EU leaders’ response last week to PM David Cameron and the Brexit leadership resembled Elizabeth Bennet’s rebuff of Mr. Darcy’s first boastful and lame marriage proposal in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Britain and the EU are now at the beginning in what has been described as a bitter divorce following the results of a nationwide referendum vote in Britain to leave the European Union. It doesn’t look as if anyone’s willing to make a second go of it.
Since the vote even I’m watching and re-watching my favorite British dramas and series with a different attitude especially after the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, who supported the EU’s position on immigration and Syrian refugees. Every narrative now comes framed in a Brixet context. Is Jane Austen only for the “English” not the “Brits”? Are her stories embedded with a nationalist agenda?
Does the vote take the the icing off the cake for ”The Great British Baking Show” and “Masterpiece/Mystery!” on PBS? Afterall, Americans weren’t privy to the original UK versions of “Downton Abbey” during its broadcast. England for the English. (UK version of “Downton Abbey” is available on DVD and Amazon Prime).
Was there fear that Jane Austen’s England would be lost to Zade Smith’s Britain?
The result of the vote has definitely hit a cultural nerve and altered identities especially for the generation that grew up as citizens of the continent. And the Brexit leadership demonstrated more strategic hubris without a viable exit plan from the EU for the good of “the people”.
Truth is, there’s no certainty about anything on the outcome of Brexit including this post. Everything is pure speculation even by the experts and Brexits own leaders (now resigning like rats jumping ship).
I imagine those who wanted to remain in the EU can not imagine a world without it. Membership has its benefits. I thought Massachusetts’ 5 College Collective (Smith, U Mass, Amherst, Mt. Holyoke, Hampshire) was awesome. Imagine having that with multiple countries. And after college explore your options across the continent paid with a single currency. Companies can hop all over the map to set up shop. The EU forged a global identity and a freedom of movement like no other time in European history.
I imagine those who wanted out of the EU didn’t seek or have access to membership benefits. Freedom of movement may have been out of reach for persons who lacked the trade or language skills to pull up roots and make a go of it in another country. Imagine how the unemployed felt from the industrial sector now affected by automation and mobile technology. The only secretaries you see now are the appointed ones with a capital “S”.
Then there’s the impact of Cameron’s austerity moves. Predictions are Brexit will bring about more austerity measures. When services are reduced, and Eastern Europeans and other immigrants are living in neighborhoods…I can imagine who will be blamed and the first point of attack?
Heirs from the old empire may have hated having their hands tied from dipping into any and all pots at whim. And as for who really came out on top regardless of success or failure – let’s say in most novels and plays I’ve read, bankers and financiers are rarely the heroes.
For me miracle of European Union is that it happened at all and there are countries who want to keep it going. Like the U.S.’s Affordable Care Act, the European Union isn’t perfect but it isn’t a bad idea either. Those who benefit are the ones who know how to access, how it works and how to work it to their advantages.
There’s more work to be done with EU. And like a marriage that takes commitment and patience. For Mr. Darcy, to have the woman he loves, he must accept and on occasion manage her family baggage.
I was an “English” major in college in the literary sense. My literature courses included “The British Novel” and “Feminist Approaches to Shakespeare.” I was leaning “English.” It’s writers like Zade Smith, Andrea Levy (Small Island), and others who coaxed me to lean “British.”
Charles Dickens wanted to change hearts and minds about the plight of the poor in Victorian London. But it wasn’t originally a narrative message he was planning to write. Even Dickens changed course on this message himself. He wrote to a friend…
I’m not going to do the political pamphlet. I’m going to put out something at Christmas time. And that’s going to have 20 times the force.
Blog posts, Atlantic monthly essays, Tweets, NYTimes features just can’t make the same impact as a powerful story like A Christmas Carol now the 2nd most popular and recognized Christmas story — following the biblical nativity. To back up these stories, the author lived the life of many of his famous characters — Oliver Twist, David Copperfield. He saw the world of debtors prisons, misers, work houses, charity. We talk about being a “Scrooge” even “Scroogicizing” with a “Bah Humbug” around seasonal celebrations.
