Equality?

Equality is a great idea unless it means we should all be equal white people.

Nowhere in the culture do I see white people expressing a desire to be persons of color. That said, I do see a growing awareness that people of color are not just victims of white people with whom we need to empathize,  We’re evolving, to be sure; it’s no longer legally possible to enslave, torture, appropriate other people to do the bidding of white people…except perhaps in the way that white people make celebrities out of  black people for entertainment. I experience Beyonce not as a white person in black face, but more as a  black person in whiteface (an imitation of her heritage for consumption by others.)

We’ve evolved to the point – with the help of affirmative action, guilt, fury, activism, pressuire –  of integrating people of color into elitist institutions. As long as the institutions value all imaginations, histories and experiences, this is a welcome step, unless the message is,  “how to be white”.

Equality is possible when the imaginations, histories, desires,  of “other” peoples and cultures are equally weighted with those of white people; when the imagination of an artist of color is of equal interest, on its own terms, without white interpretation, and is a vital participant in the history of art, music, literature, then we have forgotten the word”tolerance”, which is really a demeaning term.

As usual, the arts lead: Here’s a short list of contemporary artists of color with individual approaches to identity:

Bethany Collins
Rashid Johnson
Kara Walker
Ellen Gallagher
Chris Ofili
Ifeoma Anyaeji
Marc Bradford
Kehinde Wiley
Mel Edwards
Kerry James Marshall
Yunka Shonibare
David Hammons

So many more.

Widewalls.com has an interesting conversation: “The cultural identity is defined by both its own members’ living experience and the search for a definition and the perceptions of others, especially those in power. How does the racial identity of an artist affect the way they create art and the perception of it by the masses?

Where My Girls At?  20 black female artists with current solo exhibitions.

Artnet.com: 10 black artists to celebrate.

Culturetype.com: Major AfricanAmerican Contemporary Artists

Hyperallergic: for a take on some 1971 history

 

 

 

 

Let the people decide

Tonight, avoiding the (not my) president’s State of the Union, I’m realizing (again) that without systemic change, our country’s governance will only sway from left to right, consolidating power from one party to the other; elections will be determined by the party establishment over the will of the people.

I’m writing a novel, part of which takes place in the sixties, so I’m researching, rehashing, reliving the times.

In 1968, after Robert Kennedy’s assasination, his now non-committed delegates which, coupled with those of Eugene McCarthy, had a combined majority. These candidates were the favorites of the anti-war and pro-civil rights left. Instead of acknowledging this, the delegates were assigned to Hubert Humphrey. He was a man of corny wholesomeness with a perpetual smile, he sounded sane on civil rights, but he was associated with LBJ’s highly unpopular Vietnam policy. He had no charisma, had never campaigned in any primary and was unwinnable, even against the equally untelegenic Richard Nixon, who handily won. Another way of saying this was that we got Richard Nixon because of the machinations of the Democratic party.

All these years later, it’s 1968 redoux.  The DNC assigned its uincommitted “super delegates” to another unwinnable candidate instead of splitting them with the increasingly popular Bernie Sanders, and now we have Donald Trump. Of course Sanders might not have beat him, but again, the machinations of the party, turning its back on its growing progressive wing, refused to give his canditacy a chance. Of course one could argue that Bernie was not “really” a Dem (he did call himself a Democratic Socialist.) But his running as a Democrat, rather than as a progressive third party candidate, prevented a splitting of the vote, which could have ensured a Republican win. 

Who are these super delegates? Quoting Mark Plotkin in thehill.com, March 2016,: “The whole deal stinks. It’s wrong, unfair and undemocratic. The central element of democracy is elections. Why, oh why, should the supposed “party of the people” reserve nearly one-thirds of their delegates for a select group of individuals who don’t have to stand for election?” 

Getting rid of the College won’t solve our screwed up election system: there’s still the enormous power of big money, of corporations as people, of special interest lobbying, of corruption, of dispicably immoral candidates, of kleptocracy – in short, what we got.

So, Queen Oprah?

I think of Oprah in the White House, not as a president but as a sort of Matriarchal Queen elected for life.  Opulent, corpulent, magnificent. She won’t govern, she will inspire, bequeath, prophasize, cajole, praise, and propose. Should she start cutting off heads, she will be sent to the space station. Actually running the government will be Prime Minister Bernie, Elizabeth for Labor Secretary, Robert Reich for Economic Development, John Louis running Justice, Michelle Obama heading the  newly formed department of Womanhood. Bill McKibben for the EPA. Barack as State, for Health and Human Services. Congress will morph to a Parliament, the electral college disbanded, lobbying made a felony, all guns banished. And universal health care. A living wage, a minumum monetary guarentee for all paid for by the billionaires. 

