737. About the new documentary I Am Not Your Negro

737. Red Hook Sidewalk.jpg

A couple weeks ago I saw the new documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, which is based on an unfinished manuscript about race in America by James Baldwin. If you haven't heard of it or seen it yet, you can read more about it at PBS. Or you can watch it on Amazon, iTunes, or through some other online vendor, and I strongly encourage that you do. I saw the film at a church here in Minneapolis that is starting a monthly series about important films.

Close to one hundred people watched the film together and then broke into groups to discuss it. One of the lines from Baldwin that we focused much on was, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced." That line alone can generate lots of interesting discussion, particularly when you're a small group representing four different racial groups and ages across a 40-year time span.

Only two of us in the small group, myself included, were old enough to have lived during and remember some of the events from the 60s featured in the film, for example the Watts riots in LA in 1965 and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr in 1968. It struck me then how important it is to talk about these kinds of events among different age groups, including those who remember these critical events in American history and those who have only read about them or heard about them, or maybe not even that. To talk about them about different races and people groups.

Another quote from the film that really hit me, but which we didn't discuss in our group, was this:

"We are cruelly trapped between what we would like to be and what we actually are. And we cannot possible become what we would like to be until we are willing to ask ourselves just why the lives we lead on this continent are mainly so empty...."

Hmm...let's all take out a blank piece of paper and think with a pen about that for while.

I can sometimes delude myself that I have an understanding of racial issues owing to the fact that I spent a substantial part of my growing up years in the south during a period of racial "progress" and turbulence. I went to junior high in the first year of enforced busing in what was a very segregated community, was a high school senior the first year a black girl was crowned homecoming queen at my school–such a small but significant cultural event–and saw that not everyone around me clapped for her, and lots in between. In school we read Black Like Me and To Kill a Mockingbird; I saw the movies starring Sidney Poitier. Years earlier I had seen my (male) teacher cry the day Martin Luther King Jr was shot. But I really know so little.

Watch the documentary, and if you're white, find out what you really know, how much there is to know.


[Photo: Taken of a sidewalk in Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY]

733. The power of a letter

The Power of a Letter.jpg

An editorial in this past Sunday's New York Times by David Kamp (Guess Who's Coming to 'Peanuts'), a contributing editor for Vanity Fair who is currently writing a book about children's culture in the 1960s and 1970s, told the story of how the Peanuts cartoon strip came to be racially integrated, by the introduction of Franklin, just a little over 3 months after Martin Luther King was assassinated.

It's the story of Harriet Glickman ("mother of three and a deeply concerned and active citizen") writing a letter to Charles Schulz, the strip's creator, 11 days after King was killed. She pitched the idea of adding "Negro children" to the regular Schulz cast of characters. Schulz wrote back to her within two weeks, declining with a considered reason. She wrote back and he wrote back again and then she shared his correspondence, with his permission, with a friend, Kenneth C. Kelly ("a black father of two"), who came up with the idea that became the character of Franklin. While this addition may seem small and unnoticeable today, it was a very big deal in 1968.

How great is this story! First, that a regular person had an idea of something that could help a very bad situation. Second, that she pitched her idea in a letter. Not a tweet or a post or an email. Of course, those weren't available in 1968, but something tells me this wouldn't have ended the way it did had the communication been electronic. Third, the famous person answered with something more than a generic form response. Fourth, a conversation developed. Fifth, the input of two regular people guided the action of a famous creative individual. Sixth, the famous creative individual *allowed* himself to be guided by regular people.

Ideas. Actual correspondence. Respect. Humility. Ongoing conversation. More respect. More humility. Action. The world changes, for good.


Last Sunday, I sent out a new issue of my newsletter, Dear Reader. If you subscribe to that, which is different than this blog, and didn't receive, please look in your spam folder (or your "promotions" folder if using gmail). You may need to add it to your address book or change an email rule for where your email goes.


[Photo: taken of an apple pancake my son made for us over the holiday.]

699. Turbulence and beauty

Turbulence and beauty.jpg

Last week I took some vacation days and off we went to a cabin on a lake. I made a reasonable effort at staying unplugged, but logging into Facebook on that Thursday brought news of the Philando Castile shooting the night before in the Twin Cities, where I live. Instant inner turbulence. The weather had already been turbulent. Earlier in the week, we had spent about 30 minutes in the basement riding out the peak of a severe storm. As my photograph shows, more turbulent weather was on the way, but how beautiful this moment.


[Photo: taken pre-storm, between storms (unfiltered)]