Posts Tagged ‘Melanin’

Color Conscious…

November 7, 2011

“Brownings, Please” So exclaimed the headline of the Jamaica Gleaner, one Sunday, September last. Even before reading the article, and fully aware that I am still learning to fully comprehend variegate Jamaican vernacular, I felt quite secure in my determination that this was not about cooking. I was reminded of a TV programme I watched last year while flying back to Portland, Oregon from Montego Bay.

That show was CNN’s “Kids On Race: The Doll Study Revisited.” In a recreation of a 1947 experiment, a group of children were asked to choose the good, bad, ugly, pretty or “one that looks like me” doll from drawings ranging in hue from pale pink to dark chocolate, or, white to black. Almost across the board when asked to select the “doll” with positive traits the children chose the “white” one. When picking the negatives, yep you guessed it, they picked the darkest dolly, the “black” one.

Though not my first time observing this type of experiment and sadly, not surprised, my heart still ached as I questioned, again, how it was that, Anno Domini 2011, sixty plus years on, with the leader of the “free” world a milk-coffee-colored cousin, that the “barely out of diapers” future leaders of our world (and as current headlines imply, suit clad corporate leaders) continue to learn, and believe to the detriment of hue-manity, these putrid but persistent lessons? What are we adults teaching our children? And why are we adults perpetuating the madness? Obviously something is a miss. (Incredulous, I ask myself, and anyone who can hear, “Why are we still having this conversation?”) Something is not working, or then again, maybe that was the plan all along. But I digress.

It has shocked and saddened me during my journeys to the land of my parents, my ancestors; the home of my own vagabond, or wandering, soul, that the same self-hatred and disdain for one’s darkness, blackness, abundance of melanin, visibly evident African heritage, that reigns and rages, in the United States of America (and beyond) permeates this – rich, bounteous of spirit, heart and life – little island of Jamaica.

My mother had told stories of when as a child, being darker of hue and shackled with the twin shame of poverty, her “place” was in the back of the classroom at the “good” school she attended, and even that only because her mother washed its floors. Still, I say to myself that was then…

Will we, and I mean all of hue—manity, learn the truth of whom we truly are and what skin shade simply is at its core? Can we purge ourselves of the poisons we have been fed, disguised as lessons and learning; the blatantly illogical yet pernicious lies that corrupt us, our colors, our consciences, our compassion? Can we reclaim our power, take back our hearts, reaquaint with ourselves? Can we become the conquistadores of our own personal Freedom?

What if one knew that melanin is what colors us, what paints us uniquely in shades from milk to midnight; that technically, it is due either to abundance or deficiency, that we humans become black or white.

What if it was common knowledge that melanin is what darkens our skin, our hair, our eyes? Melanin helps us hear, colors our hearts, our blood, liver, the marrow in our bones, and gave “birth” to the stars.

What if you knew that melanin is protector, reflector, diviner, deflector, healer, highway-to-the-Divine; the almighty alchemist; the chemical of life? One-drop being sanctifier not stain – the key to life’s door?

What if you knew that billions of dollars of global government monies have been spent, and are continuing to be spent, studying melanin…and its magic?

Melanin is the most absorbent material known to man. It is melanin in a synthetic form that provided the insulation protecting the electrical wires of the now retired NASA Space Shuttle.

What if these truths were known to all human kind?
Imagine with me for a moment…

A rending of the cloak of inferiority, victim-hood, self-hatred, worn by the melanin-infused among us; this cloak woven and gifted “in the name of love, and God.”

The silencing, once and for all, of the perpetually repeated lies of white supremacy. The diminishing of the potency and power of color prejudice, and its big daddy racism.

We all, each one of us of every hue, have (are) melanin. What if we all knew and understood this?

What if commonsense/the universe/Sophia/wisdom/Goddess/God, whispered and we listened, really listened to her, “If you need a touch of melanin just to function, might that suggest the more you have, the greater thou can be?

Could humankind walk hand in hand, freed, no longer needing to run, hinder, hide, detach, crush, control, squelch, the “other;” able finally, to let go, relax and open to the unique foibles and fortes of each individual, no matter their skin tone?

Imagine knowing, deep in your heart, in the marrow of your bones, in your soul, in your melanin, that, like chlorophyll to plants, melanin to man, is the alpha and the omega?

No person, rule, wrong, “Doll Study” or “Brownings, Please” could ever take that away.

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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

Request for an omission shows the need for inclusion

February 11, 2010

I am an angel.

I am dark.

Dark as mother earth.

I am an angel.

I am a black angel.

Feel my spark.

I performed my original song, “Black Angel,” at Colored Pencils Art and Culture, One-Year Anniversary Celebration at City Hall this past month.

Colored Pencils is, in the words of founder and Portland artist Nim Xuto, “…a group of newcomers, poets, artists and like-minded people of all colors who gather together once a month to sing, read poetry, and perform in our native languages.”

