Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am and True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality are two documentaries currently on screens across the country, and you won’t want to miss either one. These films place the spotlight on two critically important African-American thinkers.
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, in theaters, is an introduction or reintroduction to the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. True Justice, free on HBO through much of July, familiarizes the audience with attorney Bryan Stevenson and his groundbreaking work as founder of the the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), Legacy Museum, and National Memorial for Peace and Justice, all in Montgomery AL.
Both films provide wonderful historical context reaching all the way back to antebellum times. Neither subject is “sanitized” for the audience. For the most part Stevenson tells his own story, and a wonderful storyteller he is. As you would suspect, Morrison is a wonderful narrator of her story as well, although we don’t hear her voice as much in The Pieces I Am as we get to hear Stevenson’s in True Justice.
Run, don’t walk to your nearest art house to see Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am. There’s no telling how long it will be in theaters. And if you’re not an HBO subscriber, see True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality before the free period expires.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a documentary person, see these two. They are riveting, powerful, and simply not to be missed especially if you value African-American history and culture.
I’ve decided I’m not using the term “person/people of color” (PoC) to refer to African-Americans/blacks anymore. People of color refers to everyone who is not white. That means people of color refers to Hispanics, Arabs, Asians, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, West Indians, Africans, Native Americans and . . . African-Americans or blacks.
The issue that Trump, Jr. tried to address regarding Kamala Harris wasn’t that she isn’t a PoC; he retweeted that she isn’t black; but she is. Her father is a black Jamaican and her mother was an Asian Indian. Harris was born in the United States, so she’s a Jamaican-Asian-Indian-American, and by the standards we use today, she is black. How dare Trump, Jr. try to define Harris’s heritage for her. I believe every person should be allowed to define her or his own ethnicity. Kamala Harris claims blackness, so she’s black. Period.
Let’s face it, there are times when blacks/African-Americans are who we want/need to reference, not the whole landscape of “people of color.” So, no more PoC when what I mean is black or African-American.
The good news is that M— and I still are friends. Maybe better friends than before because we cared enough about each other to discuss the problem and talk it out. In person.
Here’s what happened. I wanted to forewarn M— that Metamorphosis was going to be published on my blog, so I emailed her that I was writing a piece that was sensitive in nature and involved her. I asked if she would read it and give me feedback. M— said she would, so I emailed Metamorphosis to her after Thanksgiving, and scheduled it to post on 18 December. I was sure I would hear from her before that so if I wanted to edit the essay, I’d have time before it posted.
I didn’t hear from M— before I left for Michigan in December, and I totally forgot about the automatic posting until I was sitting in the airport on 18 December and saw that Metamorphosis had posted. I was disappointed that M – hadn’t responded, but since she hadn’t, I was perfectly okay with my essay posting. I saw it as just one more indication that our friendship was in trouble.
“The good news is that M— and I still are friends.”
Here’s what I didn’t know: M— never received the copy of Metamorphosis I sent her, so, of course, she couldn’t respond. While I was forming opinions about why she hadn’t responded, M— was wondering why I hadn’t sent her the blog post. But, I didn’t check to see that she’d received the essay, and she didn’t check to see why she hadn’t. I don’t think Mercury was retrograde, but our communication was garbled nonetheless.
When I arrived in Michigan and called M—, the first thing she said was, “I read your blog. Was that supposed to be me? Were you talking about me?” It was clear she was upset.
I went to her house so we could talk without interruption. M—explained that she perceived Anne-Maré’s difficulty at the funeral as bereavement over her friend and mentor’s death rather than as physical distress. And M—was dealing with some family issues of her own at the time, something that did not cross my mind. Even so, the bottom line was that she did not feel close enough to either of us to intervene. Not calling or contacting Anne-Maré, I understood, and though l was hurt that M— didn’t feel comfortable enough in our relationship to make contact, I had to accept it.
