Coffee Log, Day 258

Hi.

Coffee: Sumatra Medium-Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand

I can’t know what it’s like to be a black man or woman in America and see Gillum or Abrams lose. In their respective races, Gillum was accused of ‘monkeying around’ and Abrams was told it would be a ‘cotton-picking shame’ if she won. To those who don’t know, Gillum was the black male candidate for Governor of Florida; Abrams was the black female candidate for Governor of Georgia; they were both running against white men.

How long does it take to put out the fire of your demons? And can you, even?

I grew up in the era of ‘code-switching’ as some kind of prescriptive answer. In school, anyone who wouldn’t talk ‘proper’ was called out. This was nominally raceless – the country hicks would get mentioned for saying ‘ain’t and ‘y’all’ – but like many American institutions, it disproportionately targeted black dialect.

Then I grew up in the birth of the internet. The birth of the internet meant the birth of memes and so many of the early memes were funny at the expense of stereotyped blackness. The leprechaun song, anyone?

And now I live and participate in the dominance of hip-hop as the cultural standard for the country. That should be a humanizing expression of American blackness at a large, visible scale. In some ways, it’s exactly that. But look at the lyrics dissecting a history of black trauma and then look at the white kids listening to those lyrics and thumping their heads (myself included) and you don’t see a bunch of white fingers rushing to push progressive keys on the ballots. If you did, maybe we’d have a couple more black governors.

I think this is what’s been going on: the white liberal community wanted its court jester.

No, Mr. ’90’s man, Clinton voter, Democrat for life, you’re not part of the lynch mobs; yes, you have a few black friends in your monthly office steak dinners; but when push comes to shove – when you could give your voice to advance the cause of black Americans whose oppression your skin is responsible for – you can’t be bothered to vote.

You want to revel in the products of a disenfranchised community and pretend that when it dances, it’s only dancing for you.

Novel Count: 6,064 words

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith; Cherry, Nico Walker

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“It seems like a lot of black artists right now, at least from a critical standpoint, are forced into either bearing witness or putting forward an ideology through their work, which kind of reduces it to documentation or protest signs. But you seem resistant to both.

Nina Chanel Abney: That’s my goal, to resist that stuff. Early on, when I was doing more portraits, I had noticed how so many assumptions are put on you. If I paint a black figure, it’s already read a certain way. It’s going to be assumed that I’m trying to do something different by painting a white figure. So I just try to create dualities and mix the races and genders of the figures. That’s my way of giving myself the freedom of being able to paint whatever I want without it being for a specific reason.” – interview of Nina Chanel Abney (visual artist) by IndyWeek (link)

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Coffee Log, Day 68

Hi.

Coffee: Large Americano from Caribou Coffee; paid for by a tip from Meg. Thanks Meg! The espresso was dusty like an old book but pleasant. Meg and I have been talking about Starbucks. Last week, a store manager called cops on black customers for being black. Loud-mouths argue it’s because they weren’t ‘paying,’ or were ‘threatening,’ but those are just code words for sharing yourself with the wrong color lips. Meg showed me an article from Slate. The commentators described Starbucks’ business model as ‘commoditizing diversity’ and selling it to a white middle class in easy-to-digest doses. I went to Caribou and saw white men and white women with smiling faces served by smiling white baristas. There were people of color there too, but I couldn’t help thinking that the article was spot-on because here was a space designed to make you comfortable and comfort is a privilege given in America on a sliding scale of class and skin-tone.

April’s almost over. I’ve spent the Spring mostly jobless and now I’m ending it well-employed. I like my work so far. I’m making more money than I had been. Still, when I look at the crowning trees and listen to kids playing with the good weather, I’m restless. Spring and Fall are anxious seasons. The more beautiful – the more comfortable – something is, the less you can trust it. Sometimes I think a nice day is just a reminder of how deep the gully is between people. If I can enjoy this weather, there’s a good chance that enjoyment is predicated on someone else’s subjugation.

It’s easy to say a Spring day is free, but freedom is distributed unequally.

Currently Reading:
The Pardoner’s Tale, by John Wain

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“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”- Nelson Mandela

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