I’m Down with this Donald

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I see his work as a sort of loose, maybe even sloppy, Matisse. Not that he would ever say that about himself, at least not that I have heard, but then again, how would I have heard?

But what I have seen, is pared down lines, patterns, and brush strokes that despite lack of detail and apparent precision, form fashionable women and style. Like Matisse.

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Having survived the heyday of art directing at Conde’ Nast and Vogue, Donald Robertson has left the hustle of New York and opened up shop in LA, and when I say “opened” I mean his door is open (not right now though) and you can go say hello.

I went and said hello.

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With his new work hanging, or laying, around and his young kids doing the same, Donald and I didn’t hatch a new collaboration or become best friends (I am open to both) but he did answer my question easily and helped me feel relaxed and welcomed.

Then he drew me a picture in my sketch book thereby increasing its value by approximately 2000%.

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His studio is where Evett’s Model Shop once was (1636 Ocean Park Blvd, Santa Monica) and he will let any fool off the street just walk right in and talk to him.

Matisse never did that.

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What I have Learned About Race and Racism Over the Past 25 years.

Racism against black people was, and still is, exponentially worse than I originally thought.

 

The real problem with racism is not instances where one person is rude, or “racist” to another person. This is why it does not “go both ways”. Yes, people are rude and “racist” both ways, but these instances are not the cause of inequality. These instances are inexcusable, but relatively inconsequential compared to the bigger problem.

 

Me treating all other humans like they are my family, and teaching my children to do the same, is only a starting place and is not enough to fix the existing racial inequalities.

 

The solution to American black white racial disparities is not simply for Black people to make better life choices.

 

The first step in progress is for more white Americans, myself included, to more fully realize all of the above.

 

We are not collectively through all of the above, and hence, not currently prepared for step 2.

 

What Do You See?

IMG_2672Who is that supposed to be? I get that question a lot when people see my drawings. If the image is of someone famous, or familiar, that question hurts just a little, since you wouldn’t need to ask if I had done a better job.

 

But if the drawing isn’t someone you would recognize, what do you really see?

 

What comes to mind? Do we just take it at face value (pun intended) or do we make guesses and assumptions? Do we ask questions? Maybe none of that. Maybe we just look and think that is all there is to see. Nothing more.

 

There is always more.

 

As an artist I get to choose what I include, leave out, or even change. How much do you trust me? Does it matter?

 

This is a drawing of Catherine Burks.

 

In 1961 she got on a Greyhound bus headed from Tennessee to Alabama. Police stopped the bus because racially integrated bus travel was illegal. They escorted the passengers back to the Tennessee state line, dropping them off on the rural roadside in the middle of night. Burks told the chief, Bull Connor, “We will see you back in Birmingham by high noon”.

 

She was indeed back in Birmingham the next day and this is a drawing of her mug shot.

This is the face of a freshly arrested college student who I guess is thinking, “told ya.”

 

By this point she had seen violence and police beatings and been personally threatened by the leader of it all.

 

And this face was her face.

 

Sometimes, even today, some of us think we know what is going on simply because we watch.  We see some things, we feel we are paying attention, and no one contradicts what we think we see.

But there is always more to the story.

 

We normally only get that after we ask questions and then listen.

 

Happy Black History Month.

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Mr. Porter

IMG_4471So there was that one time when I was at a table full of Billy Porter fans and Billy Porter just happens to walk in. Then, everyone gets psyched up enough to say hello and he quickly says, “sorry no pictures”… but THEN I whip out the sketch of him I just completed while he was sitting at the bar and now Billy Porter is asking US if HE can take pictures.

 

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Is America Fair: what is white supremacy?

Does America treat black and white citizens equally?

If your answer is yes, then we must grapple with some additional, hard, questions.

If America treats black and white citizens equally then why does the median white family have 41 times more wealth than the median black family? (median white has $147,000 in wealth while black median is $3,500) https://inequality.org/facts/racial-inequality/

Why are black people incarcerated at a rate 6 times that of white people? (1,549 black prisoners for every 100,000 black citizens versus 272 white prisoners for every 100,000 white citizen). https://www.pewresearch.org/…/shrinking-gap-between-number…/

Why do 35% of White adults have college degrees while only 21% of black adults have the same? https://nces.ed.gov/progra…/raceindicators/indicator_RFA.asp

Why the huge gap in wealth, incarceration, and education?

