Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

Black and White

November 26, 2011

Black and White

I am an artist – a child of the universe, rich in laughter, love and life, who dares to unwrap the universe’s gifts in my own truth. I create “Wonderfully Whimsical Works of Art by Sharon Martini” in which the colors black and white feature prominently. I outline the solid blocks of vibrant color that make up my pictures with black lines, and partner black and white in the borders.

As much as red – bright, blood, scarlet, primary red – is my absolute favorite color, I do not consider my creations complete without an abundance of black and white. To me black and white are the yin and yang of my creations, balancing out my compositions. Sort of day and night, dark and light, without either of which, none of my illustrations can be whole.

I love the way the contrast of the colors together, side-by-side, create harmony and balance, equilibrium in my drawings, informing me of their completion. Individually, their active energy sparkles, sharpens, defines and renders tangible my imagination. For me, the colors black and white are necessary, both stimulating and calming components of my two and three-dimensional creative world.

In contemporary Western society however, these two colors can facilitate chaos, consternation and frequently, cruelty. Black and white typically symbolize opposites; the dichotomy of good and evil, love and hate, angels and demons. They are loaded with cultural, spiritual, societal and linguistic connotation. To ascertain why this might be, when for me, black and white means artistic bliss, let’s take a look at the “stories” of black and white, beginning with the color aspect?

If you take a color wheel, you will find red, yellow, orange, purple, blue, green, and hues in between. No matter how hard you twist, turn, or spin the wheel though, you will not find the colors black or white.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary, color is defined as, “The visible aspect of things caused by the differing qualities of the light reflected or emitted by them. A dye, pigment or paint that imparts a hue and skin tone.” So far so good, I am, as I mentioned earlier, partial to black and white paint in my artwork.

Delving further into definitions, black is defined as, “The achromatic color of maximum darkness; the color of objects that absorb nearly all light of all visible wavelengths.” White is defined as, “The achromatic color of maximum lightness; the color of objects that reflect nearly all light of all visible wavelengths.” Ah hah! Black and white are colors, of a kind. They are achromatic colors – colors without hue yet incorporate all colors on the color wheel.

Fine, fabulous so far. Let us now peek at some black and white synonyms. For black we have, soiled, (as from soot,) dirty, evil, wicked, depressing, gloomy, angry, sullen, morbid, dark. And white ones include, but are certainly not limited to, light-colored, pale, blank, unsullied, pure, snowy, incandescent, clean. Oh my! The scales are definitely tipping in favor of one color over the other, instigating division, as we dive into descriptions. I mean, if it’s a choice between “evil” and “gloomy” or “incandescent” and “pure,” is there really any competition?

Still, it’s only language. With the aforementioned lists in mind, let’s compare some traditional, religious and/or societal interpretations and meanings.

  • The medieval Christian sect known as the Cathars viewed black as a color of perfection.
  • In the Ifá tradition the orisha Obatala is represented with white – calmness, morality, old age, and purity.
  • In the Japanese culture, Black is associated with honor, not death. Kuro (black) is a symbol of nobility, age, and experience. The black belt is a mark of achievement and seniority in many martial arts.
  • In Japanese culture, White is associated with death. Shiro (white), symbolizes serfdom, youth, and naiveté. In Shotokan karate, a white belt is a rank-less belt which comes before all other belts.
  • Black is a symbol of mourning and bereavement in Western societies.
  • In Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese and Indian tradition, white is the color of mourning and death.
  • In the Maasai tribes of Kenya and Tanzania, black is associated with rain clouds, a symbol of life and prosperity.
  • To whitewash, means to obscure the truth by issuing a blanket of lies. Also it is the action of burying or shoving someone’s face into the snow, as a form of bullying, or harassment.

From those few examples one can see that mixed in with the purity, calmness, perfection and mourning of the black and white color stories, there is much contradiction and confusion. It’s all in the interpretation, and consulting again the color wheel, I am reminded that black and white are everywhere and nowhere.

So, I am sticking with mine own interpretation – balance, harmony, artistic bliss and equilibrium. It is, quite simply, black and white.

Advertisements

A Song For Healing

July 25, 2010

November last year I was awarded one of three McKenzie River Gathering Foundation, Lilla Jewel Fund For Women Artists, Social Justice Awards.

I am in the birds
I am in the bees

My commission was to create an art piece that depicted social justice. My creation entitled, “Mirror, Mirror…There I Am!” was unveiled at MRG’s “Justice Within Reach” Fundraiser, April 10, 2010. (Find it here at www.sharonmartini.com, or www.mrg.org.)

I am in the trees
I am in the seas

When Sheryl Sackman, the Development Director of MRG telephoned to tell me I had won, I am not ashamed to say, my giddy inner, old-fashioned, twelve year-old was unleashed. Grinning, naught but glistening white dentition in pajamas was I on the other end of the line.

I am in the ocean
In the wild
I am in the child

Elated I danced around my house – I had won an award! Then, out of breath, boogied unceremoniously back to reality, I wondered whom I could tell; who could stand to hear my happy news. Later still, I worried that in my exuberance (or delirium,) I had misheard. Maybe Sheryl had not, in fact, told me I was a winner?

I am in the winter
In the wind

Social justice is truth. It is the recognition that we all are human, descended from the dark, melanistic mother. “From out of Africa.”

I am in the summer sun
The soil
I am in your heart

Social justice is the knowledge that we humans exist in tandem, together and entangled with nature in all its incarnations. Social justice is wholeness.

I am in the storm
I am in the breeze
I am in the farm
I am in the field

Social justice begins with me. It starts with my seeking, finding, accepting and loving, unconditionally, the “I am” in me and being able to recognize her reflected back in everyone and everything I see.

I am in the hour
In the dark
I am in the day

Social justice is possible, I would never have entered the contest if I did not believe that. But social justice cannot exist without the human lest it remain a pithy, yet impotent, phrase, large letters on a placard, waving furiously, futile, in the air.

