Sid Mashburn

Sid Mashburn

1198 Howell Mill Rd. NW, Atlanta

Sid Mashburn the brand started as Sid Mashburn the shop, in Atlanta.

While that may be true of the brand name as a business, perhaps it helps one understand the sort of look Sid Mashburn creates if the CV of Sid Mashburn the man is explained.

Mashburn has been a designer for J. Crew, then a designer for Polo, then Tommy Hilfiger, and then on to Land’s End. He has been at, which I would say then makes him, the “who’s who” of preppy or trad menswear.

My experience in person is that those who work the shop in Atlanta are welcoming and inviting to both visitors and customers. I was just a visitor but would love to be the other.

Everything Isn’t About Race: racist math

I have heard many times that “everything isn’t about race”, and that perhaps people, or groups, who try too hard to find racism where it does not exist, are today’s primary cause of racism, or at least the primary cause of perpetual racial issues.church

I get it. I understand where they are coming from and I hear what they are saying, but for the most part… naw. That isn’t our problem today. Not any more than any other annoying and possibly wrong headed thing any number of any population is predisposed to doing. Like double parking, or talking loudly on a cell phone in close quarters. It might make you nuts but it isn’t a real problem. But I know what those people are saying because that is what I used to think.

Then I moved to Atlanta.

In Atlanta everyone and everything was black.12thecity

The people were all black. The billboards, Santa Claus, the tv shows, the churches, commercials, the bus driver, the street vendor, even the grocery isle. I had never even seen or heard of chitterlings or collard greens and the grocery store had two isles of that stuff. Ox tail soup? This was all new to me. I couldn’t get a good hair cut. I didn’t have a car and being limited to public transportation I visited every salon and barbershop within a two hour radius of where I lived and never found anyone who knew what thinning sheers were for. I stopped arguing with barbers about how I didn’t need to be lined up or how my part doesn’t need to actually be shaved into my head and started getting haircuts from a friend in my kitchen. This was all amusing and eye opening for about three months. After that it became exhausting.

More wearying than the inconvenience of living in a world that wasn’t built with me in mind, was that same conversation I had over and over and over again. The one about me being white. Till this time I had never thought my color was all that relevant, it was never a big part of how I saw myself. I had never really discussed it with anyone and after three months of having my whiteness pointed out to me by every single person I met, I was tired. I was sick of it. Even the police questioned my race. I was stopped regularly by white officers wondering if I was lost. On more than one occasion after telling the officers I actually lived “right over there,” I was called stupid and told I was on my own when they (the black people) decided to kill me.  I lived there two years.

I had never felt so white in my whole life. Every hour of every day it was all anyone could see or wanted to talk about. It didn’t matter what I wanted to talk about, or how I saw myself, everyone else decided for me.

But that was just Atlanta. I guess maybe it could have been parts of the Bronx, or Chicago, maybe Oakland, but I’ve been to those places and none are as broadly and deeply black as Atlanta was then. The place is unique that way.

It is unique and I have never relived that experience because America is largely a white space. There is talk of the browning of the United States and predictions of a majority minority nation in the years to come, but those predictions forget that to outnumber the white, every other group must be lumped together to squeak out a majority. America may have adjusted some, but it was originally, and is for the most part still, built for people who look like me.

So is everything about race?img_5719

Well, no, unless you are black, then kind-of, yes. It isn’t like every issue or interaction is race-ist, or that race is all that everything is about, but it is always there.

Sometimes I illustrate how this can be true by personifying math. For instance, lets look at the simple formula 2+3+1=6.

The digit “2” is only one of four digits. So maybe we could say it is at most 1/4th of the total digits, or if we wanted to dive inappropriately deep into things, or “try too hard”, we could say the digit 2 is at best 1/6th of the equation. The equation isn’t all about the 2.

Unless you are the 2.

If you are the 2, you cannot escape that you are 2. No matter where you are plugged in, things change. 2 is what you are. I suppose you could try to lessen yourself and become two ones, but you are a digit and not a quantity. If you are part of an equation your 2ness isn’t everything, but it will always be something.

But this is an imperfect metaphor because we are not our race. Race is a social construct and its relevance is something painted onto us by society.

For instance, let’s use the equation 3(5-4)=3

The digit 2 has nothing to do with this equation. If 2 is blackness, or race, then race has nothing to do with 3(5-4)=3.  Now here is how race really works. When race is inserted into an equation it is an exponent. 3^2(5-4)=9. When race is added onto any digit, it changes everything. It isn’t everything, but it always matters.