I am sorry that I responded so viscerally and so quickly, but I’m protective of my sisters. That “everyone was talking about” Anne-Maré’s “agony” and difficulty standing was upsetting and is something I wish someone had alerted me to. But that’s water under the bridge. Obviously Anne-Maré didn’t tell Patricia (our other sister) and me that she was struggling to stand and walk. That’s our family’s problem, not M—’s, and now, I own it.
In over sixty years of the ebb and flow of friendship, this is the only time feathers were ruffled, and anger flared. We are not as close as we once were, but I aim to try to remedy that by being in better, more frequent contact. M—stopped me in my tracks when she told me I hadn’t considered her point of view – only my own, and that I was pretty quick to declare the friendship over. She was right, and I am chastened.
Because of our willingness to confront each other, M—and I have weathered this crisis in our relationship; and I am happy to say that the metamorphosis continues in the chrysalis of our friendship.
There is a little gem hidden in plain sight in Dallas’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center, Building A. That is where Emma Rodgers, formerly of Black Images Books, has established the Dallas Civil Rights Museum.
It is well worth your time and the $5 entry fee to visit “sunny South Dallas” and go through the museum. Visits are by appointment only. Call 214-670-8418 to schedule a walk-through. A docent will guide you, focusing on four civil rights milestones: the Underground Railroad, the Trail of Tears, Black Wall Street (Tulsa OK), and the modern Civil Rights Movement.
Sometimes you know exactly when a friendship died. Twenty-five years ago, one of my friendships died an agonizing death. It was the most difficult loss I had suffered since the loss of my marriage and a subsequent long-term romantic relationship. I shed as many tears over the loss of my friendship with G— as I ever did over those men in my life. I grieved.
I had thought we were the best of friends. I was the only attendant in her wedding. We told each other everything. I signed, along with the family, messages of love and good fortune on the frame of the house she and her new husband built. I flew a number of times with her and her family to their vacation home in Mexico. She is one of the first people I told that I had been raped. (And it was years before I told anyone else, because that is when I felt the friendship began to die.)
After the birth of her second child, the first with the new husband, she became more and more distant. She wasn’t returning my calls timely and, when we did talk or visit, it just wasn’t the same. One day she told me she didn’t remember being my friend. I was stunned. It was a punch in the gut, but I couldn’t quite believe it. How could she not remember? How do you even say such a thing to someone to whom you know you’ve been close?
Later as I tried to understand what had happened to our friendship, I thought maybe G— had suffered some sort of psychic break along with post-partum depression after the birth of her son. It took me a long time – a couple of years, actually, to get over the loss of our friendship. Still, I’m writing about it now. Does that mean I’m still grieving, still not over the hurt?
* * *
“Well,” she said. “. . . We don’t . . . talk . . . ”
Not long ago, another friendship changed status. This is someone I’ve known nearly my whole life. We live in different states now, and we don’t talk often, but I thought we still were friends. We know each other’s families, and when we get together, we just pick up where we left off. We grew up together, went to elementary, junior high, and college together, so we know many of the same people and we’ve shared many experiences over the years.
Recently while visiting my sister, Anne-Maré, in our hometown, she suffered a major mobility crisis which landed her in the hospital, and I ended up staying in town for a month to advocate for her. I had known that she had a mobility issue, but I had no idea of how bad it had gotten since I’d seen her in late May/early June until I arrived in Detroit in September.
One day after I visited Anne-Maré in the hospital, I dropped by to visit with my good friend M—. As we chatted about this and that, of course, she asked how my sister was doing. I gave M— a progress report, and her unexpected response was something to the effect that she wasn’t surprised that things had come to such a pass, because when she had seen Anne-Maré back in July at another friend’s funeral during which my sister was invited to make remarks to the congregation. “She could hardly stand, and she looked like she was in agony. She was in bad shape, and afterward, everyone was talking about it—” M— stopped herself in mid-sentence, and we looked at each other in stricken silence.
M— had known Anne-Maré was in trouble, but she hadn’t bothered to pick up the phone or send a text to say so. I was stricken for the same reason M— was. The more I thought about it, I realized that I was not only shocked; I was angry. M— should have gotten in touch.