I am in the book
I am in the beast

We are forgetting the human. We are forgetting how to be wholly human sharing space, place, vulnerability and truth. Social justice is elusive.

I am in the famine
In the feast
I am in the fire

I am human (or at least I try.) I know pleasure. I have known pain. I know loneliness and longing. I have known sorrow. I know self-love. I have known betrayal and rejection, yet I know joy. Social justice is joy.

I am in the glory
In the story
I am in the man

Social justice is oneness. We have forgotten the oneness of nature, of us, and our place within it, as parts and pieces of the puzzle.

I am in the winter
I am out of Africa
I am in your soul

Social justice is love. We have forgotten pure love. We are forgetting our source.

I am in the world
I am in the mother
I am in me

Social justice is liberty. It is equality. Social justice is humanity remembered. It is humanity healed. Social justice sings:

I am human
I am home
I am human
I am here
I am human
We are whole

This column was originally published in the July, 2010 edition of The Southwest Community Connection newspaper.

Oreos?

May 10, 2010

Aren’t they a type of cookie comprised of chocolate-colored cookies on either side of a sweet, cream, white-colored filling? Flour, high fructose corn syrup and food coloring in pretty packaging. There is no nutritional value in this item that I can ascertain. Yet, academics have been known to pontificate profusely about this “cookie.” People of color spit this “food” at each other, intending to wound, belittle, and ostracize.

Living here in this land of the free and home of the brave, I learned that being deemed an Oreo implies that a person of color, specifically of African descent, who attempts to ascend the ladder of “success” by becoming “educated,” speaking “proper” English, enjoying Classical music, or anything outside of Hip Hop, is “trying to be white.” Apparently, said traits are synonymous with whiteness.

Now, I will concede I am a foreigner, an alien, according to the US government, albeit a legal one, but from where I sit, and I confess, sipping tea, it makes no sense to me. I have to ask, “Who animated this biscuit and allowed it to escape the cookie jar?” Does anyone realize this pseudo-confection has neither legs, nor power, unless one believes in the lie of white supremacy?

When did we (I include myself here, for I am black, although in reality I am, like you, ultimately iridescently human, inside and out,) as a people so thoroughly lose our way? Yes, one could argue that slavery misdirected us all.  But if we dare to dig we will discover that our ancestors, yes the illiterate slave ones, did not sell their souls for a cookie, or even a whole jar. How is it we have allowed ourselves to be indoctrinated so?

The Latin root of the word “educate” is “educare” which means to draw forth from within. What is within us is an indomitable, inviolate, inner strength, our spirit. We, blinded by learning, manmade material lack, and ingested inferiority, have allowed this spirit to be educated out of us.

What if we could remember ourselves, rediscover our spirit and the strength of our ancestors and reacquaint ourselves with our truth?

What if you believed that the roots of humanity live in you, in your black African indigenous roots? That Africans, blacks, have been in the Americas, since long before Columbus and that there are ancient monuments 20,000 years old, and older, proving this?

What if we discerned that throughout modern history, obstacles camouflaged as Laws, Parliamentary Acts, mandated multiculturalism and prejudices, have been constructed to hinder the prosperity and progress of the dark ones among us and keep the truth far, far, away from our consciousness?

What if you knew that many Africans who were brought here were Queens, Kings, Princesses and Priests, nobles, regal, revered and innately powerful people?

What if we understood that the ability to communicate fluently in Standard English is a tool for all humans of all hues, nothing more nothing less?

What if you knew that in United States Army Intelligence tests during World War I, blacks led the whites in several states, north and south?

Prior to desegregation, black people enjoyed academic competence, even with substandard resources. When they dared to demand better buildings, books, etc, desegregation was enacted. While children were bussed to more resource-rich schools, self-esteem, or spirit, was intentionally shuttled elsewhere. The Institution of Education pulled off one of the greatest bait and switches in history.

What if we knew that the first slaves brought to the Americas, were not black but white, mostly British Europeans. Transportation of convicts was a regular pursuit through the 17th and 18th centuries. Between 1737 and 1767 approximately 20,000 of these felons were deposited in Maryland alone. America was considered the “graveyard of the white race.” These “carcasses” are the forefathers, and mothers, of today’s dominant culture.

What if you knew that far from being the inept, inherently naughty, criminal cretins depicted in the media, Africans, nubians, blacks, melanistic peoples, provided western civilization with the fundamentals of music, mathematics, medicine, spirituality and yoga? There were no jails, locks, or bolts in the villages from whence the African’s came. Such controls were not needed.

The “Father of medicine” was not Hippocrates, a Greek, but Imhotep a Nubian, a black African. What if we were cognizant of this?

Famous missionary, Dr. Livingstone, stated, “Syphilis dies out in the African interior. It seems incapable of permanence of any form in persons of pure African blood.” What if you knew that the Africans brought to the “New World” had neither, tuberculosis, syphilis, nor any other venereal disease? Makes one wonder, why then the Tuskegee Airmen syphilis experiments that continued for 28 years (yes 28,) after World War II ended.

What if you knew that the Greek historian, Herodotus who visited Egypt around 450 BC, described the Kamitian people (ancient Egyptians) as having black skin and woolly hair? Somewhat different from the tan, eurocentric depictions in our textbooks. The original name of ancient Egypt, “Khemet” means black and is the root of “chemistry?”

What if you knew that both Beethoven, the world’s greatest musician (“short, stocky, broad shoulders, short neck, round nose, blackish-brown complexion”) and Joseph Haydn, were black?

Could chewing on, the foregoing, instead of a sugary snack, allow you to see yourself, and your black brethren as equally, yet individually, uniquely, capable? Might it liberate us, like wildflower seeds scattered upon fertile soil, to blossom and bloom however we may, with no need to feign, claim, or foist whiteness or anything else, and own our right to all possibility in human form?

