Today we are going to be learning about Edmonia Lewis – the first professional African American sculptor. If you saw the Google Doodle on February 1st you would have seen Edmonia Lewis.
Lewis was born to a free African American father and a Chippewa Indian mother. She attended Oberlin College in Ohio, but was kicked out after being accused of poisoning several of her white female schoolmasters. (All of the claims were unsubstantiated.)
Soon after she moved to Boston and did busts of white abolitionists. In 1865 she traveled to Europe where she settled down in Rome. Rome was a good place for Lewis because she had access to incredible marble. She became famous for her neo-classical style of sculpture.
My personal favorite sculpture is The Old Arrow Maker which lives at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Today we will be learning about Julien Hudson. Hudson was a freeman of mixed race from New Orleans. He was active as an artist from 1830-1840 and was an incredible portrait painter.
One of his most important works was his painting Battle of New Orleans which documented the contribution made to the War of 1812 by the famous corps of free Black soldiers who were commanded by Colonel Michel Jean Fortier, Jr., who was white. Now, I scoured the internet for this painting and I can’t find it anywhere, so I apologize that we can’t see it.
However, Hudson also painted the only known self-portrait of an African American artist in the antebellum period in 1839.
For more information on Hudson you can look below:
Although this has been a bleak start to the year for some of us we are still going to celebrate the greatness in Black History!
This year I am going to focus on Black art – painters, sculptors, cartoonists, and artists. I was inspired to focus on this because since I have moved home I met a man who is a curator of Black art. My hope is to be able to interview him for this blog so you can know a bit about his life too.
Today we will start with Horace Pippin. Horace Pippin was a self-taught artist that was born on February 22, 1888 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He started creating art as a child and won accolades for his craft, but didn’t start getting serious about it until after World War I.
He went on to produce dozens of paintings over the course of his career. He was most famous for his depictions of trench-warfare, African-American life, biblical imagery, and his highly publicized paintings of the abolitionist John Brown and President Abraham Lincoln.
This past weekend was “Independence Day”. It was my first 4th of July back in the United States and I just didn’t want to celebrate. I love the United States and I am so proud of the fact that I am a United States citizen. I am even more proud of the fact that I am an Iowan. For those of you that know me well, and especially those I met while living abroad, you know that I cannot shut up about Iowa on any given day. It courses through my veins and the Iowa niceness literally cannot be stopped at times. However, being proud does not stop me from telling the home I love that we are wrong. Tough love as it were. We are wrong for allowing our country to continue to put people in the ground because we have concocted this view that they are scary or delinquent or violent. Black people are not what our school history books have told us they are.
I was encouraged to watch the documentary “Slavery By Another Name” this past week. I took Saturday to do so and have had a slow boil of anger bubbling up ever since. This documentary provides us with information regarding the time between the abolition of slavery and World War II. It tells of the convict leasing system that allowed private industry to hire convicts for pennies and continue to keep Black people under a system that led to more Black death and more Black folks locked up for ‘crime’. It allowed me to understand the beginnings of our prison industrial complex and why we can’t seem to change the way we view Black people in this country.
A week after watching Jesse Williams proclaim to us all why Black lives really do matter I was again defeated by the damning evidence presented in this documentary. I was feeling gutted and very unpatriotic going into Monday. I spent my time with my family on Sunday and Monday – got to enjoy the innocence of my nieces being silly – and then it was back to the grind on Tuesday. A grind that I have been happy to be on since starting my new job in May.
Then on Wednesday the name Alton Sterling started floating around the Facebook and Twitter worlds. I can’t bring myself to watch another video of a Black man or woman being brutally taken away from this world. I can’t do it. As Luvvie Ajayi says – it’s a snuff film – and I for one won’t be partaking in it anymore. She also spent a lot of time discussing how we protect white life and animal life – those videos get taken off of social media quick so we don’t have to see it – but Black life? Nah, it gets paraded around with no regard for LIFE – played automatically like it is for sport. I did, however, listen to a fifteen year old weep for the loss of his father and that is something I will never forget.
Then I wake up today – Thursday – one day after learning about Alton Sterling to learn the name Philando Castile. This is a man who was shot in his car after being stopped for a taillight being broken. Again, I will not be partaking in this video watching. I will not be complicit in this awful reality we live in.