Still imperfect.img_5699

Maybe race in America is 5+5+5+5+2+5=27. The 5s don’t think 2s are a big deal, they are barely a blip in the equation yet those annoying 2s won’t stop caring about 2s. I mean come on, there is a digit “2” on both sides of the equal sign, that is a lot of representation, 2 needs to chill out and just try harder to be a 5. Perhaps the 2s don’t really need to be angry all the time, but maybe they would be less likely to be upset if the 5s would just realize that 2s are 2s and understand that they factor into the equation differently than 5s.

Can I stop now?

I once knew a guy who was convinced the cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had racist overtones because everything negative had hip hop references (Shredder) and all the good guys were European renaissance artists. He was a little bit too much, but his inserting race into a cartoon was much less of a big deal than double parking. He isn’t the cause of mass incarceration, racial profiling, the achievement gap, and income disparity.

When you look into American history you have to realize that race has always been there. You might think the Constitutional convention wasn’t all about race, sure, but how many of the men who participated would have been able to do so if they didn’t have slaves at home planting crops? How many of those men would have been educated if the schools hadn’t been in large part been funded by the selling of people? In all of those years when the American equation was being built to accommodate the “5s” we need to know that the “2s” were here the whole time. Not off on another land mass, here.

In the end, race does matter. It matters a lot and in America, it always has.

Happy Black History Month

 

 

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.

 

Business Travel

The girl at the table next to me is having a smoke. She has on thick black framed glasses and her hair is shaved close to her head on one side. She is sitting by herself breathing out mustiness and slowly turning the pages of her oversized fashion magazine.

Flowers and potted plants separate our tables from the bejeweled old ladies and jacketed men as they pass on the sidewalk heading into the Fox Theatre. The marquee is all lit up with flashing lights announcing the ballet, a play, or a concert of some sort. I can’t tell which is playing tonight; I don’t care enough to look that close.

I have been sitting here long enough that the sky has gone from blue to black and the tall buildings have gone from bustling to blank. The windows on the higher  floors have stopped reflecting the sunset, turned to electric light, and then turned off. It is not quite nine.

It is warm enough that the men who jog past go shirtless, no matter their physical condition. I’m not sure if I should be impressed with their boldness or appalled by their lack of self awareness. Either way I make a mental note to remind my future self, the one who eventually gets in shape, to keep his shirt on. I’m sure that if he should forget, plenty of people will remind him.

I’m guessing most of the joggers come from hotels, like me. Those strolling, dressed for an evening out come from parking lots. A man carrying groceries in a wheeled cart hints at local city living till he makes a right turn in front of me and heads into the Hotel Indigo. He is not local, just frugal.

I am lonely.

Not the sort of lonely where you hunger for company, the kind of lonely where you miss someone specific. Lonely may be too strong a word, bored is better. There is plenty of entertainment walking in front of me, lots of talkative sales reps and convention goers at the bar inside, but I want that person here with me that I can kick under the table, tip my head toward the guy wearing the moon vest, and she will know what I mean without me saying it. She would laugh. She wouldn’t be laughing at him, she would be laughing at the tv episode from two years ago. That is what I miss.

The girl at the next table has stopped smoking and started talking on her phone. They are at the wrong bar. She will meet them there.

There is now a man three tables down smoking a cigar. He has on a logoed polo shirt and khaki shorts. He is not watching me watch him, he is watching his smartphone. Groups of three or four walk past and at least one of them is always watching their phone.  LED lit faces and palms walking down dark sidewalks ignoring the people right next to them.

I do it all the time. Its like whistling or shaking your leg under the table; you do it without thinking. I add phone stairing to my future self reminder list, then, in a moment of honesty erase it.

If I sit here long enough my mind will wander; to religion, the two papers I have half written on my desktop, and people I know who are having trouble finding jobs or paying the bills. But then I will notice someone wearing a bow tie or realize I’m whistling three lines of the same song over and over. Then I remember the insurance forms I was supposed to fill out. It is too late to do anything about it tonight other than loathe myself and cross my fingers I remember tomorrow.

The cigar man is gone. I can’t remember when my flight leaves tomorrow so I stare into my LED lit palm to look it up. Someone across the street thinks something is funny. I go back upstairs and pack.

Matt Taylor, the Interview

Matt Taylor on the Morehouse campus

I have wondered where or how to start this story for quite some time now. There are so many ways and places but none seem quite right, so I will just go straight forward.

Matt Taylor is about 6’2”, maybe a buck fifty. He is blonde, as is his equally tall and slim wife. He is twenty eight, I did not ask how old his wife is, and the two of them live in Atlanta.

They live in Atlanta because Matt is a sophomore on the Morehouse College basketball team.

If you know of Morehouse this is the place where you do a double take and I answer again, yes, that Morehouse.

Morehouse is a historically Black college, founded in 1867, when little to no educational opportunities were open to African-Americans. Harvard hadn’t graduated any Black students, nor had many other schools for that matter, and with those ivory doors closed a population’s desire for learning and opportunity had to be created elsewhere. That is how schools like Morehouse, Fisk, or Howard began.