I do not know, nor do I purport to know your truth. However, I do know that I am committed to neither ingesting nor lobbing Oreos. There are only home-baked, home-styled biscuits in my biscuit tin.

What is in your cookie jar?

A version of this article appeared in the January/February/March, 2010, Edition of The Beloved Community Journal

Mirror, Mirror … There I Am!

May 5, 2010

This is the piece McKenzie River Gathering Foundation commissioned me to create and unveiled at “Justice Within Reach” April 10, 2010. Below is my Artist Statement and the story behind this piece my sons think is “awesome.”

Mirror, Mirror ... There I Am! by Sharon Martini

My mission with my art is to unite all people in joy.

With my exuberantly colorful, intuitive artworks, starring brown characters, I bring to the forefront, with candor and humor, the truth that we all, no matter our color or culture, are the same – inherently human – entitled to, love, peace, equal treatment and joy.

I aim to give voice, visibility and a leading role in the pictures, and on the stage of “the theatre of humanity and life,” to the dark-skinned among us, whom are so often omitted from any positive, joyful, energetic and life-giving “productions.”

In this piece, “Mirror, Mirror … There I Am!” created for MRG, these ideas are central. Social Justice, I believe begins, and ends, with being able to see oneself everywhere, in the sun, the moon, the birds, the bees, the sea, the trees, and especially in all humans of every hue, but especially the dark, melanistic peoples.

Social justice, to me, begins with the ability to be comfortable and confident in who I am, to understand and know, we all are one, with each other and every living thing. The mirrors in “Mirror, Mirror … There I Am!” with each glimpse, “reflect the I in me, so I may see, the me in you, and every living being” of each and every person who peeks at the piece.

Creating art in a variety of media – fabric collage, paint, words, nature, metals and music, I aim to unite all people in joy, to touch you with truth and make you smile.

We often forget, in these our modern, increasingly stratified, multicultural times, the healing power of a simple smile. When we smile we are so much more open to everything!

It’s time to repay our debt to Haiti

February 11, 2010

There was an earthquake in Haiti and I took it personally.

I took it personally because while I know that earthquakes are naturally occurring events – Mother Nature stretching, tumbling and turning, aren’t they? – I knew that her mischief would provide the world yet more reasons and information to pity the Island of Mountains’ much-maligned inhabitants.

I did not have long to wait for proof of my “prophecy,” and that is not counting that famous/infamous “man of the cloth’s” proclamation of how this disaster was merely punishment from God for the Haitian people’s “pact with the devil” in exchange for their freedom.

My parents are from Jamaica, Haiti’s island neighbor directly west. Watching the aftermath of the quake news with my sons, I saw myself in the faces of the Haitian people. I saw my mother, my father, my sisters and brothers, my family. I saw my humanity and I felt exposed, helpless, defensive and increasingly angry as I recognized that many others of us would not, could not, see what I saw.

How many of us know anything about Haiti other than that it once was a colony of France and is now the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere?

Did you know that Haiti was the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere, and the second republic, after the United States?

How many of us know the rich, troubled but true, history of Haiti? How many of us understand the role of America, Britain, Spain and France in the rise, fall and suppression of Haiti and its populace?

The African ancestors of today’s Haitians rebelled against slavery, fighting a 12-year war from 1791 to 1803, (aided by both Britain and Spain), against the French colonists and Napoleon’s army. Gen. Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared their independence on Jan. 1, 1804.

How many know that in 1801 Pres. Thomas Jefferson reversed U.S. policy toward Haiti, secretly giving France permission to reconquer the island? France failed.

How many of us can imagine securing one’s freedom only to be re-enslaved, but this time your master is not man, but money? Imagine having to pay your former master for the loss of his property, namely yourself.

France did not recognize Haiti’s independence until 1825 and only then in exchange for a financial indemnity of 150 million francs. Haiti was considered “persona non grata” by other slaveholding nations for fear its success would incite and inspire their slaves to resist. It did.

Britain abolished legalized slavery in 1807 followed by a succession of other European nations. America denounced it finally in 1865.

Did you know the Haitian resistance was the catalyst for France selling the United States its claim to Louisiana – the Louisiana Purchase – in 1803?

Haiti was forced over the years (and continues to be, sometimes it appears, by Mother Nature) to take out loans of 70 million francs to repay this indemnity and gain international recognition. As recently as 2003, Haiti disseminated repayments on international debt totaling approximately $1 million dollars per week.

I do not claim to know what is in your mind, nor your heart. I do know, however, that information, or lack thereof, can taint our benevolence, our love, which is our energy. That universal energy that we all are made of; that we all are exchanging whether we know it or not; that energy that is our currency, our most valuable resource. I know that this energy can be toxin or tonic; it can hinder or heal.

I believe truth can transmute toxin to tonic. My hope is that the foregoing truth can help you, too, see your humanity in the faces of the Haitian people (ultimately all people) so we may all bestow upon them, not pity for the benighted, but compassion for our kin.

The Haitian people, a mighty, resourceful, fiercely independent but long-oppressed people need our energy. Send money if you can. Remember though, there is healing currency aplenty inside each one of us. I believe a little truth in information can set it free.

Sharon Martini is an English “mummy.” She lives in the Bridlemile neighborhood with her two sons, several pets. A local singer and actress, she also writes and illustrates little picture books.

This article originally appeared in the February, 2010, edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper

Home is…

July 5, 2009

A raccoon once moved herself and her three cubs into my house. She marched right in the backdoor and straight upstairs to my sons’ bedroom.

Thankfully, mama raccoon – spooked by a surprised, but euphoric, Moses and Malik, who hadn’t yet cultivated their poker faces and were salivating audibly in bug-eyed glee – apparently forgot she had scythes for fingernails and fled, dragging her dazed babies behind her.