What I will do is continue to provide people with information and continue to talk to others about realities that they may not believe exist. I will continue becoming involved with my local NAACP chapter and try to bring more white people together to discuss these things and find outlets for being a true ally. I will do so because it is right and I am tired of going to sleep every night worrying that the next hashtag will hit directly home. I did not return to the United States to stand idly by. You shouldn’t either.
Since this past Sunday I have entered multiple public restrooms. The key difference between this week and every other week before this one is that I never really had to think about what I would do if I had to hide from an active shooter in a public restroom. Not until an active shooter entered a night club in Orlando to create terror and tragedy.
I have similar feelings when I enter movie theaters where I’m supposed to be whisked away into another world. I still think about the man who entered a Colorado movie theater and terrorized moviegoers seeking to enjoy the world of Batman.
Every time I have entered a house of worship in the last year has made me very cognizant of the nine souls that were lost in a Charleston church.
As a junior high school student I experienced lock down when an active shooter entered the building. Luckily, no one at my school was injured, but the same cannot be said for an elementary school in Connecticut or a high school in Colorado.
After living in Japan for 4 years, where nearly no one has guns (including law enforcement), I came to feel that the need for guns is unnecessary. I understand and respect the 2nd amendment, but I feel that we at least need discussion.
Then something amazing happened.
I was scrolling through Facebook and saw Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey post something about clearing his schedule for the day. And since Cory Booker is forever saying things that matter I decided to see what was happening.
Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut, along with 40 other senators, decided to take the floor during an appropriations bill to spend 14 hours discussing guns and the law.
It was nothing short of heroic and full of amazing questions, answers, and discussion.
One of my favorite moments came from Senator Kaine from Virginia when he said: “In this body we don’t have to be heroes. We just don’t have to be bystanders.”
And bystanders they were not, for by the end of the filibuster there had been an agreement from the GOP to allow gun control votes.
Let us remember the day that our Senators worked for us and continue to push them to work for us more. Call your Senators today and continue to call them so they know where their constituents stand on each issue. Our very lives depend on it.
Utter heartbreak came to mind when I woke up this morning. Another deadly shooting happened overnight and it made my heart hurt. As my morning went on I continued to receive my CNN updates that this shooting had claimed the lives of 50 individuals and injured 53 more. I hear the confirmation that this is the deadliest mass shooting in US history. I also learned that it occurred at a gay club during Pride. I then hear that the individual responsible for this massacre has claimed ties to ISIS.
All of these things make one’s head spin. And the Islamophobia that is sure to follow makes me fearful. The beginnings of a terrorist attack start to take shape in the media and the minimizing of a hate crime become apparent.
What happened in the wee hours of Sunday June 12, 2016 in Orlando are unspeakable, but yet we are all speaking about it. We don’t know all the information, but we know that something horrific happened out of hate. President Obama made it clear to us by stating “Although it’s still early in the investigation, we know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate.” We cannot forget the fact that this massacre sprung from hate.
One of my favorite writers, Gyasi Ross, has asked “Please don’t speculate, theorize or politicize the latest mass shooting in Orlando” and I believe that he is right. We need to give families some space to process even though processing will take a lot more time than we know.
We will, however, need to talk about what we as a nation will want to do about guns and our President said it best by stating “Today marks the most deadly shooting in American history. The shooter was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle. This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.” I, for one, believe that we will not actively do nothing. I believe we will rise up and figure this all out together, for the betterment of all of us and for the betterment of our nation’s future.
What we should not do today is request our Muslim brothers and sisters to condemn a perceived act of terrorism. We should also not forget to love each other and support one another during yet another horrible act of violence. We should also be reminded that hate crimes are very real and continue to threaten the lives of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
W. Kamau Bell is a man who has been on my radar for ages (or so it seems). I’m trying to recall whether I saw his stand-up first or Totally Biased on FXX. Either way, it doesn’t matter – cuz he’s back on TV! His new show is called “United Shades of America” and man, is he amazing or what? I’ve been following W. Kamau Bell through his blog since Totally Biased was cancelled and am always appreciative with how he can make me laugh even when terrible things are happening around him or to him. One of the best/worst posts was when he was accosted at a cafe he and his wife frequent regularly. United Shades of America was a bit different for me. I was uncomfortable and sad most of the time while watching. Of course I can’t help but laugh at the wit that comes from Kamau, but the pilot for this episode was SO impactful.
