Thursday, February 2, 2017

Nothing Lasts Forever

When they go low, we go high.

When our embarrassment of a leader using the first day of Black History Month to air grievances and mouth off about himself in lieu of thoughtful commentary about our country's racial history, or even current race relations starts the day, it's impossible not to cringe.

What kind of an egomaniacal twit begins a Black History Month speech with, "Well, the election it came out really well," and goes on to boast about future wins? And saying that abolitionist Frederick Douglass "did an amazing job" only confirms that he has no clue who the man was, much less what he did.

All a person can do is try to carry on with the best intentions.

So first that meant walking over to the Black History Museum for a preview of the new exhibit, "Murry DePillars: Double Vision," a retrospective of the work of a black man dedicated to both his art and education as Dean of VCU's School of the Arts for nearly 20 years.

Covering 43 years of work, I was immediately drawn to firebrand pieces such as 1968's "Aunt Jemima," showing the stereotypical figure in apron and headscarf bare-breasted and bursting out of the box of pancake mix, a spatula in her black-gloved hand. Responding to the events of the day, the background of the piece shows stars, but a closer look reveals that they're the stars on Chicago Police badges, referencing the raid on Black Panther headquarters there that year.

Or "Uncle Remus," with the titular subject emerging Samson-like from the book that bears his name, while the landscape of American culture - history textbooks, Native Americans - lies in ruins at his feet. Meanwhile, Brer Rabbit raises his gloved fist in solidarity.

Amazing, yes, but also not the kind of art you can look at and soon forget. And most definitely not the kind of art that would speak to the new administration.

Lunch involved meeting an old friend in a two-seater booth at Can Can for massive salads and even more enormous chocolate crepes filled with Nutella and Amaretto mousse while talking about the revisions he's just finished on his books and how the book covers now need to be updated as well.

Seems it's all about whatever sells.

Our most interesting conversation centered around relationships, which is interesting because in the 25 years we've been friends, I've never known him to be in one. Nevertheless, being a guy, he's an expert.

When he brought the subject up, it was with a plan (because he writes books about the best way to do things, so he's always thinking in terms of results) for how to ascertain compatibility after meeting a potential soulmate.

His plan? Once seriously attracted to someone, both parties need to write down three things they either must have or can't abide in a relationship and then swap lists to see whether they're issues the other is willing to compromise on.

His list? No high maintenance (he doesn't want to have to call someone every day), no jealous types (non-negotiable) and must be into eating somewhat healthily (this is clearly subjective since I know he doesn't eat breakfast and you know what they say about the most important meal of the day).

We bantered this subject around for so long that we began playing the what-if game. What if she's willing to take a text or email instead of a call, could he stand doing that daily? What if meeting a friend for lunch results in her giving him the silent treatment?

Compromise is all about concessions.

He's been telling me for ages that he wants to try walking with me - for so long it feels like a running gag - so once out on the sidewalk, he tells me to demonstrate the speed at which I typically walk so he can gauge whether or not he's ready to try.

Despite being in platform boots, I set off at my usual four miles per hour.

"Wow, that is kind of fast, but I'm willing to give it a shot," he tells me, although he's also a weather wimp, so I'll have to pick a temperate day. I also promise to give him a day's notice, but he wants at least two.

I'm starting to think it'll be a miracle if this outing ever takes place.

Back at my desk and busy at work, I am more than a tad surprised when an unexpected job offer comes in - not a writing job, but an editing job in one of my favorite places. It gives me pause, but I'd have to move. Am I up for that?

In the immortal words of Scarlett O'Hara, "I'll think about that tomorrow."

Continuing the day's theme, I head to Cabell Library for a lecture entitled, "Is Shakespeare Beyond Race?" with GWU professor Ayanna Thompson talking about the history of race in Shakespeare and the state of diversity in it today.

The room is a diverse mix of students and the public, a fine showing for the first day of Black History Month and even a bit of a rebuke to the verbal diarrhea of our clueless leader.

Seems that 19th century black actors would don "whiteface" to perform roles such as Shylock, Macbeth and King Lear so that audiences wouldn't have to deal with seeing a black character in a classical play.

Some of the best photos and facts concerned the Federal Theater Project, part of FDR's Works Progress Administration, and its groundbreaking 1936 production of an all-black "Macbeth."

Man, how radical that must have seemed even during that socially radical time.

Thompson spoke at length about casting choices and how despite theater companies professing to use more diverse casts, the facts show a different story. Artistic directors are still afraid of alienating well-off, old, white theater audiences with too much diversity in casting.

"It's not necessary to cater to old white audiences anymore because they're not going to last forever," she said. She sited Oregon Shakespeare as an example because although their casting is about 50% people of color and 50% white, their audiences are 99% white.

What's wrong with this picture?

It was funny during the Q & A, every single person who was handed the mic began by thanking her for speaking today. "You guys are so southern polite!" she said sounding surprised.

You want southern polite, go to the Byrd Theater with a musician friend to see "To Kill a Mockingbird" like I did tonight, and you'll be taken back to the days of yes, ma'ams and yes, sirs and children who know they are supposed to speak to every adult they see in a respectful manner.

But besides polite, you'll also get a reminder of just how all-encompassing white privilege was in 1932 when the film was set, with liberal use of the n-word, a white mob looking for vigilante justice and a prosecutor's sheer incredulity that a black man could possibly feel sorry for a white woman.

You want to talk amazing, let's talk how relevant so much of the film's message still is.

Or, if you're my droll friend, you come out wondering if Jem really rolls Scout in that tire toward Boo Radley's house or if they used a stunt double, sketching out possible scenarios for my amusement. So much for deep cultural insight.

On the other hand, every day that begins with another presidential fiasco should end with this much laughter.

1 comment:

  1. A job offer and you don't share any details? What are you thinking? The possibility of moving? Are you nuts?

    Of course I know you're practical and will weigh the possibilities objectively. Which means if you decide to make a change, I won't think you're a sellout. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.