Creatures of all kinds feel at home in my house. Some of them, arriving uninvited, stay just a while. Some are pets/family members. Others, contraband, smuggled in by my nature-loving boys, pop up in unexpected places having absconded their cages – “unbeknownst” to my little darlings, of course – to live large in quiet, warm crevices in my humble abode, sometimes for 10 free-wheeling days! Snakes in the master bathroom, anyone?

I, however, for many reasons, have never quite felt at home here, in that settled, rooted, connected-to-the-soil way. There’s a general disquiet that has haunted me intermittently. Don’t get me wrong, I love my house and I’ve spent a lot of creative currency making it into a home for my family – there is definitely no denying “Sharon Martini Lives Here!”

Returning recently to Portland from a triumphant trip abroad, my restlessness returned, magnified. I felt like an out-of-place boulder, a recalcitrant beaver, no longer building dams, becoming the dam, blocking a rushing river, being battered by its current that simply needed to flow, wanting to move into the stream but unable to.

Then, I had an epiphany. “Dance!” Not social dancing but, specifically, take a dance class. This revelation astonished me. I consider myself a freestyle dancer – a “play the music and let me groove my way” type of dancer.

Whenever I perform in musicals, it’s the dancing piece that perturbs me, for I feel bound and restricted by the confines of the choreography, even though as a child I danced ballet and tap for almost 10 years.

Still, something within me “knew” I needed the structure of instruction, predetermined steps, a path, a yellow brick road to follow. Somehow I “knew” African dance was the class. I have never taken African dance; it hasn’t interested me before, yet here I was, 19 years into an admittedly unsettled life in Southwest Portland, with my soul now crying out for African dance. What to do?

I searched the Internet. Not only did I find an African dance class, it was happening that evening at Multnomah Arts Center. The Multnomah Arts Center – where over the years I have taken my sons to architecture, messy art, jewelry-making, tap, piano, guitar and clay classes – which, in my “mummy” world has been a place for my children or, my children and me, not me alone.

Before the class I began to panic, feeling silly and self-conscious, doubting that I “knew” what I knew. African dance class, what was I thinking? I wondered who would be in the class, would I be able to follow the steps, would I be expected to be able to follow the steps, would I embarrass myself (I could always would hide at the back), who would the teacher be? Ignoring this mind chatter, I went to the class, albeit tentatively.

Quieting some of my apprehension, this African Dance class, replete with live drumming, was being taught by an African man from Ghana – Nii Ardey. It was a small class, so there was no hiding in the back. But it didn’t matter because once the drums began to beat I was stomping, stepping, swooping and twirling. I was air. I was energy. I was love. I was gratitude. I was home, moving in rhythm and at one with, what I believe is, the primordial heartbeat of the universe.

When the drumming ceased, I stood still, grounded, sweat flowing from my pores, proof to me that the dam I had been had broken, and I re-remembered that “home” doesn’t require a plane ticket, nor bricks and mortar. Home isn’t place or position, country or creed. Home is peace, music, movement; it’s connection, delight, detachment. Home is freedom, letting go. Home is art.

Like Dorothy clicking her heels in The Wizard of Oz, I can go home whenever I want, for home lives in me and I live in she, but, if I ever need help finding my way, I shall hotfoot it down to Multnomah Arts Center for an African Dance class, or whatever art form I need at that time to transport me.

“Home” is where the art is. Dance, beading, painting, weaving, drama, piano, it’s all there at Multnomah Arts Center. There’s “transportation” with your name on it there, I’m sure.

Sharon Martini is an English “mummy.” She lives in the Bridlemile neighborhood with her two sons, several pets. A local singer and actress, she also writes and illustrates little picture books.


This article originally appeared in the July 2009 edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper.

Where is “home” for you?

Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part I

February 19, 2009

I realize this post is very long and I know how intimidating streams of words can be, so I have broken this posting down into five parts for ease of perusal, if you are so inclined.

Sincerely,

Sharon
__________ 

Friday, January 30, 2009 I set out to conduct a children’s story time at Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, in north Portland. I had been invited to do this by Krakow Koffeehouse & Café owner, Mark Kirchmeier. I was planning to read my children’s picture books Max and Me, Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! I Love Bugs! And Uh! Oh! Where Did Baby Go? This story telling was to be my first of 2009, and more significantly, my first reading during the brand new “historic” Presidency of Barack Obama, a president of color, whose message of hope and change knits nicely with the message of my mission – that we are all, no matter our color, culture, or nationality, inherently the same – we are all human beings in this world together entitled to respect, dignity, hope, truth and love.

A no-school-Friday, I brought my sons along with me to the Krakow Koffeehouse & Café story telling. Story time was 10:00 AM and we arrived energized and excited to entertain the little ones. I had planned not only stories, but songs – I was going to sing my original composition, “What Color Are You? You’re The Color Of Love.” – and art activities.

We entered Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, one son carrying a display stand, another carrying my guitar and me with my book bag. I approached the counter. There was a tall, bespectacled, white, male, behind the counter on one side serving a customer, across the other side a woman with long light brown hair wearing a white sweatshirt, appeared to cleaning. Neither employee acknowledged my presence, but giving the benefit of doubt, I waited a moment for the man to finish with the customer. Time ticked on. When there was still no acknowledgement of my presence, I politely interrupted the tall, bespectacled, white, male, “Excuse me, is Mark here?”  I enquired (Mark being, Mark Kirchemeier, the owner of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, by whom I had been invited me to do story time.)

The tall, bespectacled, white, male, responded curtly, “Mark is not here, but we’re ready for you.” Taken aback that although I had not been acknowledged upon entering Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, this employee was well aware of who I was, and why I was there. This realization unnerved me somewhat, but I shook it off and proceeded to enquire as to where to set up for story time, turning my body to point to the area in question behind me.

