White Shoes and Picasso

Most people don’t realize that Picasso really knew how to paint. He is known for being the chief inspiration of people worldwide saying “My five year old could paint that”, but what these critics don’t know, or rather one of the many things they don’t know, is that those squashed square faces with yes on the sides of their heads were painted that way for a reason other than lack of skill. They were intentional. That is the right word, intentional.picasso

I was given a white pair of shoes for Christmas. They were, or rather are, great; no logo, all leather lace ups with a cap toe. So I wore them, on Christmas. I wore them again in January and again in February all the way up through March. I’m not wearing them today; not right now. Right now I’m wearing brown shoes with my navy suit because I’m not wearing a tie. Had I on a tie I would be wearing black shoes.IMG_1072

I’m in no way a Picasso but I know a little bit about how to paint. When it comes to painting I know what sort of images I like and I know the limits of my abilities. With some more work and training I could probably further my abilities, and with more money I could definitely further my collection, but for now I’m alright. For now I have no problem wearing white shoes in the winter. Mostly I’m okay with this because right now I live in Southern California.

I know the rule that you aren’t supposed to wear white shoes, or pants or whatever after Labor Day or before Memorial Day. I get it. I’m all for seasonal dressing and it makes perfect sense if you live in a place that actually has seasons. Most rules grew out of reason and in my mind keeping or breaking the rules should be based in those same reasons, not in simple obedience. Not that I am off hand against obedience; not at all. But I have seen how obedience to trends and norms and magazines and television has led to giant big box stores and people in LA wearing pea coats in February.

I love pea coats. LOVE them. But I don’t love them when it is sunny, dry, no wind, and it is 75 degrees. Where I live now it is almost always 75 degrees and because of this, though I love my pea coat, I mostly miss it. I also miss snow pants. In the office I miss gym shorts and while at the gym I miss my blazer. At the beach I miss tweed and in snowstorms I miss linen.IMG_9317 (18)

I see it most pronounced when I venture to the mall (an evil suburban necessity). I see trends and groups much more than I see people. This is normal. All people, no matter how individualistic, follow some sort of group pattern or norm, I’m okay with this. What I am less okay with is that prevailing norms appear dictated by some odd unnamed other who is obviously somewhere else who appears to be dictating what everyone should be wearing. Tight clothes, loose clothes, warm clothes, cool clothes, collar up or collar down, all worn without regard to situation, unless of course that situation is defined narrowly by magazine ads, box store mannequins, and TMZ.

Mannequins and advertisements trump body type and climate. We should all learn a little bit more, how to paint. For instance the wearing of stripes and or tights (which are not pants) may best be determined by body type than celebrity imitation. Sportswear and accompanying gear may best be determined by activity rather than brand popularity. Color, composition, and form, should come before cubism or pop art exposition.IMG_3507

And while I live in a year round sunny desert clime, I will wear white… and do a lot of laundry because I will also eat salsa.

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1st to College: Black History Month

Back in the 1700’s hardly anyone went to college. Those who did certainly weren’t going there to learn a skill or get a job. They were there to study the classics and become generally versed in history, literature, and science. They were there to become acculturated, spending time with gentrified peers, mixed with some academic luxuriating. College was more or less somewhere to send young, rich, white,  boys.

Then there was John Chavis.15preacher

Chavis, born in North Carolina, was a free black man who fought for the United States in the Revolutionary war. After the war he was tutored by John Witherspoon (who would become the president of Princeton) and then in 1794 Chavis enrolled in the Liberty Hall Academy (which would later become Washington &Lee University). Chavis, a black man, went to college back when most people, no matter their color, did not.

Chavis went on to be ordained a Presbyterian minister and founded a school near Raleigh North Carolina. His school, which taught both black and white, though not at the same time, was regarded as one of the best in the state. It all came to a screeching halt in 1831, when due to white fears of slave rebellions, all black people were barred from teaching, and or preaching.

Chavis’s story serves as a reminder that history is not a straight ascending line. Empires rise and fall, racism ebbs and flows. Chavis was a remarkable man who achieved remarkable things long before the emancipation proclamation or the Civil Rights Movement. Yet because history is not a straight line, Chavis did not really blaze a trail for others to follow. His tracks were swept over by fearful slavers, de-reconstructionists, and time.

Remember that gains can, and have in the past, been lost.

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To Persist and Prosper: Black History Month

Studying the history of Black people in America will uncover two tales, one of surprisingly persistent and cruel oppression, and the simultaneous triumph of persistence and spirit. Black history is an illustration of how the human spirit can defy the odds.

Because the odds have been stacked against Black folk, intentionally so, since America’s founding. Despite this; despite slavery and Jim Crow, despite terrorism and destruction, people keep slipping through and succeeding. tumblr_nj5wjwpsHQ1qksd21o1_1280

There is a laundry list of Black people who have done the remarkable when they really shouldn’t have. They shouldn’t have because there were people and a whole system of government set up to stop them.

There was Richard Allen who was kicked out of church in 1786 for being Black. He responded by founding a denomination that is still thriving today.

Alexander Twilight, a Black man who graduated from college in 1823, a time when almost no one studied past grade school. Not only that, but many of those who had been to college were forwarding arguments that Black people weren’t fully human.tumblr_n0drz1kQ0c1qksd21o1_1280

There was Biddy Mason, a woman brought to California as a slave in 1850. Upon discovering that slavery was illegal in California Biddy sued for her freedom and won. She took to freedom well founding schools, a church, and invested in property. She amassed a fortune.