We can read or watch the real life contemporary versions of Dickens’ narratives. But what can we do with so much information? I sometimes feel numb after an hour of clicking, scrolling, reading. Another shooting. Another disaster. Another attack. Another post. An analysis — intelligent and less than 1000 words. Would a Scrooge be transformed and take action by reading Tiny Tim’s obituary from a social media link, and its subsequent analysis on poverty in London in a monthly magazine? Or shake his head and expect Tim’s father to show up for work after the burial?
As much as I’ve seen or read passages from A Christmas Carol it’s one of those stories worth the time it takes to pause and revisit again and again — until we get it right. The story makes all that information intended for the head, make its connection to the heart.
Below is a story about Charles Dickens and a visit to the Charles Dickens Museum in London (decked for the holidays) that broadcast on CBS Sunday Morning December 19, 2015.
Richard Williams is one of those men I would never call by his first name. He is “Mr. Williams”. He’s earned my respect that way.
But I may be one of the few. To my surprise, I discovered the father of the top women tennis players in the world – Serena and Venus Williams – is the author of a memoir: BLACK AND WHITE: THE WAY I SEE IT written with Bart Davis.
In the early years of Venus and Serena Williams‘s tennis careers, Richard Williams was an ever-present figure. He was profiled and hammered by the press as a loose canon control freak father. No humility. No shame. No style. No front teeth. “Crazy like a fox” some people would say with admiration. “Just plain crazy,” others would say dismissively watching him nervously pace back and forth, or exiting the stands for a smoke while his daughters competed on clay or grass.
Mr. Williams’s battle hasn’t only been with the traditions and rituals of the near exclusively white tennis establishment, but with the familiar narrative that Black fathers are incapable of raising worldwide tennis champions. It goes like this: Black men are absent from their homes, strangers to their children, and if they are present and their daughters succeed, it was through an abusive regiment. Think Joseph Jackson, father of Michael Joseph Jackson.
We’ve also been programmed into falling in love with the romantic Black “ghetto” narrative pumped up by the rise of hip hop culture. FADE UP: public courts/drug markets of Compton. See Venus and Serena avoid broken glass, dodge bullets while hitting balls across the net. (You mean there was a net?)
In BLACK AND WHITE, Mr. Williams slams all that:
“…when my daughters burst on the scene, people thought of us as the poor black family from the ghetto rising up against the white tide of tennis and America. The truth was I had created a company before they were born called Richard Williams Tennis Associates, which I still own, and had saved $810,000 which was all in the bank. I paid my own kids’ way through tennis. I didn’t want anyone to help me. I could have gotten sponsors, but Venus and Serena were my children, so it was my responsibility to pay for them. I never had to take one penny from anyone.”
Nothing or no one White or Black was going to stop Mr. Williams. That included the gangs who kicked out Mr. Williams’s teeth (the first time was in the deep South) when he fought for control of their open air drug market located on the Compton tennis courts.
Fighting it out in Compton was part of the plan. Mr. Williams moved his family from Long Beach to Compton where Venus and Serena would have to be courageous, tough under pressure, all under the protection and guidance of their parents and Mr. Williams directly. If Venus and Serena want to be champions also had to demonstrate commitment to tennis, to school, personal improvement, to family. A lack of commitment was a deal breaker.
Nothing can be realized without a plan. That’s Rule #1 in Richard Williams’s “Top Ten Rules for Success”: Failing to plan is planning to fail.
Initially Mr. Williams had no real interest in tennis, but after watching a tennis player on television receive a $40,000 cash prize for winning a match, his interest in tennis ballooned. Mr. Williams’ plan would start with himself. He found a teacher by chance named Mr. Oliver (who answered to “Old Whiskey” because he started the morning with a drink and didn’t stop until the end of the day). Mr. Oliver was sober enough to teach tennis to Compton youth and Mr. Williams. This was also a man who had worked with Arthur Ashe and Jimmy Connors. Ever defiant, even as a beginner, Mr. Williams challenged the age old tennis rule that you serve with the closed stance. He aimed to prove that theory wrong. That became Rule #7: Create theories and test them out.