When I turned back toward the counter the male employee was saying “Outstanding.” I detected a sneer and condescension in his tone but then, as the sweatshirt clad, white, female, employee was now standing beside him, I questioned whether or not he was indeed speaking to me. To clarify things for myself, I asked him if he had been speaking to me. He responded loudly, “I was speaking to her.” pointing to the female employee in the white sweatshirt. At this I said, “I was talking to you. I asked you where I should set up.” He then said, “When someone turns their back on you, it means they are finished with you.”

Thinking that he thought I had turned by back on him and attempting to clear up the confusion, I began to explain that I had not turned my back on him, but had merely turned to indicate to him where I might set up. He then shouted, “When someone turns their back on you, it means they are finished with you. I turned my back on you. I was done with you.” Still, not wanting to fully comprehend what was going on, I continued to argue my innocence. Suddenly, a white, woman with multiple piercings on her visage, charged over and began screaming at me that she had heard what I said, she was a customer and they, all the other customers, heard what I said. At this point the tall, bespectacled, white, male, fully unleashed his hostility and screamed “See, everyone in here heard what you said.” With a sweeping gesture, encompassing everyone on the premises, he then proclaimed that “See we all know what you say more than you people.”

With his “you people” comment, there was no longer any dodging comprehension for me. From the time I entered the premises of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café and was rendered invisible, my intuition had been willing me to see the truth, but I had bestowed the benefit of the doubt upon my fellow human beings inhabiting the premises at that time.

Slapped to reality I remembered that my sons were with me, watching this all and I worried for them. I tried to locate them, but my senses assaulted, I was rendered temporarily blind and I couldn’t see them. It was as if I were in the center of concentric circles – or a Roman amphitheatre, panicking, with lions slowly, arrogantly, circling – rapidly spinning, out of control, the outside circle rotating, morbidly slowly, in the opposite direction, everything warping in and out of focus; the only thing clear, sharp, and in focus, were the words and the hatred propelling them, which pierced my very being.

As I looked around Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, I caught the eyes of each of the four or five patrons (all of whom were white) who were inside in addition to the male and female employee, and the irate multi-pierced white, female, customer. I looked at every one of them beeseechingly, yet no one stood up nor spoke up. They burrowed their buttocks deeper into their seats; buried their faces in their coffee, cell phone and newspaper. One man looked at me with that “Can you believe this?” look then returned to his phone call. Another smiled sweetly at me on his way out the door. 

When finally I regained my equilibrium and located my sons, I knew I could not read my books in that environment. (My stories are full of truth, laced with whimsy and joy; they’re about equality, love and humanity.) I asked the boys to put my things back in the car, telling them “I cannot conduct a story telling here.”

The tall, bespectacled, white, male employee and the multi-pierced woman, both fired “Good. Get out we don’t want you here.” The woman then ripped a flyer with my photograph on it promoting the event, from a sandwich board, crumpling it in her hands saying, “I’ve seen your picture and you’re not very good.” I shook my head, wondering what my photograph could possibly say about my story telling abilities and began to follow my sons out the door. The tall, bespectacled, white, male, bellowed after us. “Thank God.” (My youngest son clued me in later that what the multi-pierced angry, white, female had meant was that she didn’t think my pictures were very good.)

We returned the guitar and other items to my car. I was about to leave when I decided that I needed to at least let Mark Kirchmeier, the owner, know why I would not be fulfilling my obligation and doing story time. I returned to the store to request a phone number at which I could contact him directly. I was told by the tall, bespectacled, white, male employee to get out. I tried explaining that, as a professional, I needed to let Mark know why I was leaving. The male employee continued to tell me to get out, eventually shrieking, “You need to show me respect.” (In my world respect is earned and you certainly don’t earn mine by ill-treating me.) Then, determined, it would seem, to obliterate any remnants of doubt in my mind as to whom, and what exactly, I was dealing with, the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee vociferated “I don’t know where you’re from, but you’re in my country now.”

Evidently emboldened, the multi-pierced, white, female customer lunged at me, arms flailing, shouting in my face that every one of the customers (waving her arms for emphasis, including them in her sweep) felt threatened by me and that she was calling the police. 

I will confess, that at this time, like a bull at a red flag, all I could see was her silver nose ring, taunting me, tempting me, daring me… It took all my will to not shove my little finger between it and her snout, and pull, really, really, hard. You will be happy to know I did restrain myself. For this I thank my angels, my intuition, or maybe it was the “friendly” immigration officer in Charlotte, North Carolina, this past July, who after informing my two sons that they had more rights than I did; that they could vote (my sons were, at that time, 12 and 10 years old,) proceeded to tell me that should I “so much as hit someone, I would be sent back home (to England.)” (Now don’t get me wrong, I have no problem returning to my birthplace, I would however, prefer to do it under my own volition.)

At the time, I remember wondering, fretting actually, as to why such a “genial” welcome back to the Country for sweet little me. Friday, January 30, 2009, at approximately 9:50 AM, standing face to nose-ring attached to an out of control, bigoted, white, female, in Krakow Koffeehouse and café, my pinky twitching, it became awesomely, audibly, clear – complete with southern drawl. But that’s another story for a later blog.

The irate multi-pierced, white, female, customer picked up the phone, waved it at me and threatened, “I’m calling the police.” When that, to her surprise, didn’t scare me, she challenged, “I’m dialing the number…” I told her to go ahead. I am not afraid of the police. (I must say I did get the distinct impression that I was supposed to be afraid.) I had done nothing wrong, unless you count attempting to fulfill the obligations of a story telling invitation, entering the premises, head held high while abundantly melanistic, and expecting to be treated, like anyone else, as a human being – with respect and dignity. 

 Continued/Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part II

Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part II

February 19, 2009

Anyway, as I began to take my leave once and for all, Sunshine Dixon, of the Urban League of Portland, entered. I have never been so glad to see Sunshine. Believing she would have a contact number for Mark Kirchmeier, I felt my current dilemma of relaying a message to Mark, solved. I informed Sunshine that I was leaving, telling her “I cannot conduct a story time here.” (For background, Sunshine initiated contact between Mark of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café and me. She had explained that his “global” coffee shop was also an art gallery and he was looking for a diverse mix of artists to adorn the walls and provide entertainment on his premises. I had contacted him on her recommendation. We met and he subsequently expressed an interest in carrying my product, and invited me to conduct a (and possibly several) story time.)

