The Atlantic

What I Learned From Cancer

Any politician who is overfunding law and order, border security, and wars on terror—and underfunding medical research—is not keeping us safe.
Source: Win McNamee / Getty

My daughter squirmed on her back, rocking the changing table. She bicycle-kicked her 1-year-old legs. No shoes or pants could be removed. She held her arms down. No shirt could rise over her head.

Perhaps she sensed my mood, and my wife’s and Ma’s mood as they talked somewhere outside her closed bedroom door, and responded in kind. But I was not thinking about transference. Irritated, I expected her to feel sorry for me, to smile and comply, to go down easily and happily that night, a year ago today—as if she knew a gastrointestinal doctor had found cancer in my colon that morning.

At some point while reading to her, I stopped. I retreated into my thoughts as my daughter yanked up and started draining her sippy cup like she was between rounds. I checked myself in my mental mirror. Two-sided like a coin, the mirror conveyed what my research saw in society on one side and what my research saw in myself on the other side.

I had been using the mirror to write a book, striving to answer a question people had been asking me since I started speaking in 2016 on my history. Writing this new book, , I had spent nearly every one of my quiet hours submerged in examining the mostly racist life of human society, and self-examining my own mostly racist life, to conjure and lay out how we can fashion antiracist lives. My constructive criticism looked painstakingly at society—and at myself.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic11 min readPolitics
Is This the Worst Year in Modern American History?
The most traumatic year in modern American history was 1968. But what is now the second-most traumatic year, 2020, still has seven months to run. The comparison provides little comfort, and several reasons for concern. How could any year be worse tha
The Atlantic6 min read
Becoming A Parent In The Age Of Black Lives Matter
When the movement for black lives began, I did not have children. Now the fight means more to me—coupled with fears that are even deeper.
The Atlantic5 min read
What One Woman’s Shattered Career Reveals About the Music Industry
HBO Max’s On the Record details sexual-assault allegations against the rap mogul Russell Simmons—and homes in on the lives derailed by sexism.