Yes, I  do notice everyone named here is a Democrat. Yes. Let us assume that, In this scenario, the DNC has been transformed into a transparent organization no longer able to manipulate candidates via super delagates. In this scenario, Republican party is confined to Alabama until it comes up with an agenda favorable to the human race, the planet and agrees that corporations, really, are not people.

We will be Norway with a better climate.

 

 

What I really wish for today

I’m not a mean person. I don’t wish misery, but this morning, after a night of terrible dreams searching for ways out of crumbling places, after reading this mornings news – The Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post, NY Mag, The Atlantic/Republic/Vanity Fair, after following David Frum on Twitter, listening to his interview on National Public Radio, following the Lit Hub link to Rebecca Stolnik.  I wished Donald Trump off the face of the planet in the most humiliating way possible.

Yes. Let it be broadcast on CNN.

I’m reading Symphony for the City of the Dead: Shostakovich in Leningrad.  The city was brought to its knees by its own leader, clearing the path for the German army to finish it off, to break its neck and snuff its soul. I used to think of Trump as Hitler, but that was selling Hitler short, for wasn’t Hitler the genius manipulating Stalin to purge his military and weaken the people? Which Stalin proceeded to accomplish, out of his narcissism, his flaming death love, his cultural stupidity, his lack of curiosity, his arrested development – thereby weakening his people and his army? Is this not stupidity? Trump,we have just been told, is not stupid, for he has correctly identified a picture as that of a camel; he can draw a cube and a clock face set to a particular time. Wow. I bet Stalin would have done well, too.

But is Trump dangerous? America in 2018 is not Russia before WW2. We have never been oppressed under Tsars; we have always been the oppressors. The government hasn’t starved out the opposition, vanished millions of people, executed by decree, commanded  people switch professions, ghettoize entire communities, forced confessions, closed off the borders, made the press the enemy of the people. Except for Native Amerians, African Americans, Jews and Italians under former immigration quotas, women. Muslims, Mexicans, and children (by ruining the public school system.)

Dogs however are doing well, although we have to be watchful as Trump doesn’t seem to like them.

Witness the packing of the courts, the erasure of the opposition, the equation of truth with fake news, gerrymandering districts, voter restrictions, demonizing minorities, encouraging the far right, erasing regulations, stripping health care, denying science, ruining our coasts, denying aid for the poor…But our people aren’t passive. We have Our Revolution, the ACLU, Indivisible. We have mayors and corporations taking the place of our country at the Paris Accord.  We have Barack Obama, bless him forever, in the best of shape.

Meanwhile, Trump, get out of my life.

Knowing nothing

I used to think when someone dies a light like a star went out, leaving a void, an indent made by its former weight, but now I think thirty or three hundred or three thousand new lights take its place, swarming over its previous existence until the sky is filled to bursting with beggars (as Rumi says) and everything starts to topple. I think the Republican party means to kill all the poor people, the refugees, animals, plants and everything living on those low lying islands threatened by the rising sea. And I think they might be accelerating, out of fear and hysteria that their mission won’t be accomplished before “us” rises out of the marshes and cut off their heads. So what I think  I’m saying is that I used to think that good and evil could be contained in an ideology. That I could be a progressive democrat pro-choice female who admitted to her own racism, who could question if feeding the birds was good for the birds or if she did it only for her own pleasure, meaning that she could admit that the birds would get along without her interference. But I question this ideology.

Up until this last election, I believed that humanity was progressing in a benevolent direction, meaning that the culture would want to feed the poor,nourish the babies, find a universal vaccine for pandemics, find a difference use for recycled refrigerator boxes than the current one of very very tiny recycled houses. This was the meaning of progressive. Going forward. Instead my people have elected a kleptocracy determined to stomp out those footprints with their big clumsy boots one by one until everyone who is not “them” is rounded up far away from the houses I see advertised in the Times real estate section, the strangest home-with-seven-swimming pools going for $700 million, unfinished. This is a vision of castles, churches and serfdom as witness Game of Thrones.

Up until now, I unthinkingly believed in democracy, It never occurred to me that Ubu Roi could be elected, but there he is, furiously pacing his opulent tower stuffing his face. I think it was Andrew Sullivan who first clued me in to the fact – and this may be one thing we do know – that  democracy can end badly when the people elect evil, and then get what they have albeit unwittingly asked for. I also believed that capitalism was better than the alternatives, but rampant capitalism, without regulation or restraint or consciousness of beings outside the circles of one’s own greed is a raging fire through which no horse can gallop without self-incineration. Capitalism is possibly the best ideology we humans have invented for ourselves, but it is terrible.