I am golden.

I am goddess.

I am dark.

I am divine.

Singing my own words, my own truth, for an audience is an exhilarating, humbling and nerve-wracking experience. My dormant familiar inner dialogue never fails to resuscitate immediately before I begin: “Did you practice enough? No. Relax, it’s the words, Sharon.” Nevertheless, gladly taking the stage I smile, inhale, invoking supporting spirits. Strumming and singing my heart, the universe cradles me, the audience smiles back at me. They are listening to my words.

I am regal.

I am rebel.

I am dark.

I am divine.

A man approached me afterward. Shaking my hand, he tells me how much he enjoyed my song. He remains standing before me. I feel my being expand in the warmth of his admiration and I remember the little girl in Jamaica shyly confessing that my song made her cry happy tears. Present again, I await this man’s continued, sure to be complimentary, commentary.

“… But you need to take out the ‘black.’”

Eloquence, articulacy and pride escape me, rapidly deflating me. Discombobulated, a tad perturbed, I am ready to jettison my halo, pluck my wings and climb into conveniently materialized cloven hooves. Miraculously, recovering vocabulary and sense, I am able to exclaim: “I am black.” Momentarily relieved as I glimpse my white angel friend (a.k.a. potential ally) in my, thankfully, re-expanding scope of view, I am quickly forced to refocus while contemplating whether angels can, indeed, fly backward.

Nobody ever talks about angels like me.

I can move mountains.

I have birthed seas.

Transmigrated, I right my halo and fluff my wings.

“You need to take out the ‘black,’” the man repeats in a soft, but menacing tone, akin to that of a concerned but seething parent.

Reconnected, mercifully, with my inner seraph, I patiently explain that I sing of black angels to counter the accepted norm, or mythology, that angels are only white. I shared my belief that we humans are angels, too, and we appear in every color. Sadly, I did not assuage his fears. He stomped off repeating his warning that I needed to take the “black” out.

Where angels are concerned, black angels are not often considered, nor depicted. If they are, they are dismissed as white angels gone astray; the fallen, the naughty anomaly, or quite simply a sullied one covered in soot.

In this life I know there is a lesson in every surprise, every disappointment – every happening. I am grateful for this truth, even as I ponder the pedagogy. The “art of gratitude,” unlike “the art of the guitar,” which I have a tendency to wing, I do practice, regularly. So, thank you white angel in men’s clothing, for liking my song and requesting that I eradicate the “black.”

In these our multicultural times we humans/angels habitually find ourselves mired in the black and white divide of good versus evil. I sing “Black Angel” as antidote to the poison of that gap, or as a tool to use, if one wishes, to assist in navigating your own way out of the quagmire.

Thank you also for teaching me that I need to dare to keep singing “Black Angel.” Try to remember, you, too, are an angel. You, too, are divine, and, as you did concede, angels do come in all colors. You are free to choose your own hue, however I reiterate:

I am golden.

I am goodness.

I am dark.

I am a black angel.

I am.

I am.

I am divine.

This column originally appeared in the January 2010, edition of The Southwest Community Connection newspaper

Black Oregon

September 25, 2009

“When times are tough for everyone in Oregon, it is exponentially so for black folks.” This according to Marcus Munday, President of the Urban league of Portland. The Sunday Oregonian newspaper’s July 26th , 2009, headlline screamed: “State of black Oregon: precarious.” The column continued “Unemployment and other miseries troubling the state are multiplied for African Americans and went on to list the litany of ills and misfortunes that continuously befall the black populations in Oregon.

For example, sixty percent of black children in Oregon live in households with income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. This compared to thirty-three percent of white children in Oregon. The percentage of Oregon students meeting the state’s 10th-grade reading benchmark in 2006-2007, was only thirty-eight for blacks as opposed to sixty-eight percent for whites. Also, the Oregon incarceration rate per 100,000 of the black and white populations is thirty-four percent for black compared to sixty-eight percent for whites.

We are constantly bombarded with negative stories in the media of the failings and shortcomings of the black population of Oregon (and America at large.) On Friday, July 24, 2009, the Metro section headline was “Schools confront racial gap.” Occasionally, of course we do hear success stories, but these tales are oftentimes, tempered by the “exception to the rule” insinuation. There is a latent, and insidious, belief within the general population, of the inferiority of black people. I concede that it would be hard not to believe with negativity channeled, unrelentingly, when it’s black people propaganda, whether current, or historical.

What if there is an ulterior motive with this negative press? Extreme? Paranoid? Perhaps, that is your call, but consider this: They say the winners; the conquerors; the dominant ones, get to write history. I understand that. What if that history contained more truths about the losers; the conquered?

