Camille Dungy evokes traumatic American history in Guidebook to Relative Strangers

Camille Dungy evokes traumatic American history in Guidebook to Relative Strangers

Guidebook to Relative Strangers is the blueprint of breaking down communication barriers and changing the view of our troubled world.

Award-winning writer Camille T Dungy is acutely aware of what it means to live on the crossroads: she is a writer, a mother, and an African American woman. In Guidebook to Relative Stangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History, she poetically intertwines history with her present. This weaving of events helps readers understand not only why history is of great significance, but how to “interpret—and not disdain” people.

The opening of her book begins with a conversation she was pulled into among her peers. This experience sheds light on a catastrophic detail that comes from privilege: the obliteration of communities of people. She connects this to why history is an all-consuming experience to many, including herself.

“There is something about privilege that can place one in a position to erase the realities of others. . . my life and flesh and family and history demand that I recognize [others] where and how I can.”

Dungy ties this awareness of erasure with the way she raises her daughter. Her young daughter experiences moments completely disconnected to history but that does not devalue the importance of it.

“I notice, now more than ever, what I don’t know, and what I want to know, and what I want to share with you, Callie Violet. I want to name the world correctly.”

Dungy shares how and why a traffic stop is something feared by African American men. She shows readers the realness of this fear when she intertwines her traffic stop while with her family with those that happened before and after her. 

“Our routine traffic stop happened just a week after Texas police shot and killed thirty-eight-year-old Jason Harrison, a black man. And one month earlier, Eric Garner, a black forty-three-year-old father of six, was choked to death by New York Police Department officers. It was six weeks before Ferguson police shot Michael Brown, and five months before Cleveland police shot and killed twelve-year-old Tamir Rice. . . ."

           Despite all this trauma, Dungy still gives the benefit of the doubt to all those she encounters.

“I am, for one thing, more prepared to interpret—and not disdain—other people’s potentially flawed communications. . . I am, I believe now, more prepared to be accepting of the humanity in all of us.”

            History is alive all around us. Take some time and become aware of how it connects to you.


Reviewed by Maria Mendoza Cervantes

Published by W. W. Norton Company on June 13th 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-25375-7

240 pages

September 04, 2018