There have been so many examples of exemplary individuals that we could easily forget the opposition over which such success stories triumph.

Should we be proud of Hank Aaron or ashamed of how White Americans treated him?

Proud of MLK’s anti-violence or ashamed that he was murdered?

The answer is in all cases yes, because this is our American history. It is who we are.tumblr_o1ink0tMlo1qksd21o1_1280

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The Great Migration: Black History Month

I call this the “You are okay but ya’ll are not” principle…

When slavery ended, and especially when reconstruction ended, a series of laws were passed, mostly at the state level but later upheld by federal courts, meant to preserve the racial caste system and the money it provided business owners. For example in Alabama it was illegal for a Black person to be unemployed. It was also illegal for a Black person to quit their current job without permission from their employer. Anyone breaking these two laws would be sent to jail (after a trial in which it was illegal for a Black person to testify against a White person).chicago

It was common practice for the state to rent out inmates to steel companies and railroads. These “inmates” are in large part the labor force that rebuilt the South’s destroyed infrastructure.

One thing that wasn’t illegal was leaving town, though this was a one way ticket since it was illegal to quit your job. Black people chose to leave and did so in large numbers. They went to places like New York, Chicago, and Detroit. Later, in a subsequent waves, they went to places like Oakland, St. Louis, and Kansas City.

At this same time America was growing into a world power. It was spreading out to the West coast and people flocked to the land of opportunity from places like Ireland and Italy. These immigrants went to places like New York, Chicago, and Detroit. The same places southern Black folk were going. It started getting kinda crowded.

Without the experience of an historical precedence of sustaining a large Black population, most of these cities scrambled to maintain White superiority. New housing codes, labor unions, and public policy sprung up to make sure Black people didn’t get jobs that White people wanted, live in neighborhoods near White people, or essentially “Ruin things”. Throughout the 1900’s, all the way up through the 60’s, there were race riots and lynchings in nearly every American city where there grew a sizable Black population.

Mob running with bricks during Chicago Race Riots of 1919

Members of a white mob run with bricks in hand, during the Chicago race riot of July and August, 1919.

The North and West which had previously accepted the occasional Black person, realized they definitely did not want a whole slew of them. So basically, “you are okay, but not ya’ll.”

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The Word of the Day is Nadir: Black History Month

In 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes, a Republican, made a deal with the Democrats, that he would end reconstruction if they would let him be President of the United States. In this same year the Supreme Court ruled that only states, not the Fed, could prosecute violations of the Ku Klux Klan Act, a law meant to protect Black people from White violence. States refused to prosecute.

That was a rough year for Black Americans.27state rights

That year facilitated a swift slide back toward the America that existed before the civil war. The difference this time was that a constitutional amendment prevented slavery, so in its place rose up a system, both formal and informal, legal and/or practical, that pushed Black people back away from being considered Americans.

This period, from around 1890 up through the 1940’s, is called the “Nadir”.blacksketches

The Nadir is considered not simply the low point in post slavery American race relations, but more so the low point in the lived experience of Black Americans. this is the time where it was normal for Black people who got “too successful” or even just sassy, to be publicly murdered.

This is the time period that most directly set the table for the racial America we have today. If you want to understand #blacklivesmatter, the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP, #oscarsowhite, or  the whys and hows of the Civil rights Movement, you need to first understand the Nadir.IMG_0941

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A Lot of People Know Who Booker T Was, but Most Don’t Appreciate How Bad it Must Have Been: Black History Month

Booker T. Washington gave one of America’s most influential speeches in 1895 at the Cotton States and World Expo. I would paraphrase it this way, “We promise not to try to vote, we will accept an inferior place in society, if the white people will promise to stop killing us.”

No really, that was the gist of his speechwallofruins

It became known as the Atlanta Compromise and was seen as the settling of the American social order regarding race moving into the 1900’s.

Now mind you this is Booker T. Washington, best selling author, president of the Tuskegee Institute, huge fund raiser for Black education and philanthropy, and he is saying “we” will settle for being subjugated because it would be an improvement.

I’m not sure we of today appreciate how bad it must have been for smart ambitious people to see subjugation as the best viable option.vintagemate

Whatever the views of the day, and there were other opinions, this compromise was seen as the rule by those in power. It was the foundation for Southern for the next 50-60 years till a bunch of college kids started agitating.

This is a foundational part of American history.

 

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When a College is Historically White, Then Black, Then White Again: Black History Month

The University of South Carolina was founded by a state charter in 1801 and was the 23rd college founded in the United States. It was only for white people. When South Carolina started the Civil War, the students went off to fight for the South and the school closed, then it was occupied by Northern forces. After the war (1865) it was reopened under South Carolina’s reconstruction government.library reading room

They, the reconstructionists, made the school open to Black people. And it wasn’t just the students. One of the new professors they hired after the war ended was Richard Theodore Greener, America’s first Black professor at any state run flagship university (he was also the first Black person to graduate from Harvard). By 1875 ninety percent of the student body were Black.

When reconstruction was abandoned and democrats retook the state government (1876), they quickly closed the school down. Then in 1880 they reopened the school, but only to White people. After the passing of Brown vs. the Board of Education, which outlawed segregation, USC became the nation’s first college to require an entrance exam. That was 1954. The school did not admit any Black students till 1963.museum

Mind you, Professor Greener (who left the school when the democrats closed it down) graduated Harvard back in 1870, almost 100 years earlier.

History is not a straight line ascending up and up eternally. It weaves a drunkards path, back and forth, forward and back. Forward progress is not, and has never been, natural or inevitable.

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