Is it simply the result of individual choices?
Is it that black people are making poorer financial decisions, committing more crimes, and performing worse in school?

To say this, is to imply, directly, that white people make better financial moves, are more law abiding, and do better in school.

Another way of saying that, is to say, white people are better than black people.

If this is your answer it does not mean you hate black people. It does not mean you are evil.
But it does mean you need to grapple with the truth that this idea is the foundation of white supremacist ideology.

When we hear the term white supremacist, most of us envision a KKK member in a white hood, or a Neo Nazi with a shaved head, out committing violence against black or brown people. We are appalled and shocked that such people exist, we condemn them en masse, and none of us think we are anything like “them”. But really, if we think that the disparity between black and white in America is simply the result of black people making bad choices, then the only fundamental differences between “us” and the white supremacists, is hatred and violence.
But the ideology is the same.

The facts are that white people have vastly more wealth than black people, both overall and by percentage. Black people are exponentially more likely to serve, or have served, jail time than their white peers, and white people attend and complete college at much higher rates than black Americans. Are these just benign facts?

If America is fair, then are we to assume that white people are just smarter, better, and harder working than black people and these data points are just evidence? Or could it be something else?

Maybe our meritocracy, isn’t anywhere near as meritocratic as we like to believe.

I have known too many lazy, criminal, and non-academic white people to accept that things are fair. I myself, a white man, have lacked ambition, broken laws, for most of my teen years skipped my homework, and by many measures I am doing great.
Conversely, I have known far too many brilliant, savvy, and law-abiding black people who are not reaping the same harvest as their white counterparts. The cultural, or personal choice, disparity explanation simply doesn’t check out. It doesn’t bear up under investigation.
Yes, all choices have consequences, and we all make choices, but the outcomes, the consequences, are not uniform across the color line.

America simply does not treat black and white people equally.

We can fix this.

But we have to be willing to do the hard work- including the initial prerequisite wrestle with our own ideas and perceptions.

**By “America” I mean our legal system, our economy, and our day to day interpersonal lives.

Rowing Blazers: selling the club’s stuff to members and non-members alike

Most of us live in Ralph Lauren’s world, the one where we are a Lifshitz, which should be just fine, but in hopes of becoming something else, something we see as more, we put on the trappings of that more, portraying ourselves as belonging to, or being of, that other thing.

In Mr. Lauren’s case, he did it so well that he has not only gained admission to so much of that imitated world, but he has created a whole new universe built right over the top of that old one to the point that most of us are completely unaware of this past.

But this past still exists. As in it isn’t gone but is still alive; it just usually isn’t ours.

With an eye on this old world, I have watched this little brand, which grew out of a book, that sort of sprung from an old blog, up till just now, when I was able to go check it out in person.

Rowing Blazers has been written up by GQ and Esquire, all sorts of style or fashion folks that know much more than I, so I will stick with what I got myself from them directly.

Jack is doing the work. At the Los Angeles pop-up I found him glad handing in a way that appeared surprisingly invested. LA normally lives up to its reputation of shallow fixation on the who’s who brand of social climbing, and here we have a clothing style rooted in emblems and icons communicating very specific memberships, and here was Jack paying authentic attention to all sorts of nobodies. Like me.

I have a lot of experience with nobodies and a now solid set of associations with somebodies, and way to much intimacy with wannabees. I have learned that a defining characteristic of actual somebodies is that they do not, or no longer, need to try to act or project their somebodieness. Wannabees on the other hand must constantly police and buffer themselves against the nobodies lest such association put their charade in jeopardy.

Jack showed no interest in sleuthing my pedigree before paying me attention. I watched him act the same with others.

That works for me.

Now I have never met Ralph, and maybe he acts the same, and for all I know all of this is just an act, I know how that works, but this sort of access versus authenticity matters in the realm of tradition and clubs.

And that is most definitely the world Ralph, Jack, and any other trad, prep, ivy, or otherwise institutional representative style of clothing are engaging. But while Ralph once sued the American body governing the sport of rugby for infringing on his presumed ownership of the word “rugby” (I will never let that go), Jack sells a line of rugby shorts that celebrate the rebelliousness of that sport’s roots. While tried, and tries, to pass traditional emblems off as his own creation, Jack has published books explaining the history and meaning of sartorial emblems.