“Well,” she said. “You know . . . we don’t . . . talk . . . .” And that’s when I realized that somewhere along the way, the status of our relationship had changed for M— though it hadn’t changed for me. She knew, and she knew that I knew: she should have done something. Texted, called, sent an email, a letter, or postcard. She knew both Anne-Maré and me well enough to call no matter how long it had been since we had talked. We weren’t just friends; M— was my first friend who wasn’t a relative; she was, for many years in our youth, my best friend; we have known each other over 65 years. . .
And, sure, there were other people who could have given a shout out, but she was my best friend in the city, and I expected better, I expected to be treated like a friend. And, so did M— when she thought about it; when she heard herself say, “Everyone was talking about it!” referring to Anne-Maré’s plight at that funeral.
* * *
In October and November when I was home again for nearly a month, M— couldn’t even find time to see me. I don’t know what that was about. It hurt, but I got it. That, along with everything else, confirmed for me that M— doesn’t see me as a friend anymore. I don’t know what I am, an acquaintance, I guess. I have no idea how long it will take me to get over this loss, but I guess, no – I’m sure I will. And whatever happens, M—always will have been my first “best friend.”
I am sad right now, because it is always sad when friendship dies, especially if you don’t know why, as mine with G— did. It is sadder still when the shape of a lifelong friendship changes, and you know exactly when and where and why.
One of the my childhood memories is of traveling by car with my family and stopping by the side of the road to use the toilet training chair potty, even though I was a “big girl” and fully toilet-trained. Little did my sisters and I realize that the reason we traveled with the potty (which even my mother had to use occasionally) under the front seat was because we sometimes could not find a gas station that would allow us to use its toilets. And that was in the 1950s and ’60s.
* * *
Eighty or ninety years ago, African-American motorists had to be fearless to take to the road in their own corner of the world, let alone to drive to another part of the country. Gas stations often would not allow Negroes to use their toilets, and the few motels along the way might not accept African-American travelers. This was a problem nationwide, not just in the South.
The Negro Motorist Green Book debuted in 1936. If you think driving while black is dangerous now, imagine what it was like over 80 years ago. Victor Hugo Green began publishing the Green-Book because he saw an urgent need, and he filled it by publishing what came to be known simply as the Green Book.
The Green-Book‘s creator was a New Jersey postal worker who resided in Harlem, New York. The earliest copy I found of the book — 1937 — sold for 25 cents, but by 1949, it was up to 75 cents. It was last published in 1966, six years after Green’s death.
That’s four years before the events in this fall’s feature film “Green Book” take place. I never had heard of The Negro Motorist Green-Book until the movie trailers began running on television and at the movies. Subsequently, while chatting with a friend
about the movie and its title, we both decided to Google Green Book. A world was opened up to us. I never saw my parents use the Green Book, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they had one or at least knew of it. After all, we once lived in Mound Bayou, Mississippi and traveled between that little all-black town, and Nashville, Tennessee; Detroit, Michigan; and Augusta, Georgia where my uncle was in college.
In “Green Book,” the movie, the Green Book makes only two cameo appearances, and it is not well represented. The purpose of the actual Green Book was to identify nice, decent places — hotels, boarding houses, rooms to rent, gas stations, eateries, and other establishments — where Negroes were welcome. Of course, the film’s writers, one of whom is Nick Vallelonga, son of the white protagonist of the movie, had no real-world experience or (apparently) consultants to help them imagine what places listed in the Green Book might have been like. As a result, the two “hotels” the movie’s black protagonist, Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) stays in are way below my bar even for a place to change clothes. They seem both rundown and dangerous. The Orange Bird, the Birmingham restaurant and bar at which the two protagonists dine after Don Shirley refuses to perform where he can’t eat, comes off a bit better; though Shirley and his chauffeur Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) barely avoid being mugged outside the establishment.
Still, I liked this movie and will probably see it again. Despite its deficits, “Green Book” held my attention because of its good casting, acting, and music; interesting characters; and historical references to the realities of the American South some of which persist throughout the country even today.
Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen both are world-class actors who inhabit their characters and make them believable. Ali’s haughty, affected Dr. Donald Shirley ensconced upon a throne in a beautiful flowing robe as he interviews chauffeur candidates, creates an air of superiority and determination to impress we come to believe Shirley, a first-generation Jamaican-American, possessed. A genius piano virtuoso who was counseled to eschew the classical stage because of his race, Shirley instead defied both classical and jazz tradition to create the Don Shirley Trio. Composed of cello, bass and piano, a previously unheard of combination of instruments, Shirley and his compatriots wowed both the classical and jazz music worlds both here and abroad. Ali conveys his character’s genius, skill, charm, alienation, hauteur, naïveté, and general loneliness perfectly. Although some have complained that Shirley’s character is not well developed, my research revealed Shirley as a complex, closeted, isolated though charming person whom Ali portrays well, giving us glimpses of the charming, erudite yet isolated man who lived a lonely life attended to by an Indian manservant in a sumptuously appointed apartment above Carnegie Hall.
Viggo Mortensen seems to have gained 25 or more pounds for this role. With his beefy physical presence, Mortensen plays uncouth Italian-American Copacabana bouncer Tony “Lip” Vallelonga. Mortensen’s Tony Lip is especially déclassé compared to Ali’s refined Shirley, and it is the character of Tony that grows and changes the most in this on-the-road buddy movie. Despite their differences, Vallelonga and Shirley learn to value and trust each other, and Tony Lip’s racist attitudes diminish as he spends time with and learns volumes from and about Shirley.
The movie is made more enjoyable by the period music some of which is in the mode of the renowned Don Shirley Trio. Although Mahershala Ali “plays” the piano, it is Kris Bowers, the film’s composer who composed the score, transcribed and played all of Don Shirley’s original 1960s compositions. He also taught Ali how to look as if he knew his way around a keyboard. Even my musician friend was impressed that Ali seemed to be playing the music.
“Green Book,” the film, isn’t actually about Victor Green’s Negro Motorist Green-Book, but it references and introduces the audience to it which is a good thing. The movie led me to learn of the Green Book‘s existence and reintroduced me to Don Shirley and his music which I had heard on my father’s stereo when I was a girl.
I suggest that you see “Green Book,” the movie if you haven’t already. Regardless of your race, and your attitudes, I am confident you will enjoy it.
Carlis the head barber at my barber shop on Al Lipscomb Way in Dallas, Texas. His is the first chair on the right as you enter. There’s almost always at least one person waiting for Carl, sometimes two or three are ahead of me. He is so good that people will wait two, three and more hours for one of his cuts. Carl has cut my hair for over 30 years, and there’s only one problem: He is not a fast cutter.
I get a scissor cut which takes much more time than a clipper cut. Even when I’ve arrived as early as 7:00 a.m — Carl arrives at 8 — someone else usually has beat me there. So, I finally have developed a strategy for waiting the least amount of time before my turn in Carl’s chair. On the appointed day, I arrive between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m. Someone is usually already in the chair, but sometimes there’s no one else ahead of me. Every once in a while, I’m his first customer of the day, without getting up at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning. That’s pure gold because Carl is fresh and ready to cut hair!
Why have I gone to such great lengths to avoid the waiting? Well, ladies, it’s not like the beauty shop or the “salon.” The barber shop is first-come, first-served. I hardly ever get there first, though goddess knows I try. I think Carl ought to take appointments, but it’s the barber shop, so he doesn’t. I always just hope the guy/s before me aren’t getting a shave and a haircut. Those take forever!
I used to wonder why Carl’s cuts take so long, and finally, after sitting around his barber shop for thirty-plus years waiting my turn, I’ve figured it out. Carl is a nurturer, a caretaker. He takes his own sweet time with each and every customer who sits in his chair. He wants us to feel good as well as look good. When you’re in Carl’s chair, you’re his only client. You may get a neck rub. If you get a shave, you will get multiple hot towels and a facial massage. Carl tweezes ingrown hairs, pops pimples, and trims unruly eyebrows and wiry, wayward ear and nose hairs. All this takes time, the one thing I didn’t think I had.