Mr. Williams was committed to giving his dream team daughters something few young tennis pros had: a childhood. He observes other young tennis players full of potential and talent pushed beyond their commitment to succeed by anxious affluent parents. He notices these young athletes burning out early in their careers because they were told to compete with players beyond their levels. He pointed out to Venus and Serena examples of superstars who were broke because parents or handlers mismanaged their finances. (Venus Williams would eventually fight for and win equal prize money for women in competitive tennis.) And then there were the ones who adopted self-destructive behaviors to rebel, resist, or escape. Mr. Williams observes and shares the lessons with his daughters. Rule #5: When you fail, you fail alone. Rule #6: You learn by looking, seeing, and listening.
Mr. Williams anticipates the cruel world his daughters would inhabit as Black women committed to excellence. “Cruel” may be too gentle a word to describe the life of poverty, racial terror and violence Mr. Williams experienced growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana in the 1950s. These chapters make up the first half of the memoir and making the most traumatic part of his story.
Mr. Williams’s father better fits the narrative he’s fought against his entire life. R. D. Williams was a smooth talker when it came to the women. “R.D. was Mama’s greatest weakness, the invisible man who impregnated her by night and disappeared from our lives by day.” R.D. Williams didn’t have it in him to be a husband or a father. Mr. Williams abandons the notion of having any relationship or connection with his father when he sees R.D. run from the scene as his son is being beaten by a gang of white men.
Mr. Williams lifts up the women in his life like the answer to a prayer. He dedicates the book to his mother Julia Metcalf Williams who is still his “greatest hero”. Though she would never share the grand dreams of her son, she made him a believer in the power of faith and demonstrated it by practically praying the near dead back to life. He calls her a “prayer warrior.” Rule #4: Faith is essential to confidence. It pairs well with Rule #3: Confidence is essential to success.
Flip the order either way.
Confidence is something few people can fake successfully. When it’s real, it’s powerful. I’m sure Mr. Williams’s confidence is interpreted as arrogance by a lot of people he comes into contact with. But without confidence, he would have perished long ago.
Mr. Williams believes education is a game changer. But that couldn’t be achieved in Shreveport, not for a Black man or woman. Raced-based rules limited rights for Shreveport’s Black residents to own land, work for living wages, vote, and learn. The wood-framed tin-roofed school Mr. Williams attended as a boy was called “Little Hope” – “The name was absolutely correct. Negroes had little hope”. There was no flagpole according to Williams. The stars and stripes was nailed to a long stick “bolted on the tin roof.” The single outhouse had maggots. The teacher was dedicated to the forty children in the one room structure, but too fragile and elderly to turn things around. The principal was a “stumbling drunk.” Mr. Williams had spirit or grit, courage, and anger.
In the memoir Mr. Williams describes how one of his best friends was killed by the Klan for stealing a pig. Lil’ Man was found hanging from a tree; his hands cut off and stuck on a fence. But it’s not just the Klan. Another childhood friend is struck by a car driven by a white woman who doesn’t stop. The boy is left to die like fresh road kill. A third is found hands tied, naked floating facedown in the water.
If anyone thinks these horrors happened a long time ago, talk to a living witness.
After the death of his friends Richard Williams turns up the heat on his childhood fascination with stealing.
“I grew from a heated boy into an angry young man, filled with rage. When I couldn’t get the white man’s respect, I dishonored him by stealing from him. I had no sense of guilt or remorse. I was the injured party. I “confiscated” because it made me feel powerful and in control.”
He even substitutes the word “stealing” with “confiscating.” There is no passive resistance in his being. Mr. Williams justifies the badassedness of his youth in the deep South as a way of evening up the score in a brutally racist world.
