Until 2016, writer Clifford Thompson felt like an American first and foremost. Following Trump’s election, Thompson was shaken to see how differently his fellow Americans seemed to understand the world. He found himself reflecting on his American identity—where it came from, how it developed over time and what it means to be “rooted” in a certain set of experiences.
For Thompson, that set of experiences includes the all-black neighborhood outside of D.C. where he spent his childhood; an undergraduate career at a predominantly white liberal arts college in Ohio; and an adulthood in New York, where he raises two daughters alongside his white wife.
After the election, Thompson wanted to break out of his bubble and understand how others were rooted. He flew to other parts of the U.S. to interview Trump supporters and try to understand how they see Trump, themselves and the rest of the country, especially regarding race. What he heard and saw only confirmed his sense of division, even alienation.
In What It Is, the reader experiences, via Thompson’s plaintive and disillusioned voice, the discomfort of personal recalibration. Thompson explores the world as it is and carefully thinks through how each of us can find our place within it.