Tag Archives: racial justice

Rosa Parks: Myth Debunked and Explained

Christmas knitting is almost finished (obviously not photos yet). Reading continues.

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Theoharis engages in important myth debunking even while she traces the growth of the dangerous myth. The danger is that in losing site of the real person’s ongoing actions against systemic racism, the symbol portrays a safe past action and a finished project and opens the door to blaming individual responsibility. This is a very readable biography, mostly chronological, but also thematic.

After an exploration of Parks’s family and youth, the myth of the tired seamstress is questioned and Parks’s strength, determination, and anger are explored. But the beginning of the myth in its strategic use at the time is also explored. And with the bus boycott’s ending, the book is only midway. She did more, who knew? Her life in Detroit allows for exploration of the form racism has in the north. Especially interesting is the chapter on Parks’s relationship to the Black Power movement: “Mrs. Parks’s political activities and associations in 1960s and 1970s Detroit illustrate the continuities and connections between the civil rights and Black power movements” (203).

A very important book.

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The Fourth Week

Having become convinced that there is a use for homemade masks, I am now on the mask-making detail too. Not mass producing though.

mask ties

I had a roll of bias binding made up and thought it surplus from a previous project (here). I had enough for five masks and I had some batik from another previous project (here). And batik is closely woven and good for masks. Of course as soon as I had cut the binding I remembered what I’d been saving it for. Oh well, there’s more fabric in this apartment.

And then, though I didn’t have elastic, I did have some headbands in colors I didn’t wear, and I had heard of others using them for masks. So I tried several.

mask elastic

I’ve tried them out.  They stay on until I talk too much. The small tuck is to make it tight enough at the chin. The sides for that one were an inch longer than those of the other masks, and I think that made the difference.

So while some states allow (and some groups intend in spite of states not allowing) people to gather in large crowds for Easter services, I’ll continue staying home, and when I go out I’ll wear a mask. I was glad to read that KY claims that anyone who goes to an Easter service will be put in quarantine. We will have to watch numbers 14 days after Easter. And we will have to watch numbers 14 days after Wisconsin’s election and hope that masks and physical distancing compensated for the inhumane rulings that forced the choice between health and in-person voting.

I am glad to read that physical distancing seems to be doing its work and that disease and death numbers are lower than modeled. Rather than saying it proves the shut down was not needed, as some Fox News commentators do, it shows it did its work! One wonders at the Fox News analysis, treating models as exact prophecies then claiming they failed. Which is worse: to assume commetators really don’t know how models work or to assume they distort nuance of model making into something that fits their version of the situation? The rest of us know that a model is as good as the possibilities plugged into its blanks–how many restrictions, how much compliance, for example. And many of those variables depend on public behavior.

Even though the numbers are better than expected, they are daunting. And in spite of that there is rumbling anew about reopening. The New York Times Magazine reports a conversation on the ethics and morality of the trade offs of reopening, whenever we do (here). And though I’d been made aware of the discrepancy between the number of deaths of patients of color from white patients, I’d not drawn the logical conclusion expressed by Vanita Gupta, one of the participants:

Even now we’re making trade-offs. We should be more honest about it. Many of the folks we call essential are low-wage workers, and we depend on them to keep grocery stores and pharmacies open. To a degree, the decisions about reopening in the future are about whether we’re comfortable with the professional classes becoming part of the trade-off by going back to their offices. And the pandemic highlights the divide between workers with paid sick leave and without. Only 47 percent of private-sector workers in the bottom quarter for wages have paid sick leave, compared with 90 percent in the top quarter, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Covid-19 is further revealing the country’s profound inequality and structural racism.



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Back to the Books

An American MarriageAn American Marriage by Tayari Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed reading this book all the way through.

I love the guts of the title; in today’s society where white is considered normal and universal, to name a novel about black characters An American Novel shows confidence. The title is apt in another unfortunate way. The novel is about what a black man being in prison does to a marriage, a distinctly American problem with our justice system rigged against black men. But the novel never gets preachy about it.

Alternating sections by each of the three characters in a love triangle accomplishes two things. First, it allows us into the motives and feelings of each, such that I really cared about each and wanted the best for them. I could see why each man “deserved” the woman and why she might just take neither. Secondly, it controlled the pace of the novel in a delightful way, dangling the final decision until almost the final word–every option taking its turn to seem the probable one, every option seeming possible if not acceptable. For once the real ending was appropriate and fulfilling.