His escapades go so far as to disguise himself in a KKK hood and robe stolen via the daughter of its original owner. Mr. Williams puts white flesh colored makeup on his arms and hands, jumps on his bike and launches a private war on Shreveport’s white citizens and fellow KKK members. There’s one incident during this hooded rampage that the young Mr. Williams finds himself holding the gun at a lynching. Quentin Tarantino or Dave Chappelle couldn’t make this up.
And yet, Mr. Williams still believed he could achieve the American dream. Fate was in his hands, and a plan to leave Shreveport.
Follow the north star. That’s the place to go for a young Black man who rode the rails in search of a place to breath, to feel free. Destination Chicago turned out not to be that place.
“Black-on-black crime in the inner city was on a rampage. Murders, stabbings, rapes, robberies, muggings, and beatings were an everyday occurrence. Like new enemies in an old war, blacks turned on each other with a vengeance…We were a hopeless people divided not only by racism, but by the contempt we had for each other.”
In BLACK AND WHITE everyone is on notice as Mr. Williams sees it from his experience. In his thirst for knowledge and finding it, Mr. Williams also acquires maturity. His anger and hatred are transformed into committed determination to succeed on his own terms.
As Mr. Williams fights the gang members in Compton over the tennis courts, one wonders why this battle didn’t end fatally for him. Why didn’t the gang members just pop the old man right there, leaving Mr. Williams and his plan to die on the spot where all his dreams began. It didn’t happen because I believe even these young men felt some respect for him based on the unwritten rules of the street. Who couldn’t respect a man willing to fight one or more (usually more) young men half his age for his daughters and for his dreams.
[Unfortunately that tragedy would come to the family later in 2003 — after the championships, money and fame and a move to Florida—the oldest daughter Yetunde Price, who chose to stay in Compton, was shot in the head by a member of the Crips gang who was gunning for her boyfriend driving the car.]
BLACK AND WHITE cuts straight to the chase on what the author/subject has designated as the teaching moments in his life. This is not a book for the reader looking for repentance from the author. There’s only room for gratitude.
In some ways you wonder if the journey has been more important to Mr. Williams’s understanding of the world than the destination. Personally, I’ve always been a strong believer in Rule #8: Always have a Plan B. There was a time Serena Williams wanted to be a veterinarian. Her father would’ve said, “Why not? Go for it.” Both Serena and Venus are designers for interiors, ready-to-wear, tennis fashion. Plan B, C, and probably the whole alphabet plan are in play.
The first pages of BLACK AND WHITE open on the green grass of Wimbeldon – tennis nirvana. The grass descends into the place where fathers and mothers never want to be. When your child is ill and there’s nothing you can do. This opening chapter is what kept me turning the pages. Nothing can describe a parent’s pain when he/she feels helpless. It’s a struggle to apply Rule #2: Always be positive.
For me, this chapter expresses Mr. Williams’ love for his daughters more than any page in the book. And most, if not all, parents can relate. As harsh as the world may be, The Rules have kept Venus and especially Serena on their “A game” despite the smacks and jibes from the forces around them.
The Williams are masters and champions of the 10th and final Rule: Let no one define you but you.
Murals are fragile things. They bring vibrant color and life to what was once dead spaces. As the years and the weather pounds on them, their colors begin to fade. Or a new building will cover the damage and the narratives of the past. I’ve been noting the visual music of U Street and Shaw for the Ellington, Shaw & U walking tour focusing on Washington, DC’s jazz heritage. Most of the murals along these blocks are homages to persons who are no longer in our physical lives: Duke Ellington, Marvin Gaye, Chuck Brown, Miles Davis, Shirley Horne.
Mural survival is always precarious. G. Byron Peck’s iconic mural of Duke Ellington on the side of the True Reformer Building has been removed. The mural was one of the first signs of the U Street transformation. The mural was removed before. It was raised and placed on the side of the True Reformer Building. A new business building at the U Street Metro stop was built over the previous location. The current removal of the Ellington mural is not for relocation or even restoration but for a complete do-over because repairs to the weather damaged panels are impossible to make. A grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities will ensure its return.