It is a story in American lore that in context makes sense, it can be understood, it fits in the times and time-lines.

It doesn’t explain Matt.

Matt grew up in Idaho Falls. If you haven’t been there, the place is whiter than the Winter Olympics. After high school Matt got right to work, he never planned on college. It wasn’t that he didn’t care for learning, he just didn’t see the value in it. What he did see value in was basketball.

We didn’t talk about it then, nor do I know for sure, but I don’t think the NBA was in his sights then or even now, but that’s the great thing about basketball; you don’t have to get paid to play it. So he played some ball. At the same time, even without a degree, Matt was smart enough to know it takes money to pay bills so he also got to work. He did all kinds of things, mostly working for himself. At his core, even more than being a ball player, Matt is an entrepreneur.

These two loves are how Matt found himself living out of a suitcase managing and promoting an “And 1” style exhibition basketball team. It was Hot Sauce, High Octane, Sik Wit It, all those video game style players. He went everywhere with the guys, as far as Hong Kong, learning along the way. He picked up a little business sense, some basketball skills, and something else he could have never planned on; perspective. He got to know the guys. At times he found himself couching it at their homes, doing what they did, eating what they ate. They also got to know him.

But you can’t live on someone’s couch, or in a Motel 8 forever, and Matt decided to sit still for a while. He hadn’t lived anywhere more than three months since high school (having also traveled to Argentina as a Mormon missionary), and finally unpacked his bags in Provo Utah. That’s where he met his wife.

Nice story right? So what?

Benjamin E. Mays on the Morehouse campus.

In another part of the country, on another basketball court, is a coach who is wishing his college hoops squad had a little more “maturity”. He finds out about a 27 year old kid who has a lived on his own for years without getting in trouble, can ball, and hadn’t used up any eligibility. Who cares if he is white?

The school didn’t care and even more importantly, Matt didn’t care either. He and the Mrs. headed off to Morehouse.

He’s been there a little over a year now, I found myself in the area, so I took the opportunity meet up with him. We arranged a time and when I asked where on campus to look for him he said, “just ask anybody where the white boy is and they will tell you.” He was only partly joking.

It was obvious right from the start that he loves it there at school, and that he loves to talk. He really, really loves to talk. In fact he talks enough that though I have never sat in a class with him, I am willing to bet that after two sessions White is no longer his defining feature, but rather it is his mouth. Now I share this same condition, both conditions now that I think of it, and I have learned through sad experience that a willingness to speak is dangerous if your mouth isn’t backed up by a brain. He is fine, I am often in trouble. Back to him loving school.

He is not the only White guy on campus, there are seven, but he is the only Mormon. He is probably also the only married sophomore. I was possibly projecting a little but I would think that this would make for a lonely existence, or at least an isolating one, but he never expressed that, he is part of the team. “You don’t make it four years on this campus if your being here has anything to do with your being White… you either make it here and are a brother of Morehouse or you are not, bottom line. We are a family here on campus.” I believe he believes that. As I walked, sat, and talked with him I was listening to a guy who questions everything, has an opinion on most things, and has no fear at all in speaking his mind. He is also a guy who has no question as to whether he belongs at this school. Better yet, and possibly more surprising, is that he not only believes he belongs, but he has also felt welcome. He says his classmates make him feel that he belongs.

I think that is what would surprise most people. It isn’t just that there is a White boy playing ball at a school historically and traditionally meant for Black men, but that the school and Black males at that school welcome the White boy. There is more to the story, and more to the moral of the story than I will get to here, I’m sure Matt will write a book. When he does I will read it and I hope others will read it as well. He is learning things most people don’t ever learn in school but should. He is crossing lines most Americans do not, and so far its working out well.

The Car on Christmas

The steering wheel tightened up without warning. The dashboard lit up like a tree as I pulled into a parking space at the Chevron. My wife asked , “What’s wrong?” I don’t remember answering, just hitting the button that pops the hood, taking off my jacket and tie, and stepping out into the rain. She went back to reading her magazine and passing dropped crayons to the kids.

Under the hood things looked and sounded normal. I looked around for leaks, smoke, anything, then I saw the auxiliary belt was slack and stationary. I looked closer and saw a plastic round something just sitting there, underneath everything, on top of the wheel well. I hollered for the Mrs. to shut the engine off as I rolled up my sleeve and plunged my arm into the greasy mess.

As I was blindly fishing for that plastic round thing, a very black man wearing two coats, one beanie, and no teeth asked what was wrong with the car. I answered I was a bit unsure but think the broken part was just under here, barely out of reach. He waved me aside and tried his double coated arm. He couldn’t reach either. He told me he lived across the street and thought he had a hangar over there. I watched as he trotted off toward an abandoned tire shop and vacant lot.

