Today we’re sending out hearty congratulations to Ashraf Rushdy, whose essay “Reflections on Indexing My Lynching Book” was selected for Best American Essays 2015. Rushdy’s essay was published in MQR’s Spring 2014 issue. An excerpt from that piece:
Here, then, was the dilemma of the indexer. It pained and angered me to record the names of white supremacists and apologists for lynching, people who justified criminal and genocidal behavior, and have them live forever next to the names of people who deserve better, people who fought against their evil or died because of it. So, while I tried to be fair and temperate in the text of the book in my assessment of people who justified lynching, people I thought deceitful and inhumane, people I frankly despised with a bottomless hatred, I found myself feeling a resurgent anger as I dutifully placed their names next to those who represented heroic resistance or inhumane suffering. I fought the temptation to make up a faux concept, a word starting with the appropriate letter, just so that I could separate the names of the admired from the loathed. Every now and then, a legitimate way of separating them came my way, and I cheered whenever an opportune concept or name in a later chapter allowed me in good faith to keep the names of the doers of good separate from and uninfected by the purveyors of evil. These were small victories, the only kind of victories there are in the life of an indexer. In the end, indexing teaches you that the alphabet is unforgiving.
Rushdy serves as the Benjamin L. Waite Professor in English Language and chair of African American studies at Wesleyan University. An interview with Rushdy on his research for the lynching trilogy is available here.