Not far away the Marvin Gaye mural (2014) on the side of a liquor store at 7th and S, NW was a rebirth of an earlier Marvin Gaye mural by the same artist, Aniekan Udofia, on the side of a house across the street. The previous mural was covered by a new building. Aniekan knew it would be a temporary situation. He intended to paint a “better mural” once a space became available. I admired his pluck and a kind of “Buddhist” perspective of impermanence.
Aniekan is also responsible for a Duke Ellington mural at the location of the musician’s birth in Foggy Bottom, and the Chuck Brown mural (2010) on the side of Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street. Brown shares the wall with living legends including Donnie Simpson (WPGC DJ), President Barack Obama, and Bill Cosby, long-time family friend to Ben (deceased) and Virginia Ali who opened the Chili Bowl in 1958. In November 2014, a Washington Post column by Clinton Yates suggested that Cosby’s image come down from the wall as sexual assault accusations piled up against the comedian/producer/actor. Should Cosby share the wall with the first Black POTUS? No action has been taken on the mural to date. A new Ben’s Chili Bowl opens today (July 8). The Washington Post is still on Cosby watch. Murals may not last for ever, but friendship is another matter altogether.
A few blocks down artist Alonso Tamayo‘s Miles Davis stares at us from the parking lot for Bohemian Caverns. Once a nightclub for swing and jazzy takes on the American song book, the club has modified its musical playlist to preserve and feature straight ahead jazz classics. Miles was not alone on the wall. Gazing from her left was the image of Shirley Horn of Washington, DC. Her music touched Davis and he shined a light on her. But Horn was content to have a DC life with jazz rather than take a one-way A train from Union Station to NYC. She brought the light back to her hometown in her final years. Unfortunately, it could not save her image on the wall. Natural light, weather, and repairs to the wall forced Shirley to be covered in black. Is the wall in mourning? This brings us to the question – How many murals feature women? The late Latin Jazz pianist/arranger Maria Rodriguez (aka Jean Butler) gets a nod on the side of the Latin American Bilingual Public Charter School on Military Road in DC by the artist Cecilia Lueza.
How many murals pay homage to the living? One mural that pays homage to a living person, though the affiliated institution may consider him dead– E. Ethelbert Miller. E. Ethelbert Miller’s face is included in a writers mural inside the Howard University book store. The mural was painted by Alexis Peskine, a native of Paris who graduated from Howard Summa Cum Laude with Bachelor of Fine Arts. The project was commissioned in 2003. Ethelbert and Toni Morrison are the only two living persons sharing space with dead poets, writers/intellectuals – Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston. In April of this year Eugene (E.) Ethelbert Miller was deleted from the Howard University system as director of the university’s Afro-American Resource Center along with 84 other persons in a layoff. But Ethelbert remains…on the HU bookstore mural, at least for now.
Inside the HU bookstore I finally find the “Poetry ” section. Black women poets dominate the inventory — Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, a volume by singer/actor Jill Scott – followed by Shakespeare, e.e. Cummings, and other “dead white men.” Tony Medina’s Bum Rush the Page a Def Poetry Jam Anthology, and an African American poet from Chicago (can’t remember his name) represent. No poetry by E. Ethelbert Miller. I browse the other stacks noticing none of Miller’s anthologies, or his two memoirs (Fathering Words and The 5th Inning) were on the shelves. Even a search on the website produced this result….
Makes you wonder how long the mural will last in a bookstore where neither Ethelbert or Langston Hughes can be found on the poetry shelf?
Prior to April students seeking knowledge could associate the windows below the bell tower of Howard University’s Founders Library as the mountain their inner Moses had to climb seeking knowledge and guidance in navigating their identities on a HBCU campus. Undergrads are fragile people especially during the first two years.
The HU bookstore is not the only location that pays visual homage to the living writer. The mural created by Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal inside its first location on 14th street includes an image of Miller in the upper left hand portion of the wall. Not to get a big head on his own, Andy commissioned artist Pete Petrine to create a big head Ethelbert drawing for the launch of Busboys and Poets’ first publishing venture in 2012 with PM Press — Ethelbert’s second memoir The 5th Inning. The bookcover is designed by Andy Shallal. The big head hangs inside the Busboys and Poets 5th & K location.