“Mind if I try?” an Indian man asked as he flicked a cigarette butt onto the sidewalk. He had a long handled grabber thing, the kind with a claw, a trigger, and no name that I know of. He took his turn reaching for the plastic thing. As I stood back feeling lame, watching another make attempts where I had failed, I tried to at least be cordial. “What a way to spend Christmas right?” “Got it!” he responded as he held up a black plastic doughnut shaped something. I inspected the burnt piece of engine and saw the two coated man approaching. He saw the part in my hand and tossed the hangar over his shoulder onto the ground. “Let us be looking to see if the part store is open.” the victor said waving me toward his Lexus. I waived to the wife as she locked the doors and the kids kept coloring.

I felt less sympathy for this Samaritan, who I now guessed owned the Chevron, as I pulled shut the car door and looked at a multi-armed Goddess mounted on the dash. I wondered to myself if you would pay yourself time and a half for working on Christmas, if you didn’t celebrate Christmas. I didn’t think the part store would be open, it wasn’t, but he said he didn’t care if we left the car overnight. I called my nephew, the one who just graduated college last week, and he picked us up in his brand new Dodge Charger. Its so new it doesn’t have plates yet.

The day after Christmas the rain had stopped and a mechanic met me at the car. I borrowed an in-law’s car, thinking this could take a while. I planned to drive the forty five minutes back up and make plans to reclaim my hopefully repaired car while the mechanic was working, to ya-know, waste my time but not everyone else’s back at the house. The mechanic didn’t say much at all and just dove into the engine. He made a silent trip back to his truck, came back with a wrench, and went back in. I awkwardly interrupted to ask, how long and how much. He kind of squinted at me, scratched his cheek, and said, “Bout thirty minutes and forty bucks.” Surprised at the time and happy with the price I stepped back and watched.

As I stood back, another Indian man came out of the gas station and stood next to me. He asked if it was getting fixed, I said it was, then he spit his tobacco on the curb and said, “Now there will be the issue of paying.” I had contemplated tipping the generous man who helped me yesterday, but I began reconsidering as I looked at this guy with horrible teeth, a visible hairy chest, who was wagging his head back and forth like a bobble head. “Pardon?” I asked playing dumb. “How much do you suppose it would cost if I had called a tow truck?” he asked with half closed, glossy eyes. “I’m not sure. Why don’t you just tell me how much you are asking for,” I answered.

“It would have been very expensive. They charge to pick up, then to get it back. I am saying only fifty dollars.”

I was not pleased. I tried to show it on my face.

“So what do you think of that? He stated more than asked.

“I think it incredibly un-generous and think this would have been a great conversation to have had yesterday. I understand you did me a favor but to ask that much for something that cost you nothing… I just don’t know.”

He looked at me with his glassy eyes and said, “No! There is no negotiating here, there is no haggling. I have said fifty and so it will be fifty. So, eh!? What you think? Eh!?”

I stood staring deeply at his wood grained brown stained teeth, knowing there was a twenty in my pocket, but not knowing entirely how to keep it and still feel good about myself. What do I say here?

I never had to decide as he started laughing, hit me on the arm and told me he was joking. I told him it was surely funnier for him than for me and he just looked at me doing that head wobble thing.

I thanked the mechanic, called my wife to come so we could drive the car back, then I sat in the car to wait.

Usually I see the view from inside the car like a movie; I sit while scenes play across the windshield. Occasionally I even have snacks. This time, in this lot, it was more like a fishbowl, and I was the fish.

I could not figure out why people, scruffy people, were just milling about around the car. I contemplated taking a picture but decided not too. I realized these folks were standing around outside the car because I was almost right in front of a liquor store. I did not know if they had homes or what hard lives they were living, and to take their photo from my warm and cozy car, waiting to go home and have a well cooked meal, seamed more than patronizing and I was ashamed for having considered it. That is till the buzzards circling the vehicle began to get overly nosy. To lean against the car while I was in it is one thing, but to stand and stare at me, face to face, and then just continue to stare? I raised my iphone and “click”.

They were unfazed.

I was a bit fazed. Not to by the the folks waiting for the Package Store to open, but by the lady walking the block. I have seen enough women walk the block to know what that looks like, but till this day I had never seen a chunky “lady” walk the block while eating a bag of Funions. I realized then more than ever, that that is an industry I truly do not understand. Attractiveness is surely not a component.

She was still walking when my wife arrived.

As we were driving off toward the highway I looked over, behind the abandoned tire shop. There, in a field was two coated guy with a few others standing around a flaming trash can. My wife called me from the other car, “Hey did you see that? He really does live over there.”