I used to be extremely impatient (now, I’m just impatient). I wanted all Carl’s attention lavished on me when it was my turn, but not on the guys before me. I wanted him to work on them fast so he could get to me. But that’s not Carl. He’s an equal opportunity nurturer.
I’m ashamed to say that I once boycotted Carl for about two years. That was before I retired. I was just sick of all the waiting. I was mad at Carl for “wasting” so much of my time. So after trying the barbers of two or three friends without success, I ended up at a Supercuts.
SuperCuts is fast, but it’s formulaic, dull, and boring. The cutters never remember how they cut my hair the last time. Even the one time I was assigned an African-American “stylist,” I didn’t get a good cut. As a matter of fact, I never got a really good haircut at Supercuts; and no matter how many times I went, they never remembered my name.
On top of it all, there was no worthwhile conversation at SuperCuts. So, I couldn’t find any better place to get my hair cut than where I began: waiting for Carl. It’s all good though, because Carl knows and remembers my name, and he’s happy to see me when I show up.
And at Carl’s shop, there’s either good music playing or a lively, provocative, or funny conversation and banter, or all of the above. But that’s another post for another day. . . .
Colin Kaepernick, former San Francisco 49er’s quarterback, initiator of the National Football League players kneeling during the national anthem, that Colin Kaepernick didn’t vote in the 2016 presidential election. Nobody said he couldn’t. His vote wasn’t suppressed by a racist institutional system. Claiming it would have been “hypocritical” for him to vote, he chose not to.
It doesn’t make sense to me. People died so we African-Americans could participate in the political process. Kaepernick claimed to want to initiate change, but that is hard to do if you won’t participate in the process. It is not hypocritical to vote, but it seems so to refrain from it. I know you can see why I’m now conflicted about my one-time hero.
Did he vote in the 2018 midterms when so much was at stake? I sure hope so. Voting is where the rubber meets the road, where we get to make a difference in our political system, where we get to promote the change for which Kaepernick claimed he was protesting.
Colin Kaepernick, if you didn’t vote 6 November 2018 I don’t want to know. Remember: I’m the one who said you aren’t a “dumb jock.” Please don’t make me eat my words .
At long last, the midterms are over. I both looked forward to and dreaded their arrival. It was as though I was teaching again. Midterms are the “hump day” of the semester. When midterms arrive, you’ve made it half way through. You can make it the rest of the way; the semester will be over in no time: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Finals, and you’re at the finish line, and on to the winter holidays.
Unfortunately, the political midterms are not so easy. For one thing, just because the election is over doesn’t mean the contest and the meanness is. Sometimes people won’t concede defeat. And, of course, sometimes they shouldn’t. Actually, I’m glad Georgia’s Stacy Abrams hasn’t conceded, and sorry that Florida’s Andrew Gillum has.
The count continues in both those races, and it ain’t over ’til it’s over!
Beto O’Rourke conceded to Texas incumbent senator Ted Cruz, and it’s a total and complete shame that Beto didn’t win. However, he was gracious in defeat, and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him.
I am happy for and send congratulations to Colin Allred who unseated Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, Ayanna Pressley, newly elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts, and every other Democratic winner across the United States.
They aced their midterms!
Just as at the end of the academic midterms, there’s no downtime at the end of the political midterms for the winners, the losers, or the voters. The winners will get sworn in in January, and move into or tidy up their offices, the losers have to be gracious in their sorrow, and we voters have to rejoice or wallow — sometimes both.
But, the meanness just continues. Forty-five first congratulated, then threatened Nancy Pelosi. Then he finally fired Jeff Sessions. And this is Trump happy! Imagine if he felt the Republicans had lost the midterms. Now many are worried that Robert Mueller will be the next on Trump’s hit list.
So we’ve almost made it through the midterms and lived to tell the tale. There’s no telling what awaits for Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and the holidays. but votes still are being counted in Florida, Georgia, and elsewhere. I guess we just have to stay tuned to see what the future brings. . . .