Could it be that Ethelbert’s expulsion from the tower is like the release of the caged bird. Bird flies over the city and claims a perch on a circular metal bench at the Dupont Circle Metro at Q where Ethelbert’s poem “We Embrace” is etched in the granite. Fly to another poem on the wall of La Casa Shelter on Irving Street, near 14th. A leaf sculpture by Lisa Scheer at the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metro station recites an E-poem: every leaf surrenders to air, we dance, we flutter, we touch the earth. And a mural on the side of a Children’s Medical Care Center on 14th near Colorado is a painted quilt of images with another poem by E. Ethelbert Miller.
Maybe the words will speak for a thousand falling bricks and fading images.
Yes, I’m a latecomer to the party. That’s why I thought it pretty cool for the DC Center for LGBT Community to host a workshop on writing transgender characters as part of the OutWrite LGBT Book Fair August 1-3.
Before I go into my notes from the noon-time session, I thought it best to kick off with a little break down for slow “cis learners” like myself:
“So why do we say ‘cisgender’ instead of ‘non-transgender’? Because, referring to cisgender people as ‘non trans’ implies that cisgender people are the default and that being trans is abnormal. Many people have said ‘transgender people’ and ‘normal people’, but when we say ‘cisgender’ and ‘transgender’ neither is implied as more normal than the other.”
Source: “Trans 101: Cisgender”, Basic Rights Oregon
The guest speakers were published authors who are transgender. I put it in that order because they all say they don’t spend every waking hour thinking about their trans identity or oppression. And make a note: no one could survive popping 9 hormone pills a day. “Is this Valley of the Dolls?” writer Everett Maroon joked.
The workshop was more panel discussion than a hands-on exercise; and a great introduction to writers and new work featuring transgender characters from young adult fiction on up, contemporary and historical fiction. Alex Myers has made historical fiction his signature genre and describes his relationship to writing as akin to “working out.”
These writers are creating from page-to-page vs. page to stage/screen with the exception of Dane Edidi who is also an actress and performance artist. Dane also provided a show-stopping quote about finding a context for characters via research: “If you can find yourself in history, you can find yourself now.” Moderator Joanna Maria Cifredo asked the audience to add a hashtag to that quote.
Trans characters seen recently in television and film are for the most part coming from the creative minds of cis writers and portrayed by cis actors. Jared Leto is probably the most notorious of the cis actors for his Academy Award-winning portrayal of Rayon in the true-to-formula role of a drug-addicted trans prostitute in “Dallas Buyers Club.” The review from this panel (and in other reviews from the trans community )was not favorable. Rayon’s performance was said to be “consistently misgendered,” i.e. leaning on trans stereotypes.
I’d be interested in the group’s thoughts on what might be considered a “spot on” moment for trans characters and actors. Here are a few that come to mind for me:
Harmony Santana, a newcomer, made her debut in “Gun Hill Road” (2011), an independent production by Rashaad Ernesto Green, starring Esai Morales and Judy Reyes
Candis Cane played Billy Baldwin’s transgender love interest in the ABC drama series “Dirty Sexy Money” from 2007-2009.
Laverne Cox is currently popular, and got a Time magazine cover story (“The Transgender Tipping Point”), for her portrayal in the hit Netflix online series “Orange Is the New Black.” But, the panel noted the character doesn’t step too far outside “type.” She’s in prison after all.
Whether the writers for these stories honestly understand “the personal stake” the trans character is fighting for, may go without saying for the panel that a trans writer isn’t forced to validate the character’s humanity. There’s no need for “othering.” Elliott Deline who’s written two novels uses his own story for character development. But he’s ever mindful of his parent’s concern about his writing – “Will it make money?”
Dane advises even if the story is going to fall back on the drug-addicted “trans hooker,” ask “How did she get there?” Write a human story. That’s all there is to it.
“Talk to someone” is the panel’s advice. And to start that conversation, I’m more than willing to admit, I know nada.