Posts Tagged ‘race’

As a child, I loved all literary critters from Stuart Little to Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web.  I also loved the feisty young heroes in books like Little House on the Prairie, The Black Stallion, The Secret Garden, The Swiss Family Robinson and so many more.   I wanted to be those young people and see the places described in those literary worlds.  Those young people and those stories helped to shape my initial views of my country, the world, and of myself.  I think I turned out okay. 😉  But I do recognize as writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie asserts in the following TED presentation how stories — or the communication of “a single story” — can have unexpected consequences at many levels.  In her eloquence on a thought-provoking topic, she raises both my awareness as reader and writer.  I hope you have a chance to view.

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It was Martin Luther King, Jr. who wrote, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”  His words have been in my head a lot this election year as has his following statement:  “Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up … injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”

leaves blowing in the wind

I did not begin the morning thinking of Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  I began the day thankful after learning, via phone calls and emails, that friends and family across the storm zone were all safe and with power.  But then I accidentally read a blog post.  Actually I skimmed it.  I had almost pressed the like button but there was some phrasing that made me pause.  I slowed down and really read the words before me on the screen.  That’s when the beautifully subtle racism and misogyny of the text became clear.  And I became so sad and so angry.

It was like the post became a flaming match that fell upon the kindling of recent stories about the subtleties of race and voter manipulation (let alone outright voting machine tinkering) in this 2012 election, and of my own experiences with the subtle undercurrent of rising racism and class discrimination and watching  good-hearted people not wanting to talk about it.

I thought of the people I’ve sat quietly beside on recent commutes home, as they’ve talked about how they like the look of Romney and Ryan and don’t like Obama’s look, and then they see me and my brown skin and look away quickly.  I was not angry at them or even necessarily offended.  I simply wanted to ask them, what does a “look” have to do with running a country in a chaotic world?

rain upon the window

I will never tell anyone how to vote.  I will simply say to those in this country who are able to vote, please do and do so with an understanding of who and what you are voting for.  Do more than a skim of the text or a superficial look.  That is what I will try to remind myself anyway.  Okay … tomorrow back to calming words and images.  Be well.

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It might be the grandest of understatements to say that it is hard to discuss race and ethnicity in the United States.  It does not matter that we have an African American president.  It does not matter that there are African, Latino, Asian and Native American politicians at all levels from city clerks to state governors.  It does not matter that some of the highest paid athletes,  musicians and actors in this country have some tint to their skin.  Huck Finn by Mark Twain is still banned in many American schools, except for a sanitized version that removes the word “nigger.”

A good friend of mine called a few months ago to tell me that she was giving up her subscription to a popular runner’s magazine.  Now this friend is a marathon runner.  It is hard to describe how important running is to her spirits.  Why was she giving up this treat to herself?  Because while the articles were fine she was tired of never seeing anyone in it that looked like her.  My friend is a beautiful dark-skinned African American woman.  After talking with her I paid more attention to the magazines surrounding me in the checkout line of the grocery store, and certainly in the bookstores.  I challenge you to take a closer look when you go to these places.  What do you see on the covers? Beautiful women for sure … and beautiful women who all look the same week after week.

It’s easy to say the right words:  We are all equal.  I treat everyone the same.  There is equal opportunity.  There will be no discrimination of anyone based on skin color, gender, etc.  It is easy to say those words.  And then there is what we do and there is what our children see.  And right now there are too many children who do not see themselves reflected in the every day world around them.  Obama is President but most children are not interacting with the President every day.  Their sense of self  — their sense of beauty — is being shaped by what they see revered on tv, in the movies, and yes, in magazines.  People far more eloquent than I have written on this subject, and I hope they continue to do so.  As for what sparked this morning’s post …  Chancing upon the following images by French artist Titouan Lamazou, and wondering sadly why images of such beautiful women are so rarely found outside of an art gallery.

By the way, the photograhs in this post are of my skin.  Nothing racy, just a shoulder.  A brown shoulder. 😉

* Shoulder Series Images by SFH

* Lamazou images can be found at Nouvelle Images and his website here.

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A friend of mine teaching a course on race, class and privilege asked if she could use some of my writings on the subject.  Most of what I have written simply recounts my experiences as a brown woman abroad or of my family members in the American south.  In one of the essays, I reference Sam Cooke’s song, A Change is Gonna Come.  My family has long played this tune.  It is a beautiful piece.  Until today though I did not know its history:



I don’t know if my friend will use song in her course, but she has certainly reminded me of the influence and power of song, for creating change and for simply helping people endure.  Another song I shared with her is Billie Holiday’s rendition of Strange Fruit:



Moving me right now are songs without words by Ralph Vaughn Williams:

Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis


If you don’t know these songs, they are well worth a listen!



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On my mind of late has been the idea of the missed picture.  Was there a moment when I should have taken a picture and instead I “wimped out?” It is not a question raised lightly.  Usually, if I see something and I happen to have my camera, then great.  If I don’t, then I simply have to be present and enjoy that moment.  And maybe that’s the key word:  enjoy.   The incident that I purposefully missed was not one that I think of with joy.

The moment took place when Steve and I were traveling around down south.  We entered an establishment through a gate.  On either side of the gate entrance stood black lawn jockeys.  Now before I continue, let me be quick to state that everywhere we traveled people were welcoming and inclusive, and if I stood out as the only person of color, no one made mention of the fact.  As we left the establishment, having had a great time inside, Steve asked if I wanted to take a picture of the lawn jockeys, as an image that I could use to provoke conversation about a topic that people find difficult to discuss.  I said no.  We drove away. 

I have no image captured in pixels, but the moment will remain with me.  All the moments remain with me, when I am reminded of the complexities of race in this country and how that complexity has played out over time.  And still does.

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In today’s Washington Post, there is another powerful story involving hands, in this case, what happens when people lend a helping hand to strangers. The article is by Michael Ruane and is called “Shipwreck survivor recalls how town altered his idea of race.”  I highly recommend you read the entire article if you can, but if you can’t here’s the crux of the story:   In the winter of 1942, an 18-year old black man serving in the U.S. Navy survived a shipwreck off the coast of Newfoundland.  He is the only black man among a group of white sailors who made it to shore.  The son of sharecroppers and great-grandson of slaves, he had been raised in the segregated deep south, and served in the deeply segregated military.  His heart was well on its way to being filled with hate for the people around him, especially for those people who treated him as if he had little value.  But fate intervened.

On the shores of a strange land, covered in oil and freezing, the young man was approached by white people who held out their hands to lift him up, to warm him by a fire, and to wash the oil from his body.  Now in his 80’s, he recollects that one of the locals remarked that day, “I can’t get the oil off his body.”  The sailor had to explain that “It’s the color of the skin.  You can’t get it off.”  Eventually one of the townspeople took him home, fed him soup, and basically treated him as the human being he was.  The actions of those townspeople forever changed the perceptions of that young man about his world and the people in it.

One act of kindness changed a life.  And, if you read the article, you get the sense that that young man went on to change other peoples’ lives,  whether in the military, walking with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, AL, or with his own family.

At first the article made me sad as I remembered my father’s stories of military prejudice when he served in the Korean War.  It also reminded me of the rise in hate by people in this country of other people in this country based purely on skin color and certainly religious belief.  But in the end, the article made me hopeful, reminding me that there has been and still is goodwill in the world, and that there is meaning and impact in lifting one’s hands to help even just one other person.

You can read the article here.

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