yearly defeated body. I pulled out my eyes and began to look… and look… in all directions and to store away what I saw.

I saw a blind man looking out before him as if he were reading from that divine book which preceded all books, that book of all fates. He kept to himself as he passed before me but still I felt the coins in my pocket disappear. Then I saw a woman who was so plump that when she called out to her son – ‘Oh Hisham’ – you could feel the greasy resonance of the ‘H’ in your ears. I saw a frowning man, a boy weaving an empty tin can along the ground with his feet. I saw voices and heard boundless scents and then, suddenly, in the midst of all of that, I saw her. The dervish in my heart jumped.

I saw her: soaring without swaying, her skin the colour of wheat – not as we know it but rather as if the wheat were imitating her tone. She had the swagger of a soldier, the true heart of the people. And if you saw her, you’d never be satiated. I said to myself, ‘This is the girl whose birds flew away.’

Her round face looked like this: Her nose was like a fresh vegetable and by God, what eyes! A pharaonic neck with two taut slender chords, only visible when she turned her head. And when she turned her head, I thought all the women selling their mashed beans and salted sunflower seeds would flee, the whole street would pick up and leave only ruts where they had been, the fetid stench of blood would abandon the places where meat was sold. My thoughts fled to a future I longed for. And if you poured water over the crown of her head, it would flow down past her forehead.

She walked in waves, as if her body were an auger spiralling through a cord of wood.

She approached me. I looked myself over and straightened myself out. As she drew closer, I saw she was holding tight to a little girl who resembled her in every way but with a child’s chubbiness. Their hands were woven together as if they had been fashioned precisely in that manner, as if they were keeping each other from straying. They both knit their eyebrows nonchalantly, such that their eyes flashed, seeming to cleanse their faces from the famished stares of those around them.

‘This is the girl whose birds flew away,’ I said.

I turned to her sister and said, ‘And this must be the talisman she’s brought to steer her away from evil. How quickly her calm flew from her palm.’

I stared at them until I realised how loathsome I was in comparison. It was this that startled me, not them. I looked carefully at the talisman. Her mouth was elegant and precise as if she never ate the stewed okra that was slowly poisoning me. I glanced around and then I looked back at them, looked and looked – oh how I looked! – until a bus idled up and abruptly saved the
day. Although it was not their custom, the people made way for the two unfamiliar women, and they just hopped aboard. Through the dust kicked up by the competition around the door I found myself on the bus as well.

We lumbered forward. The man next to me was smoking and the man next to him smelled as if he were stuffed with onions. If the day were not so fresh, and were it not for the girl and her talisman and their aforementioned beauty, I would have gotten off that wretched bus without a word of apology. After five minutes, the onionised man lowed to the driver: ‘This’s my stop, buddy.’

He got off and slammed the door in a way that suggested the two of them had a long and violent history. The driver rubbed his right cheek as if the door had been slammed on him. He grumbled to himself, ‘People without a shred of mercy.’

The onion man reeled back around and threw a red eye at the driver. ‘What?’ he exploded. ‘What’d you say?’

‘Get going, by God!’ I yelled. ‘He wasn’t talking about you.’

As the bus pulled away, the onionised man’s insults and curses blended with the whine of the motor. As if the driver wanted to torment us, he continued the argument as a monologue, beginning, ‘People are animals…’

Continue reading here.

Fiction Friday: read Part 1 of Bronwyn Law-Viljoen's "If you go down to the woods"

Barry Ronge Award-shortlisted author Bronwyn Law-Viljoen has published a series of short stories, “If you go down to the woods”, on the African literature website Aerodrome.com. Read the first of the four here:

Check

Racism never detects the particles of the other.

Just before six. So. A good hour. The traffic coming up Beyers is a trickle. It will be backed up all the way from Judith by the time I’m headed back, but that’s then. The park and the dogs are now. I can ease into my skin, regard the day first. I glance in the rear-view mirror. Mouse has her front paws up on the back seat. She’s watching me—her eyes are sucked brown sweets—making sure I know what I’m doing, that I’m going the right way. Morris is hangdog. I look at the back of his knobbled head. He’ll have that glazed expression that makes people in the other cars smile. The journey to the park is a rude encounter with cold that he doesn’t like, until, that is, we are in the park.

We pull into the lot at three minutes to. It’s darker than yesterday, winter creeping in, holding onto the night longer and longer. The burgundy Cherokee is there, but no sign of the German woman with her nine rescues given to aggressive pack behavior. They are to be avoided. But not because of Morris, who for all his rock jaw and brick-shit-house body, is not a fighter, but will stand wagging desperately to announce he’s cool—cool man—while the pack rushes him. It’s Mouse, no flight dog, all seven kilos of her ready to punch way above her weight.

I coax them out of the car, and as he touches ground the bull terrier is ready, shoulders squared, line of fur rising along his spine, on his toes in that swagger gait. Mouse is off to the dustbin to find old bones or something rotting, her docked tail erect. The car guard watches us. The park is still.