What if it was general knowledge that during the formation of Oregon, blacks were not allowed to be here? They were not allowed to own property here. It was the Law. In 1844, Oregon residents passed laws banning slavery and excluding African Americans. An act passed by the Oregon territorial legislature in 1849, provided that negroes that “it shall not be lawful for any negroe or mulattoe to come into or reside within the limits of this territory.” This was precipitated by a fear among the settlers that  the Indians and free negroes would become allies against them. “Whereas, situated as the people of Oregon are, in the midst of an Indian population, it would be highly dangerous to allow free negroes and mulattoes to reside in the territory or to intermix with the Indians, instilling into their minds feelings of hostility against the white race.”

In 1859 Oregon became a state. Its original constitution included an article banning African Americans from residence, employment, owning property or voting. Some might say, that was then, this is now, but could that not have created instability in the foundation upon which a person might ultimately build their “home?

Wealth in America is through home ownership (the acquiring of property) and education. Sixty-eight percent of white Oregonians own their own homes. Only thirty-four percent of black Oregonians own their own homes. Twenty-eight percent of all Oregonians hold bachelor’s degrees, only nineteen percent of blacks hold bachelors degrees.

What if the true story was told to all, of how blacks, after World War II, were denied access to the GI Bill and Federal Housing Authority loans, while whites used this privilege to gain, and maintain, their head start to the American dream in all areas?

Predominantly black schools are constantly failing. The disparities in test scores between African American and white students is ever increasing. We read and hear about it all the time in the news media.

Comparing data on Lincoln High, Portlands most white school, and Jefferson High, Portland’s predominantly black high school, these disparaties are glaringly apparent. Statistics from the Portland Public Schools document, “Source 2008-2009, School Profiles and Enrollment Data,” state that Lincoln’s Talented and Gift students number 26.9%, while Jefferson’s numbers 7.4%. Special Education at Jefferson is 21.4%, and Lincoln’s is only 4%. Tenth Grade students meeting or exceeding State standards in reading (2007-2008) are 16.8% at Jefferson against 85.2% at Lincoln. Average graduation rates and drop-out rates for 2007-2008 at Jefferson and Lincoln are 68.7%, 7.52%, and 94.63% and 1.35% respectively.

What if the history we are taught, told, in no uncertain terms, that the “colored” schools, and resources therein, in the former “separate but equal” public education system, were intentionally inferior?
In 1867 in Oregon, though the Black population totaled 128, Portland assigned black and mulatto children to segregated schools.

In the landmark case, “Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka,” the key phrase in the ruling delivered by Chief Justice Earl Warren illuminates:

“Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of Negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system. … We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

I highlight the sentence “A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn.” What if this knowledge was weapon? Would it not make sense that this “sense of inferiority” could be fueled by the bussing of the colored children to intentionally superior white schools, and the ostracizing melees that resulted? Why didn’t the Government, instead of spending all that money on buses and security, simply improve the tools and resources within the inferior colored public schools? Maybe this is a simplistic question. Maybe everyone’s lives needed to be affected for change to truly be effected. As my father used to say, “If you cannot hear, you must feel.”

Could it be that yesterday, and today, that “sense of inferiority” is the self-loading magic bullet; ammunition that, like the EverReady bunny, keeps going and going and going, and which fills the barrels of the guns that are the various institutions in our society, not least of all the media?

What if it were mandated that everyone know the story of the Code Noir Laws, the Jim Crow Laws, and all the other nameless “Laws” enacted and hiding out within the auspices of “Diversity,” “Multicultural,” and “Tolerance,” programs?

What if, instead of the same old slave stories, the story was told of how the Africans that were brought here, and from whom many black Oregonians (and black Americans) are descended, were Queens, Kings, Princesses and Priests, nobles, regal, revered and innately powerful people? A shaking loose of the inflicted “sense of inferiority” and the gifted “sense of superiority?”

What if the story that the first slaves held in the United States were not black, but white, (and let us not forget the enslavement of the Native American populations) was told. These first slaves were Europeans, mostly British, who died like flies on the slave-ships across, 1,100 out of 1,500 perishing on one voyage and 350 out of 400 on another. Could that suggest at least a superiority of the constitution of the black people?

What if, as an alternative to the stories of the disproportionate incarceration of those criminal blacks, the tale of how there were no prisons in the villages from whence the noble African’s came, the Africans having no need for same? Could that imply that the “statistically proven” criminality of the black population is taint, as opposed to trait?

The state of Black Oregon might still be precarious, but public perceptions might be changed? And what if public perception changes, might that lead to real, physical, spiritual, emotional change? Could it lead to an end to system dependency, claiming your “place” as opposed to learning one’s “place?”

I don’t know, but might it be something to consider?

