Category Archives: race

Green medicine and harsh questions

Saturday. Wellesley. Green medicine.

Sunday, we saw a moving play in two acts about a conversation between a white professor at an elite private college and a black history student. It was moving. Tough to watch. Didn’t answer any questions. “The Niceties.

From the article about white playwright, Eleanor Burgess, and the play’s creation:

The imbroglio at Yale made Burgess, a former high school history teacher, realize that smart, educated, and well-meaning Americans couldn’t talk to each other about race. ‘ I started to believe that we actually disagree much more than we think we do.’

…the advantage of having the debate unfold on stage, where audience members are not taking part in the conversation directly. ‘You’re not personally being attacked, and you don’t have to think of a next thing to say. So you can actually hear the entire conversation and just let it wash over you.’

The play was set prior to the presidential election and all of us wondered how much starker the terms of the argument would’ve been today.

Questions:

Who gets to decide what perspective is important?

What role does the insistence on source documents in writing about history play in discounting the history of slavery in general and the lives of the enslaved, in particular?

Where should people in positions of power draw the First Amendment line when it comes to triggering images and content?

What would happen if professors were more open to the strengths of millennials (and less reflexively dismissive)?

If saying “sorry” isn’t enough in the wake of a problematic encounter, what sorts of reparations are?

Should change be approached incrementally or in dramatic sweeps? And, who decides?

What actual supports do students of color need and deserve on college campuses, particularly bastions of privilege like the ivy leagues.

(The role these institutions play in perpetuating a closed loop of power is particularly on display this week with the Kavanaugh revelations).

Back to work.

PS is it weird that all four of us who watched the play think that Kavanaugh will be appointed and yet nevertheless find the many ways that protest and pushback are having an effect in real time, inspiring?

New grass, new quilt

K did an amazing job on the lawn. I helped a little. Believe it or not, it only took about three hours to lay down.

Today, for Mother’s Day, we had tasty Japanese food at the swanky mall down the road.

While there, I bought a cardigan to replace the one K shrank in the wash last week (yes! He does the laundry).

There were two phone calls and a big bouquet of flowers from the boys. Very nice.

Also: I gave myself a few hours in the studio and made this little piece (and half of another).

But here’s the main thing: I came into the weekend absolutely exhausted by the ever-present swirl of commentary about race and culture. About white people staying in their lane. Hands off this. You’re not allowed to do that. The debate really deserves a thoughtful post but I can’t guarantee I’ll write it any time soon. I’d rather focus on my writing.

PS. Some of you will recognize one of Jude’s indigo resist moons. I keep finding one here and there in my scrap baskets and it’s like Christmas every time.

Who gets named: Ida B. Wells

Women We Overlooked aired on The New York Times podcast about a month ago. It features an interview with a New York Times obituary writer/researcher and went on to discuss the life of journalist and activist, Ida B. Wells.*

I learned on Sunday’s 60 Minutes feature about the Alabama memorial that there’s a special part of The National Memorial for Peace and Justice dedicated to Wells.

My #unreadshelfproject includes relevant history in: “News for All the People, The Epic Story of Race and the American Media” by Juan Gonzalez and Joseph Torres.

“When she took over as editor of the Memphis “Free Speech” in 1889, Ida B. Wells had already made something of a name for herself challenging racial bigotry.” In 1892, Wells wrote a stunning editorial following the lynching of eight men, after which the offices of the paper were burned down and her life threatened. Wells happened to be out of town that day and subsequently moved to Chicago. From there she “launched a systematic investigation of the hated practice [of lynching] around the country” and wrote about her findings in a series of newspaper articles and a book called “Southern Horrors” … Wells was also active as a teacher, feminist and civil rights leader.

Amy Goodman’s podcast, Democracy Now, interviewed the authors of “News for All People”, here.

Finn was just picked up and I’m off to Salem. Time to order a fridge and hire movers. If time, we will jaunt over to Kane’s — the greenhouse over by Trader Joe’s. My sister’s new place has wide windowsills, perfect for some potted geraniums.

img_2514

This post is a placeholder, containing some homework for myself — I hope you don’t mind. Wanted to capture these things while they’re still fresh. 