(view spoiler)

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On the History of Racist Ideas in America

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in AmericaStamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This definitive history starts with Aristotle and a few other ancients that the Founding Fathers would have read. And it surges on to the present (at the time of writing). In spite of the multitude of sources, Kendi succeeds in making the welter readable. That readability, Kendi accomplished by creating a frame and relentlessly keeping that frame in front of readers. He divides the ideas into three groups:
“A group we can call segregationists has blamed Black people themselves for the racial disparities. A group we can call antiracists has pointed to racial discrimination. A group we can call assimilationists has tried to argue for both” (2). And by Kendi’s definition, racist ideas are those that posit one race as superior to another; hence, both segregationist and assimilationist ideas are racist ideas.

His project is made more complex because one person’s thought can exhibit all three in either different speeches/writings or even the same piece. And people can change. For the most part Kendi led me through the maze; however, the W.E.B.DeBois section was least easy to follow. I think that may be explained by two things: it was the longest section, and the nuance had to increase as the complexity increased.

Two points he made really shifted my thinking: First, the distinction between hating Whites and hating racism and the problem when commentators treat them as equivalent. This helped destroy some claims of reverse racism. And second, the problem with explanation as a solution: After discussing how proof of Obama’s birthplace did not end the birther controversy, Kendi says, “[Birther ideas] were not started out of ignorance, so why would they go away out of knowledge?”(494).

In the Epilogue Kendi speaks of strategies for antiracists. It was a whirlwind section that made me want more detail. I am hoping to find the detail in his How to Be an Antiracist.

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Still Reading

It seems books that I thought would be well spaced when I requested holds have been all becoming available close together–not quite all at once, but no breaks. Sewing will keep; due dates won’t. I have read more than I have reported here (Through Dakota Eyes, The Handmaid’s Tale); let me know if you want to hear about them.

One comment on  my post about White Fragility was a suggestion of people to follow on Instagram. So I did.  And on one of them was a suggestion of four authors more to read on racial justice. One I had already read; I have placed holds on two of the others’ books.  I won’t neglect the fourth. This is the first that has become available.

So You Want to Talk About RaceSo You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an important book.

Oluo starts most chapters with an incident from her black  life, then adds history and theorizes from there. The vignettes allow for deeper empathy than anything else I have read on racial justice. The history and theory help with understanding the systemic nature of racism.

The book is mostly addressed to white people. Occasionally, where relevant, Oluo explicitly addresses people of color. Mostly, issues affecting black and brown people are addressed, but there is one chapter featuring Asians, where she discusses the “model minority myth” and its harm.

The book is divided into fairly short chapters, many on topics likely to come up if one chooses to discuss race with white people. Oluo offers some lines of reasoning as starters for handling the issues in discussions. Some chapters address current terminology from racial justice theory: intersectionality, cultural appropriation, microaggressions. Others discuss fears, like that of saying something wrong or being called racist. And more.

It ends with suggestions for action to get readers beyond reading and discussing. (Luckily I can keep reading while beginning action.)

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Political Art, Abstract Art

Sometimes a blog post is a way to place a marker for articles I want to refer back to later. This is one of those.

People who have read this blog for a while know of my interest in abstract design. A short look back for new followers: This was my first attempt (ignoring the fact that most traditional quilts are abstract).

finished quilt

24 x 30

It started with a photograph of my street.  (Its history, reverse order, starts here.)

Then there was “Hole in the Safety Net,” which started as mere shapes and evolved into concept.

feb cla draft 2

And was helped by title to make a statement beyond what mere shapes could say. Its history is here along with a link to the finished product.

Enough background. On to the articles.

The first responds to an exhibit of abstract works of 12 black female artists and tells of their struggle to be recognized in a white male art world, a world where even black art critics considered abstract art to be white art. “Women of Color Find Their Rightful Place in the History of American Abstraction.

The second does two things. It places black artists firmly in both abstract and political (racial in this context) camps and makes a profound statement about race: “How to Embed a Shout: A New Generation of Black Artists Contends with Racism.”

And the statement: “Adrienne Edwards, curator at Performa, the Walker Art Center, and a scholar who has written a good deal about Pendleton’s work, professes: ‘Blackness is the original abstraction; people are living abstractions, meaning [they are] made up, conjured.’ Yes. I have to agree. For others, this sign of dark skin might symbolize anything and its opposite: strength, weakness, triumph, and debacle, membership or exile. The racial imaginary conditions all of us raised under its auspices to project onto black people one’s fears or desires, so that it becomes difficult to be seen as a human being rather than a space for projection. Lowery Stokes Sims, a curator and former director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, adds the historical fact: ‘If you take the track that abstraction came out of African art, then we are just claiming our birthright.’

“Blackness is the original abstraction”: think on that . . .

And yes, I remember that I promised to do the whiteness syllabus (here); it is still on the back burner where my subconscious can work on it while I finish up a few other projects.