Kamau tasked himself with learning about the new Ku Klux Klan and there were times in the episode where I’m biting my nails down to the quick because I have NO idea how he’s going to get away from this situation. As we go through the episode we learn so much about the thinking and ways of people raised around the Klan. The beauty of this episode? Kamau provides each person with a platform to be in their truth. And even though I felt that each perspective was so far from reality I was given an opportunity to really hear each individual. Kamau gives a bit of his perspective and you know he doesn’t agree, but he really listens. And this is the key. By allowing each person to speak we all get an opportunity to reach understanding of the other’s perspective. This is where we start. By getting to a place of understanding, we can grow.
I loved everything about this episode even though I was uncomfortable throughout. Kamau ends the pilot by explaining that he may be the only black man in history that has been asked to witness a cross burning (or cross lighting) and walk away from it. At this point, I promptly began crying. Kudos to CNN for putting such an amazing man on your network and for allowing him a platform to do amazing stuff. I can’t wait to see where he goes next.
Starbucks, the coffeehouse company that can be found on a corner in most big cities around the world, has released it’s latest initiative and they partnered with USA Today to do so. The initiative is called Race Together and from what I see it is creating an opportunity and space for us to have conversations about race. A space for us to discuss what race means to us and to hear what it means to others.
The most legitimate critic I have seen thus far is one of my favorite organizations called Race Forward. They are an incredible organization that also publishes one of my favorite magazines, Colorlines. The director of Race Forward, Rinku Sen, penned an open letter to both Starbucks and USA Today to partner with them in a different way.
While I am here for Rinku Sen and Race Forward every day of the week and every day of the year I find that I am still happy with what Starbucks and USA Today are doing. I understand when Rinku Sen says:
“But just any old conversation won’t do. A conversation that leads to something other than frustration requires preparation, a systems analysis, and potential solutions that reach beyond changing individual mindsets or behavior. We have to address the rules that govern our institutions and shape our lives — many of which appear to be race-neutral in their intention, but are far from neutral in their impact.”
The thing is, I completely agree with her. However, what about the folks that don’t have these tools yet, but they want to get involved somehow? If we want to get people involved that don’t study and follow these things regularly then Howard Schultz and Larry Kramer have created a place to start. This excerpt from their letter shows me that they are not trying to create any systemic change, but they are trying to at least give us all a space to listen to each other and to understand.
“For all our country’s progress, barriers to social justice and economic equality exist in far too many corners. RACE TOGETHER is not a solution, but it is an opportunity to begin to re-examine how we can create a more empathetic and inclusive society — one conversation at a time.”
However, I also hear this:
Starbucks staff in my neighborhood have already spent years doing Nobel-level work on being patient with white people. #racetogether
I am not naive enough to believe that this will end things. I can give you a full list of systemic issues that I believe need to be addressed and discussed everyday. It makes it hard for me to breathe with how much systemic change I feel we need, but I also see the value in letting people open up and talk about stuff.
This initiative also hasn’t popped up out of the blue either. Howard Schultz held forums internally across the country to discuss how people were feeling about the movement that was happening, what their everyday experiences have been, and what they feel needs to change. He essentially let people speak and be heard. And I believe firmly that all people just want to feel validated and heard. So, if people are willing, why wouldn’t we give this a shot? Maybe this initiative will create more social justice advocates or at the very least create some understanding.
For those of you that know me well, I don’t tend to agree with Fox News often, but a piece penned by Juan Williams is also speaking to me when he says:
“No one knows when they might hear an eye-opening insight; hear a compelling thought or an inspiring story. But the cynical pose closes the door to those moments.”
We can make the jokes and create our witty tweets, but afterwards let’s sit down and chat. Almost everything I have learned in my life has came from me listening to someone else and what they think.
Here is one of my personal favorites that has came up over the last few days:
Barista: Your total is $5.45
Me: You can just put that on my reparations tab. Thanks. #raceTogether
“But just as I don’t want the government to facilitate discussions whether I like it or not, the same applies to this idea that Starbucks employees should be forcing their customers to do the same when all they wanted was a cup of coffee and a break from the routine of their day.”
I just don’t see anywhere in the initiative’s information so far that requires anyone to take part. It is only encouraging baristas to write the hashtag on the cup, not requiring. It is then the patron’s choice as to whether or not they engage. Part of this entire movement is making people comfortable with being uncomfortable. And I am here for that all day.
And as long as your conversation doesn’t go like this you should be fine.
What do you think? Let’s dialogue.
Find more resources regarding #RaceTogether here and more about Race Forward here.