A Letter From A Mother

March 11, 2009

As my gift to humanity, and in response to a racially motivated verbal assault on my seventh grade son exactly one week before the “famous” Robert Gray Middle School Multicultural Fair, I created a presentation entitled “The Story of Multiculturalism” and “The Language of Multiculturalism.” I also wrote the following letter to all attendants at said Fair, the evening of Tuesday, March 3, 2009:

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Letter from a mother

Last week my son was verbally assaulted with a racial epithet considered to be the most disparaging. The response from the boys when called on it, was the standard, “We didn’t know.” I cannot accept that. I will not accept that. I ask that you not accept it that excuse either. It is a cop out. When you know a stone lobbed, if it connects with your target, will hurt, could wound, then you know what it is that you do.

Americans stand proud today reveling in the fact they, the American people, voted a man of color, a black man, into the White House and in this revelry many of us delude ourselves that we now live in, as the media writes, a “post racial” society.

This is a lie. When a child can stand and tell another child that his “race” is superior to another’s, it is evident that we do not, (never have done, and never will, unless we are brave, particularly those of the dominant, white, culture,) live in a “post racial” society.

We all must have the courage to see the lie for what it is – a cop out.

Wonderful though it is, if we truly lived in a “post racial” time, there would be no need for this “Multicultural Fair.” There would no longer be a need for “Multiculturalism” or “Multicultural Education” to counter, or clean up, the mess left behind from the social construct of race and it’s partner in crime, Institutional Racism; a mess which we have all, mostly unbeknownst, been smeared.

The myth of “race” and its resultant hierarchy is perpetuated in stereotypes which many times were first introduced into our beings, via songs and nursery rhymes; in our prayers and then in our lessons in school; in the things we are shown and more importantly, the things left out. It’s fed to us, bit by bit, line by line, in the stories and history we are told; the news we read and listen to; the pictures we see. And then there’s the music?

Oftentimes, we dance to the lies, we sing along to the melodies, deluding ourselves that “it’s just music, words; it’s such a great beat.

All the while we are being reminded that, in people, different is dangerous. Flowers are different from each other coming in different colors, shapes, sizes, but they are ultimately still flowers. Why is the same thinking not applied to humans? Why, when having different colored skin, are humans rendered less human, less eligible, less competent, less capable, or dependent on the shade, superior, deserving, prime. The pernicious social construct of “race.”

In the Government mandated quest to “accept and tolerate” difference, we negate the fact and existence of the truth of why we even need to mandate such a thing. After all, if left to our natural defenses (and having not been taught otherwise,) difference inspires curiosity within us. We are innately drawn to what’s different; it excites us, engages us. It opens us to possibility and growth.

I am asking you, as a mother, as a woman, as a fellow member of the one race – the human race, to understand that the social construct of “race” is all a fabrication to keep humanity apart and in fear. Fear of discovering the truth that some of us have been afforded privileges based on our color, or lack thereof, and many of us have been denied those same privileges for the same reasons.

The truth is that many people’s wealth, success and “superiority” has been built on the foundation of inhumanity, inequality, oppression and racism. This knowledge is scary to contemplate, for if one should realize the truth, “Then where does that leave me? Come to think of it, who am I then? No, no, better to leave that dog sleeping.”

However, until we, each and every one of us, confront our prejudices, our privileges, our fears and our truths, none of us can ever be free from the suffocating matrix of institutional oppression. None of us can ever be truly free.

We must expose oppression and the systems that support it. It is not enough for us to “eat Mexican food,” “watch Indian dancers” or learn “African drumming.” We must have the courage to face the truth of the American system and identify where we fit within it; understand and own our privilege and have the courage to use that privilege, spend that privilege, share that privilege, to work towards dismantling an unjust system and creating a more equitable and just society.

Nobody is saying that you created the system; I am not blaming you, but as long as you refuse to see the truth of the situation, you help to maintain the status quo. I am asking you to simply consider finding the courage to face yourself in the mirror of truth and own your privilege; own and accept the fact that you stand, through no fault of your own, on top, or at least nearer the top, by virtue of the fact that your melanin is not evident on the exterior; on your skin.

I am asking you to claim the knowledge that, contrary to popular belief it is not that the darker among us cannot progress or succeed, but that they have been hindered, through the vestige of institutional racism, and while your ancestors were harvesting freely from the tree of “future wealth and resources,” the ancestors of people of color were denied, denied, and denied again.

Can you really continue to shine, with pride, the medal you won for “winning the race” when your opponent’s ankles were tied? Do you really want to?

In this era of multiculturalism, we sometimes forget that people, no matter their color, or culture, are inherently the same – human, with the same needs, entitled to the same equal rights.

Please work with me, by making a commitment with yourself, and your children, to understand the whole truth of prejudice, privilege and power in this United States of America, and if you don’t like what you learn, have the courage to speak up, stand up, for humanity.

Sincerely,

Sharon Martini

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