In Things I Have Withheld, author and in this case, essayist, Kei Miller, explores silence and everything that inhabits it. His essays reflect on the spaces left behind by all the unsaid things about race. This book perfectly encapsulates what it means to live in today’s world as ‘the other’ as Miller takes the reader into the why of the withheld words, screams and protests.
It is quickly apparent that Miller is a gifted writer; his silences furthering his craft as much as his words. He navigates the reader through a childhood in Jamaica, which he does gently but explicitly. At other points he tackles the tribulations of an adulthood spent abroad with a quiet urgency. Regardless of the subject, Miller’s writing is courageous and expansive. It seeks to educate its readers about inherent racism and racial bias and does so by tackling nuances head on.
Some works discuss racism that brown people direct at black people, others are about the experiences of white people in the Caribbean. Particularly poignant are essays about microaggressions – the everyday kind that occur in shops and on buses, in Universities and workplaces worldwide. And in exploring these silences the award-winning poet and novelist explains more than words ever could.
It is impossible to not be moved by the vulnerability of a man who is the victim of racially motivated encounters. For example, being stopped by a policeman as he gets off a train. The policeman was looking for a criminal, aided by a simple description – ‘a black man’. At another time, on another street, a woman screams at him when he offers her his assistance. It is this black-ness, this body, and the crimes it has witnessed that fill the space which words should.
In the final essay, Miller invokes the memory of victims who are more famous and more renowned. In including them, he expands his silence to welcome theirs.