I explained everything to Sunshine and asked her for Mark’s number. Sunshine confidently said, “I’ll take care of this.” She too was met with unbridled hostility. The multi-pierced, angry, white, woman continued to bleat at me telling me to get out and threatening me with the police. Sunshine attempted to both locate Mark Kirchmeier and reason respectfully with the irascible multi-pierced, white, woman. Eventually she tamed enough to ask derisively of Sunshine, “Why are we still dealing with her? (pointing to me) Are you her sister?

Standing talking with Sunshine, suddenly I heard “miss.” I turned to find the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, standing by me, face and body turned away from me, holding the phone contemptuously out toward me. 

I stepped so that I could look into his face and he would have to look into mine. I did not reach for the phone. Refusing to look at me, he, the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, contorted his neck and body, and jabbed the phone at me, saying disdainfully, “It’s for you. It’s Mark the owner.” I was not about to take the phone until he acknowledged me and so I continued to look at him in utter amazement, willing him to recognize my humanity. Alas, ‘twas not to be. The tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee ceremoniously dropped the telephone to the floor at my feet and ambled away.

Stunned I could not believe this was happening. I looked around the room, scanning the faces of the patrons who all, to a person, sat passively by, their reticence smirking at me.

Awakened from my stupor by my son’s movement and fearing he might pick up the phone, I readied myself to knock it out of his hands. A law-abiding, conscious, member of society, I am proud to say that my son kicked that phone away from me. 

Well, this gesture of self-respect and pride sent multi-pierced, angry, white, woman into a tailspin. She began bellowing that we were now damaging property and she was definitely calling the police.

Interestingly, or should I say, revealingly, it is now that the adult patrons of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café were compelled to action – almost baying for the blood of my 13 year old who had simply, unlike any one of them, courageously stood up for something, for his mother, for himself, his brother, for people of color, for humanity.

Sunshine was now on the telephone with Mark Kirchmeier, the owner of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café. He apparently was begging me to stay and wait for him because he was “only ten minutes away.” I finally had had enough. I gathered my children and began to leave again. Still breathing fire, multi-pierced, angry, white, woman, customer, followed behind me ranting, “Yeah! Get out.” “Who do you think you are? There’s only one British Queen.”

Finally outside of that toxic environment and inhaling the unexpectedly magnificent fresh air of highly- trafficked, North Interstate, I remembered a friend of mine was coming to the story time with her children and I rushed to call her to dissuade her from coming. Unfortunately, or fortunately, she was literally around the corner and pulled in simultaneously. Sensing something wrong, she quickly parked and rushed out of the car. I began to recount what had happened and I broke down sobbing. (Still, two weeks later, my spirit sobs when it hits me what my sons and I experienced, and I feel, like thumps on my person, the arrogant superiority of the perpetrators whom, somewhere in their being, believed such bigoted treatment justified, because we were in their eyes, different; in the words of the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, “…not from here” and therefore not entitled, as other paler people, to humane treatment.

I laugh, sorrowfully, when I think about how the stories I was going to read were about inclusiveness and the fact that, though we might be different on the exterior, we were all ultimately, inherently the same – human. I was going to sing my song “What Color Are you? You’re The Color Of Love!”

While my friend was consoling me, an anxious Mark Kirchmeier came scurrying down the street. He nervously asked me what happened. I told him, sharing how his tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee had used the eponymous “You people” to refer to me. I too told him how that same employee had screeched at me, “I don’t know where you’re from but you’re in my country now.” I spared him no detail.

He ran inside Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, coming back outside to state, “Well, we have a classic case of he said, she said.” At no time did he, the person who had invited me to conduct the story time, invite me inside so that we could discuss things all together and “sort things out.” He did, however, proceed to tell me that his employee’s social skills were “rough around the edges.” I asked “And you have him working in a coffee shop?” He also informed me that the multi-pierced, angry, white, female, customer, was his tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee’s girlfriend.

He then tried to assuage my feelings and wipe the slate clean, by offering me the chance to do story time on another day, “any other time I wanted” were his words. Shocked that he would ask, I told him that no I would never. When my friend who found the whole thing quite ironic knowing me, my books and my message, asked him if he had any sense of what it is I do. Why I do what I do. Why I write and illustrate the books I write; why I sing the songs I sing? Seeming confused, his response to her was “Well, we would still like to carry her children’s books and products.” 

Incredulous at Mark’s attempts to appease me and negate my experience, I communicated to him emphatically, that his employee’s actions were racist. Mark recoiled, horrified that I had dared to not only identify the elephant in the room, but also the piles of doo-doo on the floor. Then, shamefacedly, asked me, all the while looking down at the floor “So, you don’t think it was just that he was rude, you think it crossed the line into racism? You don’t think you’re being…” Mark didn’t complete that question, though I, staring at the edge of his spectacles (for he still would not look me in the eye,) willed him to do it.

Next thing, wouldn’t you know, a police car pulled up, parked, and the policeman entered Krakow Koffeehouse & Café. Mark took off back to his business. A minute or so later another police car pulled up. This time a policeman replete in bulletproof vest and ammo belt sprinted across the street into the coffee shop.

Susanne and I continued talking on the sidewalk for a little while longer. Neither Mark, policeman number one, or number two, nor anyone else from inside Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, approached me for any, or, additional information.

 Continued/Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part III 

Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part III

February 19, 2009

Returning to my car I glanced in the window of Krakow Coffeehouse & Café. I was shocked and offended to see Sunshine (who too had been the recipient of, and witness to, a racially motivated assault,) conducting a story time that I had, in good conscience, chosen not to do, due to the racist environment. Seeing Sunshine sitting there I was so angry. I felt slapped, no punched and stabbed in the back – she might just as well have put on black face and danced.