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Racial Art Challenge

I have been exploring quilting as art; I have been exploring art as protest; I have been exploring racism and whiteness. Into that mix comes the challenge to Make a work of art about race as a white person in America. 

Not a challenge to a single work nor to a juried show, but a syllabus for personal reflection manifested (or not) in art production. A way of rethinking traditional art about race.

Instead of waiting till I have an idea to post, I am posting now in case some of my readers also want to do this exploration. Some of you are not in America; some of you are not white. I leave it to you to explore/make art that fits your situation.

6/6/17 ETA links to a different art installation and issues of representation as it relates to “Scaffold” at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.  The articles tell the intent and the unintended impact and the removal of the piece. And several responses of art critics.

The first article and a quotation from it.:

The issue of the identity of the artist presenting work about a trauma that is not her or his own recalls the recent controversy around Dana Schultz’s painting of Emmet Till in the 2017 Whitney Biennial. Schutz was criticized for depicting a historic trauma and creating an abstracted portrait of Till’s corpse. Schutz’s work was partly criticized for seeking to represent African American trauma, which many people considered problematic coming from a white woman. Both controversies bring up questions about whether or not white artists can create work about the pain of communities they do not belong to, and whose voices should be elevated to speak about the atrocities of our history.

The second article and a quotation from it:

At the same press conference, Viso admitted that the Walker’s process in placing “Scaffold” in the Garden had been flawed. “I apologize that we were not sufficiently aware of the implications of its placement or sympathetic to the pain and suffering that it would elicit,” she said. The disconnect that left both the artist and the Walker oblivious to the sculpture’s potentially painful meaning for Dakota and Native people speaks to the need for Native people to tell their own stories, as many Native critics have pointed out over the last two weeks.

“We need to tell our own narrative,” Rafael Gonzales, an anti-Dakota Access Pipeline activist and a descendent of the Dakota 38 +2, said in an email. “If non-Native allies are willing to teach our history, it is crucial that they spend time with our people and consult with us on appropriate ways of doing so.”

And the comments of art critics.

My source for these three was the June 6 emailing from Hyperallergic. I see from their website that there is an update.

Perhaps the bottom line is to listen and consult when tempted to represent another culture. Or as in the first “syllabus,” to focus on one’s own culture.

6/27/17 ETA a link to a counter argument. To what extent is

Endeavoring to make art from another person’s pain isn’t the same as cultural appropriation, but such pursuits, as generally conceived today, share a relationship to notions of identity-based ownership—of certain histories, certain cultural expressions. But while a different culture’s history shouldn’t be declared categorically off-limits to an artist, there are meaningful questions of quality, context, understanding, power, and purpose to be considered—and, along those lines, each work of art must be evaluated on its own terms.

Just why isn’t it appropriation? Perhaps I need a more nuanced understanding of “appropriation.”  The question isn’t answered in the review of the novel. But articles are cited, articles and books that I need to read because they deal with abstract art and social critique. Though applied to African American art, it seems they could be extended to all abstract art. All this in a review of a novel by Percival Everett, So Much Blue. I will admit to having read none of his work, but now I want to. More to ponder.


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Shifting from ‘Criminal Justice’ Frame to ‘Racial Justice’ Frame in One Book

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of ColorblindnessThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Because this book has been around since 2010, information from it has trickled into my awareness. Still, there was much in it that I did not already know.

Alexander (no relation) explicated in detail how laws that sound neutral can be racist in their effect; the drug war involves such laws. The short version: blacks and whites use and sell drugs at about the same rate; blacks are imprisoned with felony charges, whites are less likely to be so charged. Felony charges affect people for life after prison: no public housing, no food stamps, the box on employment applications–becoming outcasts. Whites are less likely to go to jail. The judicial system has made it impossible to win lawsuits claiming racism unless there is overt hostile intent–impact is ignored.

She shows how nothing can change without a change in public consciousness as she traces similarities in slavery, Jim Crow, and contemporary drug-war imprisonments. Attitudes find new ways to express themselves and maintain what she names a racial caste system.

The book is very detailed, as it must be, to show the systemic nature of the racism she addresses, something that occurs on an almost subconscious level. I did find the similarities section of Chapter 5, “The New Jim Crow” to repeat too much of what had been clearly presented before, but when she got to the differences, new information surfaced.

The concluding chapter, “The Fire This Time,” defends her claim that legislative change alone will only open new variations of oppression unless public consciousness changes as well. She discusses other solutions that have not worked, including “color blindness.” The claimed neutrality of “color blindness” serves to mask systemic racism. Rather than becoming blind to color, we need to stop being blind to injustice. We need to learn to talk about race. (This is beginning to happen more in the years since the book’s publication.) She points to a time when slaves and white impoverished workers were divided even though they had issues in common and urges a return to working together.

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