*  If you don’t know about The Daily — you’re in for a treat. Each episode is only 20 minutes long and yet manages to do interesting and in-depth reporting. They’re an essential part of my news fare these days.

These and others

Once again, sales would dictate: make MORE REPRESENTATIONAL quilts. People consistently respond to them more enthusiastically than they do to geometric/abstract quilts.

As Son #1 might say: “Meh.” But I will probably consider it going forward. And anyway, for a long time I’ve wondered: must my houses be so perpetually empty of creatures?

The air continues on the chilly side. Walked the dog wearing:

  • a down vest,
  • long sleeve shirt,
  • flannel shirt,
  • cashmere sweater

and was still cold!

Even die-hard New Englanders are getting fed up.

Everything is put away (quilts, dolls, staging crates, money box, pricing materials, extra tables) or put back (rugs, chairs and hassock, dog crate, pictures on the wall, lamps and plants). YES!

Normally, I take a lax approach to show breakdown, ensuring weeks of disorientation as one item after another is retrieved out of some drawer or closet. I wasn’t having it this time. Nope. Unfortunately, my style might’ve been a little too task-oriented (some might say, “militaristic”). Maybe lingering mess and resentment are better? It would’ve be so easy to wave co-presenter home with a casual, “don’t worry about it!”

And then there’s the essentially unanswerable question: was it worth it? Even decent sales leaves one unsure: the disruption, the intense, blind effort for a couple of weeks, and most of all, the unwelcome confrontation with a sickeningly low dollar to time ratio. I just don’t know.

These pieces below sold and a few others. I cleared a drawer or two out and made enough money to treat myself to some bodywork and have dinner out with K. Yeah!

Oh, and this also came out of the second day: a possible trip down to Montgomery with two friends to see the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (honoring lynching victims). Did you catch the feature on 60 Minutes last night? Oprah interviewed Bryan Stevenson (the force behind the memorial) and toured the site. It opens April 26.

Found in my FB feed this morning: Presidential ticket — “Oprah and Stevenson”. I suggested Kamala Harris for Secretary of State.

I just heard that the FBI have raided Michael Cohen’s office. Gotta go!

strange fruit

“Strange Fruit” — 28″ x 26″

This piece emerged while I was making the “Middle Passage” quilts. In that series, I used a brown fabric with horizontal stripes to represent slave ships. That fabric shows up again here, notably under a white house. It’s one of those references that no one would get unless I told them, i.e. a white structure upheld by the slave trade. The central motif was pieced during the aftermath of the Zimmerman acquittal (blogged about here and here).

“Strange Fruit” addresses the fact that the racism underpinning slavery exists on a continuum — how it’s evolved rather than disappeared. Specifically, I was thinking about the Jim Crow era and all its brutality — which explains the tree motif and the quilt’s title. At some point during its creation, I researched images of lynching victims. These are hard to look at. Nevertheless, I printed three of them out onto a sheer organza with the idea of overlaying the human images on the tree fabric to make explicit the reference. But I found I couldn’t do it.

Instead, I carefully rolled up the three sheer rectangles of cloth and placed them in boxes or vases for safekeeping — away from human eyes, in a restful dark — until I could decide what to do with them. Bury them?

Around the same time, I came across notes about a visual arts show (in D.C., maybe?) that featured images of lynched African Americans. I read with avid interest how carefully staged and curated the show had been, specifically designed to account for the intense sorrow or rage that might arise, including the hosting of structured, public conversations.

It confirmed my decision to exclude the images.

I couldn’t retrace that research now, but here’s a link to a similarly themed 2017 exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. This show was a collaboration between the museum and the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), the organization founded by Bryan Stevenson, author of “Just Mercy / A Story of Justice and Redemption.” Stevenson’s new project, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice was the subject of a recent 60 Minutes episode, but it you’re short on time, I recommend watching the short clip at the top of the Memorial’s website, here.