Watching her gushing and grinning all I saw was someone trying desperately to be seen to be perfectly fine with everything, unlike the uppity Negress, namely me, on the other side of the window. What I saw was her condoning their racism, siphoning off their hatred for them and swallowing it down, trying hard not to wince as its bitter rancidity tore apart her innards, and all the while ensuring that they didn’t feel bad. Her actions said to me “I’m not like her Massa. I won’t make you feel bad Massa. No. No. You just give me whatever you feel I’m worth Massa. What’s that you sayin’ Massa? You need to kick somethin’ Massa? Here I am sir, I’m layin’ down for you Massa. Kick me hard Massa. I can take it. Jus’ please, please, please, Massa, don’t make me go back in the field. I’m beggin’ you Massa…

As I replayed the scene in my mind later that day, my anger abated, settling to a profound sadness. She was only doing what “sane,” “safe,” “sensible,” black people who know their place do. Shutter your heart, shroud your soul, swallow your pride, but keep on working, keep on doing, keep on trying to prove your worth, prove you are just as good, just like those of the dominant culture.

Don’t just catch the filth thrown at you, ingest it, rub it in your pores, be a willing receptacle, but be sure to keep one eye and your nostrils open so you can continue to see, and smell, the ever elusive prize – that prize being, equality in humanity -, because someday you will have that prize, someday you will be worthy, someday when you’re broken enough, maybe when you’re “dead” enough, it will be yours? Someday they will let you win it. Won’t they?

Now that black people are free. (Come on you people, there’s one of your own sitting and shitting in the White House and we’re no longer hanging you now are we?) Free to accept whatever the dominant culture deigns to discharge on us; free to swallow our anger – eat it into sickness, so that we can still have access to the crumbs that might be tossed our way as long as we bend low enough, assimilate enough, work hard enough, stay in our bucket. Pardon me, my mistake, I meant place.

A couple of hours later Mark Kirchmeier telephoned me, enquiring as to whether it was a good time to talk. Before I could respond, he launched into the reason for his call. “I wanted to call and let you know what I have done with my staff. I have given Ben (that it turns out is the name of the tall, bespectacled, white, male, “coffee mixer and pourer,” aka barista) a reprimand and I have banned his girlfriend from the store.

He then kindly shared with me that Ben had thirteen years coffee experience so … he knew a lot, and he (Mark,) didn’t want to fire him at this time. Was he concerned about finding a suitable replacement? In this time when jobs being lost like hair follicles on a balding pate!  Poor, poor, Markie would surely have a monstrous time finding a suitable replacement for the socially inept (my British translation of Mark’s words) Ben. I mean, it’s intellectually taxing pouring boiling water on coffee grounds all day long. But, I digress.

Mark then informed me that it was in fact the girlfriend whom had uttered “I don’t know where you’re from, but you’re in my country now.” Aware of what he was attempting I firmly corrected him and reiterated that the comment had come direct from the mouth of his tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee. (I reminded him that it was the multi-pierced, angry, white, girlfriend whom had made the “…there is only one British queen” retort.) He conceded saying, “But that’s a racist comment? When I concurred. Mark plummeted into a whine of how dazed and shaken he was by what had happened.

At this point, my patience expired. Not only had this man not called to apologize, rewritten my story, presumptuously retelling it to me (all in an attempt to justify not dealing with his racist employee, thereby sidestepping his own racism,) he was now going to try to elicit sympathy from me.

I was standing in line at the checkout in Trader Joes; it definitely was not a good time to talk, and had Mark given me the chance I would have informed him of that fact, but, I believe everything happens for a reason and so I let him have it, in a proper, regal, British way.

I told him that he couldn’t even begin to feel what I was feeling when I set out that morning to conduct a story time filled with inclusiveness and love and that on entering his business I had made the mistake of expecting to be treated with respect and humanity and that I had, instead, been met with disdain and racism. I then informed him that this was not a good time to talk.

Driving to my home later that day, I suddenly felt exposed, and afraid – what if those hate filled people knew where I lived. I felt afraid for my children’s safety, my own safety and the safety of my home.

I received the following email from Sunshine Dixon that afternoon:

I am sorry about the event today
Sent By: “Sunshine Dixon”   
On:   Jan 01/30/09 11:23 AM

Sharon

I am heartsick about what took place today. My heart goes out to you and your kids for everything they/you witnessed and felt. This was so unexpected and out of line with what I personally experienced just one week prior. My heart breaks for what I witnessed and experienced today and I am so sorry that you and your kids went through that.

I stayed for half and hour to share with the 9 – 10 little ones who where there for you. The parents are going to check your website for other shows of yours to bring their little ones. They were sorry they missed seeing you and really want to connect with you in the future. I asked them to lookup your website. 

I talked to Mark as well.

I am so sorry to you Sharon and to your little ones for today’s events.

Sunshine Dixon

Yet, she stayed…

The sad thing is Sunshine really believed that directing people to my website and me potentially making a sale or two, would somehow mop up, be the antidote for, the poison liberally poured on my children and me by the inhabitants of “friendly, global, neighborhood, coffeehouse” Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, that morning; actions which, in her own words, had rendered her heartsick. When will humankind (and in this case, particularly, black (the melanistic among us) humankind) learn that Liberty, Truth and Equality are not, contrary to popular belief, commodities for sale to the highest bidder?

Continued/Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part IV 

Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part IV

February 19, 2009

The next morning, January 31, 2009, I received this email from Mark Kirkmeier, owner, Krakow Koffee:

RE: I am sorry about the event today

Mark

Sent By: “Mark Kirchmeier” 
On:  Jan 01/31/09 12:15 AM

Dear Sharon,

I had a good conversation with an Overlook parent named Claire Michaels, who came inside Krakow when you were talking with Ben (the tall barista with glasses).   Claire said that she picked up on some tension you were feeling with Ben, but she thought the situation was manageable, and then after the unfortunate phone dropping incident

happened, Ben’s girlfriend (with the nose ring) completely lost it, and starting shouting the “get out of her remarks.”

