We don’t want to give everything away, but could you summarize the story you told on WORLD Channel? 

The way people were talking about African Americans while Obama was running [for president]—at least the other side, the conservatives—was that somehow Black people were going to descend on white America and just burn it down. 

We became kind of invisible: We weren’t individual people; we were this huge group of terrifying, riot-y people. So I kept finding myself in positions where somebody would make a racist, bizarre comment—not even thinking about me being a Black person because “they were scary,” but I was just a lady standing in a group, or I was just a lady at a drive-thru. 

This particular section I tell for Stories from the Stage is called “Election Night,” and it is about what happened the two times I was away from home and Obama was running for president. In one place, the FBI had been called into town because someone was burning crosses on Black folks’ lawns. The second time, I was in a place where, after Clint Eastwood did his little speech at the RNC where he spoke to an empty chair, someone had thought it was reasonable political speech to lynch a chair from a tree.

How did you end up telling your story on WORLD Channel?

I’ve been a professional storyteller for 33 years. This is the only job I’ve ever had as a grownup; I graduated from Northwestern University, and since then, I’ve been a professional storyteller. My husband is my business manager. He does the bookings and all of the business-y stuff, and I just tell stories and write books. 

The way I ended up on the Stories from the Stage program was that I was doing an online show with a group called Better Said Than Done. And one of the people who work on Stories from the Stage saw that performance and asked if I would be interested in working with them. One of the things that’s been extremely cool during the pandemic is that storytellers, normally, have to go and find an audience. For the very first time, the audience is looking for us online.

Were you scared when you were in these situations?

Yes. Yes. In fact, in the story that I tell, I talk about having a panic attack. I had never had a panic attack ever in my life, and I’ve not had one since the night I had that panic attack. The only reason I knew what it was is because I had watched The Big Bang Theory, and in The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon has a panic attack. One of the characters is like, “I asked soccermom23 what to do, and she said you have to breathe and relax.” When I had my own panic attack, that’s exactly what came to my head: “You’re having a panic attack. Remember what soccermom23 said!”

What do you hope people take away from your story?

Despite the fact that I describe this terrifying experience, what I hope people take away from this is that we all have to choose how we live together. We all have to do it and we have to work to see each other. It is not easy—if you have been conditioned to see a group of people a certain way—to see them differently.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. You can watch Durham resident Donna Washington’s segment on World Channel’s website or their YouTube Channel.

Follow Digital Content Manager Sara Pequeño on Twitter or send an email to spequeno@indyweek.com

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