To continue.

Last weekend, K and I attended Claudia Rankine’s play, “The White Card” — which addresses this very topic, that is, white people’s support of and use of images of black death in art — either art they create or art they buy. The black artist character, Charlotte, refers to the topic as “the black death spectacle”.

The play asked lots of provocative questions about cultural appropriation and they were all the more powerful for being aimed at white liberal progressives “trying to do the right thing”.

(I cringed when I saw Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, “Between the World and Me” on the living room coffee table. Is that a ‘meta-prop’ — a prop of a prop? You can just make it out on the white upholstered surface).

Needless to say, the black artist invited to a dinner party hosted by wealthy white potential patrons cringes over a lot more than that. The collectors mean well — ahem — but the conversations make clear that good intentions are not enough (when did I hear that last? — in a review of Kathryn Bigelow’s movie, “Detroit”.)

The play wrestles with the question: What does it mean to portray black suffering as art? More specifically, what does it mean when white artists do so or when white collectors collect it?

One statement and one question really stood out and apply to me (to this quilt and others, as well as the many-year project of setting a piece of historic fiction in 18th century South Carolina):

  • “Maybe you buy images of black death because that’s the only form of blackness you’re comfortable with” and
  • “Why don’t you make yourself your project?” (instead of black suffering).

Back to the ink-jet print-outs: I have looked for those disturbing cloth-printed figures a number of times in the intervening years and not been able to find them. This probably says more about my distracted self and less about the potency of the images, but still … Now, at least, I know that they will never, ever appear on any art work of mine.

I’ll end with a question Charlotte asks of her white patron: “Have you ever had the feeling that you’re ALL WRONG?”

Hold the sugar

This pink t-shirt emblazoned with a pithy statement supports The Slave Dwelling Project. Don’t you love getting bling for your contributions? I do. Or maybe this was a straight out purchase. I don’t remember. In any case, this is a particularly good cause, one offering experiences like the one I had with the group in Medford, Mass. in 2014 (posted about here).

Revealingly, when I looked for the shirt this morning I mis-remembered the statement as, “I like my history Black with a little bit of sugar.” Hmmmm. Probably accurate, though my reading list would suggest otherwise (PS, I finally finished all 500+ pages of “The Warmth of Other Suns”).

I love it when friends challenge me. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, a FB friend from high school pointed out two important facts: 1) the number of school shootings being reported by Everytown for Gun Safety is highly inflated, counting, for instance, a suicide in the parking lot of a school that’d been closed for seven months and the accidental discharge of a weapon in a man’s glove box in a school parking lot (no one was hurt), and 2) there are more gun laws in areas with high numbers of POC (which is to say, whites are scared shitless of black people carrying weapons).

Article about Everytown’s inflated numbers here.

Atlantic article about race and gun laws here.

Neither of these points, while well-taken, change my view that Americans are in urgent need of sensible gun regulations.

The non-inflated number of school shootings in the first seven weeks of 2018, by the way, is FIVE. Isn’t that shocking enough?

Meanwhile on a more personal front, the list of items I cannot find is getting annoying. I located the notebook from writing class, but still can’t find my earbuds (I wore them yesterday) or the external hard drive that I back my manuscript up on (I’ll save to a thumb drive ’til I locate it, but really?). That’s been missing for at least a week.

Speaking of manuscripts: there’s a solid chance that my first foray into the publishing world will be a bust. If so, I’m prepared to accept the rejection as a badge of honor. If it comes, the ding will stand as a sign that I’m putting myself out there, while also initiating me into a literary club absolutely littered with rejection notices.

Not a prediction and not feeling of defeat. Just saying.

Roof then ground

Added a roof. Up next: ground. Am trying to correct the tilt of the house, but perhaps I shouldn’t?

Yesterday Trayvon Martin would’ve turned 23. My heart still breaks to see his face.

Splashnewsonline.com

(Photo: SplashNewsOnline.com)

Here’s a poet with powerful things to say about motherhood and blackness.