Adapted from 2015 journals

Ivan Schneider. Still life with percolator (oil), 2015

“Cast down your bucket where you are.”

– Booker T. Washington, 1895.

Borrowing a stack of books on African American History. The university librarian at the desk turns deliberately and carefully through all the pages, annotating existing marks. The unspoken message: If you damage these pages, it’s on you.

The Emancipation Proclamation only freed the slaves in the rebel states. Essentially a dead letter. Political theater with a purpose.

As difficult as the Introduction to Theory of Literature readings were to understand, the African American History readings are difficult to internalize. We did this as a country.

“Strange Fruit.” Festival advertisements and flyers for hangings, burnings, mutilation while alive, abuse to the body when dead, body parts kept and sold as souvenirs. Photographers selling postcards. Ida B. Wells-Barnett speaking against lynching in England.

“Manly self respect is worth more than lands and houses.”

W.E.B. Du Bois
Reading Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919 by William Tuttle. What it would be like to run from an angry mob? Fuck zombies, humans are much scarier alive. 

I was largely uneducated about these issues. I knew about lynchings, but on an individual level – this happened, that happened. But I didn’t get the scale of it. These are major moments in American history.

J. Edgar Hoover’s early surveillance of Marcus Garvey. Back to Africa movement. Father Divine. Countee Cullen poem Heritage. Gwendolyn Bennett. Albert Barnes, art collector. Depression. Scottsboro Boys. The Communist Party. The NAACP. The New Deal, whites helped first. Pullman porters.

Where I am today, the advantages I’ve had – would they have been possible if I were born Black? Lackluster grades, smoking pot, getting drunk. Would I have found technology mentors and learned a trade? Would I have been a legacy admit, then an MBA student, followed by the carefree option to forego a salary, study Japanese, and live in Tokyo? If I had been a banking magazine writer, would I have been readily accepted by that community? Would a Seattle landlord have rented to me?

Brown vs. Board. Rosa Parks, Emmett Till, Little Rock Nine. MLK. Bayard Rustin, Ella Baker.

During various points in history, would you have been on the side of the angels? Are you on that side today?

We shall overcome. Bull Connor. Bombingham, Ala. Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Killing of Medgar Evers. March on Washington, Aug 1963; WEB DuBois died the day before the march. Nina Simone. 

Malcolm X

Love all of Paul Beatty’s novels. The Sellout. Slumberland. Tuff. The White Boy Shuffle.

Stevie Wonder

Artists are the vanguard of the species. Musicians are the grand vanguard of the species.

Dr. Cornel West
“The Musical Vocation in our Bleak Times”
2022 UC Regents’ Lecture

Marvin Gaye

At different times, Gil Scott-Heron and I both lived on the same “Supernatural Corner” at One Logan Circle in Washington, D.C. He cut an album. I worked on strategic projects for MCI. The place had a “haunted vibe” (per Gil Scott-Heron: Pieces of a Man by Marcus Baram).

David Dennis at the funeral of James Chaney. Fannie Lou Hamer and the MFDP. MLK Nobel Peace Prize. Jimmie Lee Jackson in Selma. MLK made a side deal on the second crossing of the Edmund Pettus. That’s not seen in the movie. LBJ as the civil rights president. Voting Rights Act of 1965 gives federal government authority to protect the right to vote. 

Spike Lee’s 4 Little Girls, a documentary movie about the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963. Incredibly sad.

Selma in a theater full of white people, one African American working at the concession stand. The movie was fine for a historical film, but could I say that it was great? No, not as good as Four Little Girls. If a movie depicts great people doing great things, does that make the movie great?

Watts: CHiPs vs Marquette Frye. Riots, “soul brother” Passover. Black Panther Party. Viola Liuzzo assassinated, drive-by shotgun. Stokely Carmichael, SNCC. James Meredith and Ole Miss, shot during March Against Fear. Stokely Carmichael popularizes Black Power. Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Eldridge Cleaver, Minister of Information. Panther Patrols. COINTELPR

Can’t sleep. Atlantic article about Jews leaving Europe. Pondering the inability to check your privilege if that privilege is your only tenuous grip upon security in a hostile world.

Moynihan report, 1963 “tangle of pathology.” Johnnie Tillman, spokeswoman of National Welfare org NWRO. “Unity without uniformity.” – National Black Political Convention, 1972. Amiri Baraka. Richard Hatcher, mayor of Gary, Indiana. Shirley Chisholm, first woman to represent NY State in Congress. National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO), short-lived. Combahee River Collective.

Conservative pundits go after rappers who say outrageous things. Cable news: rap for white people.

Chuck D.

Jesse Jackson. Carter and Reagan. Willie Horton, Rodney King, Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill. The 90s. California propositions, Lani Gunier (Goo-NEAR); Supreme Court cases on affirmative action. Theodore Landsmark. Angela Oh vs. John Hope Franklin on Clinton’s conversation on race.

Instead of Starbucks #RaceTogether, how about AT&T? “Press ‘1’ to complete your call or stay on the line for a conversation about race with a random AT&T customer.”

“Post-racial.” Obama’s A More Perfect Union. U Wisconsin brochures Photoshop in Black student. Race tourism.

This course teaches history that our country avoids, fears, suppresses.

I consider it no small fortune to have been a citizen of the township of Montclair. (It costs a small fortune to live there.)

But look at me now, in a white enclave in one of the whitest cities in America.

Ivan Schneider. Percolator (pastel), 2015

Link: African American History: From Emancipation to the Present (2010)