Ordinary Notes



Note 19

Letters to the Editor: ‘Slips of the Tongue,’ Week after Week 

April 19, 1967

Courtesy of Christina Sharpe.

Note 20

Letters to the Editor: Deep-Seated Bias

December 20, 1986

If anyone has seriously been entertaining doubts that deep-seated prejudice is alive and thriving in the United States, he has only to read the December 9 front-page article in the Inquirer concerning the fourteen-year-old girl who was a rape victim to disabuse himself of this naive notion. Here we have a situation cast in the classic mold of the pre–civil rights era. A white female is raped (by a white male whom she knows) but, when describing her assailant, she does not describe a bogus white male but chooses to describe her attacker as a nonexistent black male. How sad that this fourteen-year-old child apparently instinctively chose a member (albeit a fictitious one) of another race to be her victim.

Ida Wright Sharpe


Note 21

Letters to the Editor: Racist Asides

March 2, 1992

While I sympathize with Jack Smith’s son who was given a traffic ticket because of the flashing lights on his car (after all, are they any more distracting than the vanity plates that one tries to read in passing?), I am more concerned about the gratuitous comments made by Mr. Smith.

His remark that the car “looked as if it had just rolled out of the barrio” is blatantly racist, as is his question about the lights being “overly … Latino.” Is one to believe, as Jack Smith apparently does, that on the Main Line only Spanish-speaking individuals drive cars that have anything other than the names of universities and yacht clubs embellishing the rear windows?

I don’t know how long Jack Smith has been a resident of Wayne, but I have lived here for over thirty-eight years and can assure him that 90 percent of the individuals whom I have seen over the years getting in and out of highly decorated vehicles have been white males of assorted ages.

In the meantime, he needs to work on his racist assumptions about the other kids on the Main Line; some of them—many of them in fact—are not white and none of them deserves to be pigeonholed and disparaged by people like Jack Smith.

Ida Wright Sharpe


Note 22

Dear Dr. Sharpe,

It has been over forty years, and this message is long overdue. My XXXXXX is in a PhD program at  XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX  and has been reading In the Wake. XXX reached out to me because she thought I would really appreciate and enjoy it, especially because XXX noticed so many connections to schools I attended and worked for over the years. I was so proud to tell XXX we were once classmates. As you probably know, my years in grade school were incredibly unhappy, and I just wanted to let you know that you and XIXX were the only two in the class who made it bearable for me. I observed so many similar problems when I was XXXXXXX at XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, and that is why I made the decision to leave this year. I felt like I was giving up on the school and so many students, but there are so many pervasive issues in that community, and I was sorry to see there was no appetite to make any changes.

I know we had our own adolescent issues many years ago, but I wanted to thank you for your friendship during a very lonely time in my life, and for the impact you have had on my XXXXXX.

Warm and best regards,




And three days later, another note arrives.

Dear Christina,

You probably don’t remember me, but you have been on my mind and I finally decided to try to find you. I am XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX and we went to school together. I am back living in XXXXXXX after many years outside of the area and drive by your old house frequently, reminding me of you and your mom. Having seen people from high school that haven’t changed made me wonder about the people I was really interested in, and you are one of them. I see my high school self as such a small part of what I am now, and am glad that I have rich life experiences.

I don’t know if you are ever back in the Philadelphia area, but would be interested to see you again and hear more about your life. Google is a wonderful tool, but only tells part of the story. From reading about your writing and teaching, I think you would be interested in a friend of mine from XXXXXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX and XXX latest book. If you know XXX, even better.

Wishing you a wonderful day, and hope our paths cross in the future.



Adapted from Ordinary Notes, to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in April.

Christina Sharpe is the author of In the Wake: On Blackness and Being and Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects. She is Canada Research Chair in Black Studies in the Humanities at York University.