Man and Machinery. One of Diego Rivera’s mammoth Detroit Industry murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts; 1933
I first discovered mural art when I moved to Michigan and visited the Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA). Since that first visit, I’ve made more visits to the DIA than I can count, and a I’d say that more than half of those visits have been to the court alone. There’s something direct and unvarnished in public murals that appeals to me. So when JanF shared a tweet of the Harriet Tubman mural, I was transfixed. It’s clear I’m not the only one.
When I went to the Post Office on Friday to buy some stamps, the postal clerk, who knows my interest in history (small town living FTW!), suggested I would like the newly-released Post Office mural stamps. She was right, and in the process, gave me a topic for today’s post. When life gives you murals, write about them.
Grocery bag, book cover, part of herstory, and culture-changer.
Sometimes a peripheral observation in a book sets off a series of musings and memories. The paragraph that started this train of thought:
The development of the first practical mass-produced paper bags was spurred, like so many other things, by the Civil War, as northern mill operators sought a replacement for cotton sacks. In 1870 the mechanical process to stamp out today’s familiar bag was patented, and the relationship between consumers and products began to change forever. Purchasers had been taking their own containers to grocers in in order to carry products home and thus were constrained from buying more of an item then they had planned, on impulse; the arrival of cheap, mass-produced paper bags allowed buyers to carry home as much as they wanted of what they saw in the store. (Manring, M.M., Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima, University Press of Virginia, 1998, pp. 62-63)
This post is 50% nostalgia (and perhaps confirmation that I am an Official Old), but the other 50% is presenting the question (with no answers provided), “Would reclaiming some of the past be better for our future?” for your consideration.
Please, Mammy (1899)
Over the weekend, a Bill Maher-initiated hashtag on Twitter caught fire amongst too many on the Left. It was a play on a racist slur used by 45* against Sen. Warren, and far too many failed to realize that playing with the words of a racist slur was not clever, but an extension and reiteration of the essential racism. For once, I found myself in the position of understanding how unacceptable the hashtag was without having it spelled out to me, but as I saw white person after white person repeating the hashtag (and often arguing with those who asked that they stop), it was an object lesson in privilege trumping good politics, good citizenship, and good sense. I also realized that a fair number of tweeters stopped using the hashtag when asked without really understanding the layers and nuances of why the hashtag was offensive. That’s another privilege that comes with Whiteness, but it’s in understanding subtleties that White folk can learn to be better allies. For this post, I’m going to look not just at a stereotype that few would have trouble recognizing as racist, but at some of the underlying assumptions that are less recognized but no less harmful.
Between work hours that are almost identical to my library’s open hours (making library visits next-to-impossible) and my habit of reading in bed at night (with a dog sleeping against my shoulder, effectively limiting me to one arm/hand), my reading is mostly done on my Nook these days. The only downside to that is that sometimes it’s too easy to buy books, and I end up with more month than budget. This past month I was left with plenty to read, but it was all brain-main-course, when I needed some dessert. It was time to peruse the $2.99 and under offerings, and I lucked out in a big way.
This is a personal post. It’s part confession; part tearing at the fabric of my own privilege and hubris; and part invitation to examine one’s own influences and determine if there are any bubble that need popping. It has been prompted by a realization I had last week; one in a long series of revelations that I’ve been having as my historical, political, and social justice awareness has increased. I’m not sure what it says about either myself or our white supremacist system that I seem to be doing my greatest amount of learning post-age-60, but I find some small comfort in the fact I’m still capable of popping my own bubbles.
Dr. James Cone at the 174th Convocation of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (9 September 2009)
On April 28, 2018, James Hal Cone, considered a father of black liberation theology, died at the age of 79. I never knew Dr. Cone, but I spent most of my adult years knowing of
him. He taught at my college for several years; by the time I started, he had moved on and been at Union Theological Seminary for a number of years as a rising star of black theology. His departure for Union made it possible for my alma mater to hire a new religion professor, a friend of Cone’s, who became my mentor as a pre-seminary student. It was because of this friendship between a white early church theologian and a black liberation theologian that I first learned of and started reading Dr. Cone’s works, and his second book (published in 1970 and revised in 1986), A Black Theology of Liberation
is one that I keep close on my headboard bookshelf. But why is Dr. Cone someone to be remembered? These are my reasons.
Great Hall, Jefferson Building, Library of Congress
When AG Barr released his four-page summary of the Mueller report, I slammed head- and heart-first into an emotional brick wall. I’ve been reeling ever since with frequent and massive anxiety attacks and enough acid reflux to keep Tums, Zantac, Nexium, and Mylanta in business for a decade or more. The anger, the disgust, the despair, the hopelessness were enough to turn me away from my usual historical reading and buried instead in cozy mysteries and fluffy fiction. But that’s the path of privilege; the path which isn’t immediately and wholly threatened by the choking weeds of corruption and authoritarianism…and so can be used for escape. While my raging gut may have begged for retreat from the realities of tRumpism, I knew it could only be a temporary reprieve while I looked for ways to regroup. I found a path; a path with the most unexpected starting point: the writings of Gloria Jean Watkins, the American author; professor; feminist; and social activist, better known as bell hooks. This won’t be a comprehensive overview of bell hooks’ writing, but a glimpse of the stepping stones made by her that led me to other stones by writers, thinkers, and activists. Stand with me on each stone and feel the power of hope rediscovered.
The cover of a promotional pamphlet from 1922 points to the unending progress that early boosters saw as possible in South Bend.
Janesaunt at The Orange and I decided to work together to read the political memoirs of some of the current presidential candidates and to provide overviews of the books by answering an identical set of questions. I’m kicking off our efforts today with a synopsis and overview of Pete Buttigieg’s Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future.
On Thursday, Janesaunt will continue at DK with “her” book and using the same questions. Reading the books does not necessarily mean support of a particular candidate; it’s a means of expanding our knowledge and sharing what we learn with the community.
Boston cream donuts: white center[ing] acceptable. Elsewhere: problematic.
I recently downloaded Layla F. Saad’s, me and white supremacy workbook
(Me and White Supremacy
) and have been working through the 28 daily challenges. I recently completed Day 16, “You and White Centering,” so the topic has been very much on my mind. When I involved myself in twitter conversations at the end of last week and over the weekend because I saw white centering happening, it became very clear to me that it’s one of the most difficult white supremacist paradigms to identify and relinquish. Because of that, this may be an uncomfortable post to read. I will be intentionally defusing it by using less personal examples and pointing out instances where white centering is something that other people do. I’m making that choice because this format does not lend itself to the type of constructive back-and-forth conversations that lead to growth. I will also be framing the post in terms of the primary campaigns, assuming that they are a common area of interest that most of us have been following. That also creates several degrees of separation, which allows for a sense of safety. But make no mistake: these are conversations that anyone who wants to claim the name “Ally” needs to be having, both internally and in small group settings, if possible. Comfort and safety are privileges of whiteness; if one wants to be part of deconstructing white supremacy, it will ultimately be necessary to choose to walk away from that refuge and address inequality and injustice with unflinching honesty, a whole lot of humility, and the willingness to fight back against one’s own internalized white supremacy.