Category Archives: race

Recent reading: An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones

Jones revealed in an interview that the idea for the characters in her fourth novel, “An American Marriage,” came to her from a conversation she overhead in a mall. She already had her theme, informed in part by a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute (Cambridge, Mass.), studying the prison pipeline and racial injustice, but not her characters.

And then she overheard a woman saying, “Roy, you know you wouldn’t have waited on me for seven years!”

Roy replies, “What’re you talking about? This wouldn’t’ve happened to you in the first place.”

“When I see two people arguing and they both seem to have a legitimate point, then I know I have a novel because for me a novel cannot have a clear person who’s right or wrong.” 

“An American Marriage” tells the story of a newlywed couple with everything to look forward to — him as a businessman, her as an art doll-maker — until the unthinkable occurs. The husband, Roy, is wrongly accused of rape. Incarcerated. What happens during the period of his imprisonment and the time immediately after his release comprise the story. The author puts before us the damning, personal consequences of racial injustice. A virulent and widespread social problem up close. She shows two people wrestling with fidelity to the IDEA of marriage, if not to marriage itself, as they try to weather an untimely and grossly unfair separation.

“To black Americans, mass incarceration is an ongoing threat, like hurricanes on the coast and earthquakes or fires in California. Prison can swoop in and snatch up the men in our families at any time.”

from interview with Oprah

This book makes a statement in its very title. It’s not, “An African American Marriage,” but “An American Marriage.” As it should be! It’s refreshing to read a narrative so wholly focused on black characters. No white saviors. No black characters served up as ancillary to the aims of white people. It’s notable that the sole white character here is a life-wrecking accuser.

To celebrate the exclusivity of black characters might seem a bit remedial. But when you consider that “Green Book” just won an Oscar or that during the Cohen hearings last week, Rep. Meadows used a black woman as a prop (and then teared up in outrage when another representative called him on it), it seems not so small a point.

A fast and compelling read. I see why Oprah chose it for her Book Club.

NY Times review

Just to continue a moment on another issue the book puts before us: the use someone else’s pain as the basis for artwork. The doll making character’s career doesn’t really take off until she starts using her imprisoned husband as inspiration. It was interesting to consider the problem of appropriation stripped of the complication of race. Artist-character and her subject are both black, and still we ask: Is it okay to parlay another’s pain into artwork, especially if the subject objects? And if such a use makes one successful, how should we evaluate that success?

(for the question about black pain and white creators, see, critique of Dana Schutz painting ‘Open Casket’ of Emmet Till at the Whitney Biennial in 2017 and The White Card, a play by Claudia Rankine (blogged after seeing the play here). Also, check out “Still Processing: ‘Confederate,’ ‘Detroit’ and Who Owns Stories about Blackness” podcast, featuring Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham).

 

 

 

 

History quote and Marie Kondo

“… the Fugitive Slave Act handed enslavers octopus powers, allowing their tentacles to extend to the North. The Act criminalized abettors of fugitives, provided northerners incentives to capture them, and denied Blacks a jury trial, opening the door to mass kidnappings. To William Lloyd Garrison, the act was ‘so coldblooded, so inhuman and so atrocious, that Satan himself would blush to claim paternity to it.'”

I received this book for Christmas last year. I suppose I ought to get going on it? I’ll admit to being a little intimidated by the length. The date of the Act’s passage, by the way, was 1850.

We are waiting for snow.

And watching Marie Kondo on Netflix.

I bought her book, “the life-changing magic of tidying up,” several years ago and followed many of her strategies to good effect. But here’s the thing. It was a solo venture. This time K is on board and it’s got a different feel to it, and there are different possibilities (think: tools, basement, and garage). Here are two sets of before and after pix.

Household phrase

“I WAS AN ENGLISH MAJOR! I KNOW THINGS!” (to be yelled like Billy Eichner interviewing New Yorkers on the street).

This week, that became a saying in this house.

It was a friendly thread on FB. Should we capitalize the word “enslaver,” asked someone who thinks about these things. Like “Democrat” or “Pope?”

I’m pretty sure everyone in the thread had come to grips with the idea that referring to ‘slaves’ as ‘the enslaved’ was less objectifying and worth the effort. And further, that replacing the benign, perhaps even noble, titles “planter” and “landowner” with “enslaver” in certain times and places in history was corrective. Necessary.

But with a capital ‘E’?

I played with the idea (Thomas Jefferson, President, Enslaver). Said I liked how it put the shameful next to the prestigious — right out there.

Martha set me straight. “Oh good grief,” she began. She made a condescending comment, complete with examples of usage. Went on to make a nonsensical distinction between occupations and appointments.

To my credit, I stayed in it without getting snide or contentious. I never mentioned the law degree that followed my English degree. She eventually gave up.

But now at odd moments in our house, you might hearing me loudly pronouncing: “I WAS AN ENGLISH MAJOR! I KNOW THINGS!”

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.

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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!