I walk into the cold and wonder if I have too little or too much clothing on, notice the chill on my ankles above my socks. At the bottom of the hill the dam lies breathing. Our vapour rises into the dark. I check the moonbag—keys, leashes, turd bags and two half treats. I swing the bag around, pick up the pace.

The dogs are all ears, stopping to piss for a moment and then off, noses to ground, Mouse running ahead to find a scent and track it all the way to a pile of discarded KFC, Morris heading left to pick up a trail he found yesterday, angling back across the path to check on me, and then off the other way, his haunches bunching to a stride that’s more bounce than trot, feet high, ears up, his whole body present. His reserves gathered in sleep now squeezed into his veins and his big heart so that he’s on all cylinders, looking for something.

Mouse heads back and suddenly the two of them are off at a sprint, the Jack Russell after the bull terrier, nipping at his arse so that he wheels around in full flight to throw her off but she’s at him, barking and biting at his tender sphincter displayed under his lifted tail, soft grey muscle that contracts when another dog approaches or just before he needs to relieve himself, and irresistible to Mouse. It’s a ritual of tag that circles around my walking until they split apart and pick up a scent, bouncing away at the end of the invisible bungee cords that tie us to each other. Off they go. My thoughts unravel with them in loose threads of dreams and morning.

I settle into a fast-paced rhythm, swinging my arms high, breathing deep to match my stride. We know the routine, fall into it easily, the dogs off and back, off and back, my body working itself into a sweat in the cold air. I focus on my feet and the path ahead and look for signs of movement. I think of Joel, and the list.

So you are out walking your dogs in the park and you see me walking towards you, well not me, but a guy, walking towards you. What happens in your head? How does this checklist work?

Okay, a guy like you, thirties, black, slightly taller than me, alone, no dog, no bag. Do you have a backpack, are you carrying anything?

No, no backpack.

And what are you wearing?

Jeans, t-shirt, jacket.

Hoodie?

Jeez, that’s a cliché.

Humour me.

Is it cold? Okay it’s cold, so yes, I have my hood up and my hands in my pockets, and I am walking, head down, no backpack.

Do you have anything in your hands, a packet, say, like a shopping bag?

At six in the morning? No. Just me, hands in my pockets, walking towards you.

Okay, which part of the park are we walking in? That’s important—where we are. In the woods, where it’s still dark at this time of the morning? Or near the dam, which is out in the open and I would have a view in all directions?

You decide. You know the place.

Okay, we’re in the forested part, and we’re walking along next to the stream on the path. The dogs are ahead of me, and you come along.

Okay, so give me the checklist. What plays in your head?

I watch Morris head into the bushes. He’s after something. Human faeces, maybe, so I run to catch up, calling him out before he can eat it. He comes running back, big grin, looking for the head pat. Mouse is on her mission amongst the trees, but she’s close enough that I know she’s going to come when I call. The cord is slack.

So let’s say I have about fifty paces to do this. Here’s the list. Male, young—not too young, but, say, twenties, thirties—in the woods, alone, no dog, dark clothing, hoodie, no bag. Actually ‘no bag’ comes after ‘no dog’ and before ‘dark clothing’. You have no bag, so that means you’re not going to work. If you were you’d have a backpack and maybe a lunch bag, Pick ’n Pay usually.

Christ, you know the brand of the bag?

Pick ’n Pay is easy—red, blue and white. That’s for your lunch, otherwise why else would you have that kind of bag in your hand at six in the morning? And definitely a guy with evil intentions is not carrying a Pick ’n Pay bag. Remember, this is a suburban park, surrounded on all sides by houses, streets, shops, small businesses. We’re not in the bush here. Technically, we’re in the city. Or very near.

Okay, so you start with male. Are you sure? Doesn’t black come first?

Well I’ve thought about this a lot, trying to assess the level of my prejudice, but no, if you’re male, young, white, alone, no dog, hoodie, no bag, I’m just as worried as I would be if you were all of these and black. So no, it’s definitely male that comes first. A woman coming along the path who checked every box except the gender one wouldn’t worry me. If she were black I’d only wonder a little because mostly it’s white women walking in the park and only in the last several months have I encountered black women walking, but then it’s black women in their late thirties with a dog or a child, or both. Middle-class black women. A young black woman would surprise me, except if she were in running gear. A young guy walking alone in the park would make me start checking the list.

Okay, so first gender, and then age, and then race?

Well, I have to admit that I’ve not been able to test this theory because I’ve never encountered a young white male on his own, walking, in a hoodie, in the park at six in the morning. So there’s that.

Okay, so you’re hoping, in a way, that if you did, you’d be afraid. Because that would reassure you—in respect of your prejudice I mean. You’d be afraid but at the same time relieved to find that your reaction to a young white male was the same as your reaction to a young black male?

Continue reading here.