I am asking the girl friend to write a letter of apology to you.  If she doesn’t do so, she will banned from the store.  I have given Ben a reprimand.

Again, as I mentioned on the phone to you, I am dazed and mind boggled, that a staff person, and an girl friend with evidentally some behavior issues, and who had no business being party to this discussion, could screw up something as benign as a children’s story telling.

One tremendous grace note today, was Sunshine’s graciousness in staying, and giving some of the kids what they had come for, a story telling experience.

You didn’t have do that, Sunshine, and I greatly appreciate you’re doing so.

Sincerely

Mark

Find a white person to contradict, over-sensitive, angry, black person’s (in my case, uppity negress’) story…

It would have been better had Mark continued on in his daze and not “said” another word. However, he felt justified in denying my veracity and taking the word of someone who was not -party to the whole incident over mine. What was it his tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, Ben had said? Oh, that’s right. “You see we all know more what you say than “you people.” The truth, as they say, will out. I did not feign a response.

And that staff person is still gainfully employed. Hmm! Let’s weigh things up a little. Racism vs. thirteen years coffee pouring experience, what am I thinking? No comparison!

Mark, obviously no longer dazed and mind boggled, and buoyed by the privilege of his the dominant “his-story” writing culture, continued his march toward domination.

On February, 2, 2009 at 7:30 pm, I received the following email:

written apology forthcoming

Sent By: “Mark Kirchmeier”
On:  Feb 02/03/09 7:30 PM

Sharon,

I have a signed written apology from barista Ben Reed on his behalf and his lady friend, who so spectactularly lost control last Friday.

If you have a fax, I could fax it to you, or mail it to you.

Sincerely,

Mark

That same said multi-pierced, angry, white, female, girlfriend, of the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, whom Mark had banned from his shop? Oh, that’s right, silly me, I had forgotten I’m black, I obviously misheard.

Baited, here is my response.

Mark,

Do not under any circumstances forward me any correspondence from your racist employee, nor his girlfriend. You cannot truly believe that anything you force them to write, coupled with your absolutely insulting email of yesterday, and your telephone call and comments on Friday, during which you shamelessly attempted to explain away your employee’s racist assault, by virtue of social skills that were, as you put it, “rough around the edges,” thereby negating my (and my children’s) experiences, our pain, our truth. But isn’t that the way those types transgressions are always handled?

I am including the text of your email for you to take a long look at. Try reading it out loud, preferably in front of a mirror, looking yourself in the eyes:

From: Mark Kirchmeier

To:

Subject: RE: I am sorry about the event today

Date: January 31, 2009 12:15:47 AM PST

Dear Sharon,

I had a good conversation with an Overlook parent named Claire Michaels, who came inside Krakow when you were talking with Ben (the tall barista with glasses).   Claire said that she picked up on some tension you were feeling with Ben, but she thought the situation was manageable, and then after the unfortunate phone dropping incident happened, Ben’s girlfriend (with the nose ring) completely lost it, and starting shouting the “get out of her remarks.”

I am asking the girl friend to write a letter of apology to you.  If she doesn’t do so, she will banned from the store.  I have given Ben a reprimand.

Again, as I mentioned on the phone to you, I am dazed and mind boggled, that a staff person, and an girl friend with evidentally some behavior issues, and who had no business being party to this discussion, could screw up something as benign as a children’s story telling.

One tremendous grace note today, was Sunshine’s graciousness in staying, and giving some of the kids what they had come for, a story telling experience.

You didn’t have do that, Sunshine, and I greatly appreciate you’re doing so.

Sincerely,

Mark

If you think that I, and my children, can be appeased by empty words penned on paper, when the Truth of the heart and soul of your employees, the patrons of your establishment, and ultimately you yourself, have already been delivered to me loud and clear, at high decibels and in silence, in words, spoken, unsaid, and insinuated, in every action and inaction, then you are even less of a human being than I, at this time, believe you to be.

It is ironic that 10 days after America celebrated (led by liberal progressive Portland, Oregon) the “historic” inauguration of President Barack Obama, in the year 2009, I entered your business, Krakow Coffee, invited by you, to conduct a children’s story time; to read my children’s picture book, Max and Me, a story of friendship highlighting our differences, yet celebrating our similarities, and I was drop-kicked, side-swiped, clear back into the 1950s and 60s – the only thing missing were the police dogs.

For your information Mark, “Max and Me is a story about friendship between two little boys of different colors. (Yes, that’s right, color, not race. There is only one race – the human race.) It is a sweet and funny story that reminds us that we are all the same at heart.”

“In this era of multiculturalism, and a seeming emphasis on our differences, we sometimes forgot that people, no matter their color, or culture, are inherently the same. “Max and Me” is a fun, uplifting story about friendship that illustrates this fact with levity and candor.”  http://www.sharonmartini.com/MaxAndMeReviews.html

It is obviously far more important for you to retain your supremely knowledgeable and experienced (13 years was it) though socially “rough around the edges,” coffee mixer and pourer, (aka barista) and provide free reign to his pierced partner, thereby, maintaining your bottom line – remaining in the black – (pun intended,) than it is for you to stand up for Truth, Love, Liberty and Humanity.

In the words of Henry David Thoreau: If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth–certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.

Sincerely,

Sharon 

“Love is not possession. Love is not control. Love is everywhere, everything. Love is not something to hold.” ~ Moi! 5/08
Sharon Martini
Lady Bird Designs, LLC
Wonderfully Whimsical Works of Art by Sharon Martini
www.sharonmartini.com
sharonmartini@mac.com
503-709-7298
www.mummychatter.wordpress.com

Continued/Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part V