In the end they are both selling things originally meant to denote in group to those who are most decidedly not in, Rowing Blazers is at least being up front about it. I should also note that Rowing Blazers is also the official outfitter for USA Rugby, USA Rowing, and a whole bunch of other actual clubs or teams. It isn’t all for the masses.

 

College Admissions Scandal

News broke Tuesday of a nationwide, multimillion dollar college admissions scandal. Andrew Lelling, an attorney for Massachusetts was quoted saying “There will not be a separate admissions system for the wealthy. And there will not be a separate criminal justice system, either…”

IMG_4683Lelling is wrong. There is now, always has been, and always will be, a separate admissions process for the wealthy. It will not go away. No matter who those wealthy are, no matter what legislation we pass- the rich will find a way.

Not because they are rich, but because they are parents.

Tiger Moms, Momma Bears, Daddy Warbucks, or just a sugar Daddy parents in America operate under the assumption, the idea, or even the charge, that it is their duty is to give their children every advantage possible in life. And where you attend college can in fact be a real advantage.

And the real word there is indeed “advantage”.

This, the idea that fighting for advantage in parenting is expected, is the biggest obstacle to a just and equitable world. Because as long as that is our system, the parents with the most resources will always win for their own, and those without, will continue to fight for table scraps.

American parents are raising their families in a hyper competitive world that is continually being painted as more perilous than ever. While impending doom (razor blades in Halloween candy) may not truly lurk around every corner, upward economic mobility has indeed been on a slow and steady decline. Wage stagnation looks to stretch from one generation into another and income over a career continues to correlate to educational attainment. College remains important, if not in fact, at least in the minds of concerned parents. Elite schools who admitted 15% of applicants a decade ago now only admit 6%. Parents are truly freaking out.

We live in a competitive environment that requires a level of engagement beyond the capacity of children, requiring proactive parents to set up a path to potential success for their kids. At the top levels this competition is cut throat and more often than not, the spoils go to the children of the best resourced parents.

When advising families in the college application process  I try to help them understand that for most of us, the name of the school we went to is much less important than the type of student a child has already proven to be. I work hard to help them find the right match of a school rather than chasing the school with the highest ranking. But if pressed, I will admit that for those who want to achieve remarkable things, those with the biggest aspirations, the most likely course is pretty narrow and goes through established pathways. There are a small number of schools that have produced presidents, Supreme Court Justices, and billionaires, and the odds of being the first from any given school, are incredibly small.

So what we have built is a competitive environment that gives the most benefit to those who already hold the most resources. But these well resourced parents are not just competing with the poor folks, but with each other. Again, this world is cut-throat. This environment leads to any effort to carve out a path, or channel resources to those who do not already have them- be it through state or federal funding or programs like affirmative action, to be immediately targeted as unfair.

Elite schools can afford to offer free schooling to poor kids for two reasons; first, because top schools are already well funded. Most educational donations go to the schools that already have the most money. These schools are indeed rich. Second, these schools can offer free education because the number of poor students who are accepted, is incredibly low.

The top predicting data point for who gets into an elite college is the wealth of the parent.

This happens for a constellation of reasons. These families tend to live in richer neighborhoods with better funded schools. These better funded schools tend to have more qualified staff, more stable student population, and a historical pipeline of feeding high school kids into elite colleges. These parents also tend to spend money on tutors, test prep courses, and specific extra curriculars that align with college expectations. These families also tend to make up the bulk of legacy admissions, or in other words, the parents of these families often attended elite schools themselves.

So my advice to financially struggling parents who are hoping their child will go to Harvard, is to stop saving for tuition and start spending now on a higher mortgage and tutors. Stop investing in basketball or track, and focus on fencing or crew. Even then, know that there will be some other parent willing to buy a building or bribe a coach in order to stack the deck in their favor.

As long as parenting is a high stakes zero sum self interested gladiator tournament we can never hope for any real semblance of an equitable meritocracy, not just in admissions buy in anything.

This mind-set, or maybe this reality, is why people hire their nephew or niece in both corporations and construction. It is why people lie to school districts about their address and why people cross borders without legal documents. We cringe at the thought of one demographic having privilege or advantage over another- we all say we want equality, that is until it comes to parenting.

Because of this, any proposal that would move anything, be it admissions or employment, to a place that would be fair or meritocratic is going to need to be bigger and more expansive than any of us may be willing to accept.

 

Because of parents.