As long we hold on to these ideologies, we’re stuck in our lack of imagination. The future can not evolve. I used to believe that we, our species, could evolve through technology, neuroscience, genetics, guardianship of the planet, population control, distribution of wealth and resources, even compassion, diversity, intermarriage, exchange of ideas,  but no longer. The evil we have elected is evolving faster, and whatever it is the planet is up to cannot be stopped because the planet does not care about us. I used to think that great art – the visions people explore with their hands, voices, eyes would be of some inspiration, but even that point is cloudy as it is the wealthy establishment that defines what is great art by embedding in it a price tag. Nor is hope the point, because – hope for what? If we could imagine what we hoped for, there would be no need for hoping because it already be in process. We cannot hope for what we cannot imagine.

Quinn, a character in my book, a former addict and now a Buddhist, at one point sits by a bend in a river with his Ipad writing an essay about how if this is the end of the world as we know it, there is no reason for despair.Since this is Montana and the mountains are ringed with fire – is he nuts?

 

Channeling Norman Mailer

In a group email thread about Clarice Lispector’s GW, a writer communicated his dead-of-night ecstatic epiphany about loving the book. It was a personal rave; funny, well written, insightful, but interlaced with thinly veiled insults directed to the feminist critics amongst the group. Reactions were immediate: anger, finger pointing, shaming, and grammatical corrections. Unapologetic, he said he was drunk and later that he was channeling Norman Mailer.

In 1968 or 9, back to New York from art school on the west coast, I worked for a time at Grove press. On a beautiful, clear summer day, I was sitting on the building steps smoking (Gauloise – really), wearing a tiny vaguely ethnic dress with espadrilles. Black lined eyes, white lips,  hanging hair – probably why I’d gotten the job as I had no literary creds – when a young man on a motorcycle pulled up. I recognized him as one of  Norman Mailer’s side kicks. I don’t remember if Grove was Mailer’s publisher at the time, but Mailer was buddies with the publisher, Barney Rosset and Grove was hip. Becket, Henry Miller, John Rechy, Pinter – everyone who mattered.  The motorcycle guy ran up the steps, brushing my shoulder as he passed, and again when, a moment later, he returned.  He stood at the curb, leaned on his bike and smiled up at me. He pointed to the back seat. Hop on, he mouthed.  “Maidstone, you’ll be famous”.  And I tossed my mane, laughed into a smoke ring and called out, “no way.”

Maidstone was the title of a film Mailer was making on Barney’s estate in the Hamptons. The word was;  porno. Mailer’s kind of porno, a pugilistic mixture of love, brilliance, evil, hucksterism serving his insatiable ego. He was the star, Kingsley (get it?) running for President, in danger of assassination, and somehow this required the presence of three ex wives, his children, black panthers, ghetto kids, boxing matches, naked actresses, a ridiculous but real fight with Rip Torn,  and everyone talking about paying for sex before fucking each other for free. I found it pathetic.

Buzz shrugged; regretfully, I thought, as I watched him drive away. I felt a bit wistful, the way one does on Prom night when you realize you have stomach flu.  Looking back, I wonder if I’d misinterpreted:  maybe his regret was not of missing out on me as a cool girl he’d like to know, but more likely of letting slip a potential prey for Norman.

In 2006, desperate to finish a novel on a deadline, I  locked myself up in a condo in Provincetown, Mass. No car, no wifi, no television. The espresso cafe at the corner shut down the day I arrived.  No distractions, no dog, no husband.  Every day, to clear my brain, I walked the length of Commercial Street, often stopping at the library because all the other millions of writers in the world were better writers than me, and I was desperate to learn how to create a sentence. Since P’town was Mailer’s town, I read everything I could find; books, reviews, interviews. I wanted to see the place through his crazed, pornographic, pugilistic, brilliant, drug addled eyes. What I found instead was a man in thrall with his town, who romped with his dog on the beach, tossed kids in the surf, parried over sandwiches with latest beautiful wife, got drunk on the wharf with the fishing fleet. The clan lived in a big brick house facing the beach.  One day I found it and I stood across the street for a long moment paying my conflicted respects. Rumor had it that he’d been the source for the phase “macho pig”, but still, he’d commanded the literary stage for all of my life and deserved my awe. I was about to head back when I heard his unmistakable voice calling out; “A beautiful day for a beautiful woman.” I was in my 60’s, swaddled in a puffer but no matter, Norman was Norman. He was well into his 80’s, a tiny person on his walker, steadied (of course) by a woman at his side. We stood for a moment nodding,  and then went on our separate ways. Six months later, he was dead. 

Love him or hate him, or worse, ignore him, Mailer’s one of the tiny flames in our American lives, a sometimes great writer, a sometimes bore and entertainer. Some of us were now and then hooked on his reality show, his – and ours – 15 minutes of fame.

But it’s really not a great idea for any guy to channel him right now (#metoo).