 

Parenting is the best indisputable evidence that we don’t really believe in a meritocracy. Because we are either acting under the assumption that it doesn’t exist so we must fight to get our kids a fair shake, or it does exist and we are fighting to get our kids an advantage.

Black History Month

Studying the history of black people in America has taught me a few things that I believe important.

 

I have learned what I think most of us think we already know; that human greatness is an historical constant and exists at equal rates across all racial and ethnic lines. In other words, there have always been amazing people, saints and or geniuses, and that no one group of people holds a monopoly on producing that greatness.

 

I have also learned that segregation and racial hierarchy are not natural occurrences. While some level of greed or tribalism is natural and present in most all of mankind, those negative tendencies do not naturally act out or manifest along the color line. People do not naturally group themselves according to the amount of melanin existing in our skin. In fact, without outside forces or external motivators, people tend to mix when left in close proximity.

 

Knowing these two things sheds a bright light on the whole of American history, because that history has very much been about grouping humans by skin color and claiming greatness for one group while attempting to squash and squelch the magnificence of another. Writing or reading this is not an exercise in fault or blame, though we should not shy away from such when earned, but rather understanding the hows and whys of now requires an honest pursuit and acknowledgment of truth. We must acknowledge not just how great so many black people have been throughout the American timeline or within American borders, but also how forcefully and intentionally America as an organization, has worked to resist, trample, and exploit black greatness in order to favor white people.

 

This is not revisionist history or America hating, this is what the bulk and majority of American history, law, and practice, has been. Because this sort of race stratification and hierarchical division is not natural, there have been ups and downs, progress and regression over time, as some black and white- and brown- people have pushed and fought for racial equality, and those efforts have been met not just with personal resistance, but intentional and systematized attacks.

 

Because there have been ups and downs, we, all of us, must know the hows and whys of yesterday because whatever our now is, whether it be an up or down, we must know that it is not guaranteed nor has it ever been permanent.

 

And we are the ones who create it. We make up whatever now is. It has never been “just the way things are”. It is always however we make it.

Astronomy isn’t About Race: unless there are people up there, then it is.

Race is not a thing. By that I mean it is not an event, an object, or even an adjective.

Race is a who.IMG_70891

Race is not the only thing a person “is”, but everyone has a race, and that race, because it is a social construct, affects how that person, all of us, interacts within a society. For most of America’s existence “race” or “race issues” really means things having to do with anyone who isn’t white. Otherwise those things are just plain old issues.

When the Declaration of Independence was written race was never mentioned but it wasn’t exactly ignored. White was assumed. So really, race wasn’t ignored, non-white people were ignored. The word race would only come up when “We the People” were being talked or written about in comparison to those who weren’t, or aren’t, considered white. So when it came to the constitution there was “we the people”, and then there were also Native Americans and those 3/5ths of persons held in servitude.

Remember that race is always a who.with flag

Because race is a who, making something about, or not about race, is really making it about, or not about, a person.

Knowing this is important, mostly for white people as we are the ones who are less used to our race being spoken of explicitly. We are used to just being people, not white people. We need to realize that when we say “this isn’t about race”, what that translates to is, “this isn’t about you.” Which is ironic because most of the times I hear someone say “this isn’t about race”, or “don’t make this a race issue”, it is being said by a white person who is referencing something involving non-white people whom they have never met.

For example when someone says college admissions should ignore race, what that really means is colleges should ignore that there are people who aren’t white. When a black person is killed by a police officer and our response is, this has nothing to do with race. What is really being said is that said instance wasn’t about the black person- though that is who was shot.IMG_1908

This gets real tricky, or troubling, when it really is about them. Or… maybe it is very telling when we white people talk this way.

As in I, a white person, looks at a situation in which I am not directly involved, and say to the black people involved, “this isn’t about race”, which would mean “this isn’t about black people”- then who is left for it to be about? What we are inadvertently saying is that it is about us. About white people. And if we white people are the ones saying such things we should probably think a little bit more about how we are at the heart of all these race issues.

This is the part, or the point, where we get very defensive and start “No. That isn’t what I said or what I meant.”

But it is. We just don’t like to deal with that. Because any issue or instance where people are involved- is a race issue.

You cannot un-race a person. Maybe one day skin color won’t hold real relevance, but even when that day comes, we will all still have a skin color, we will have simply shifted who “we” includes and the ways in which we value each other.