I imagine the time Harry Belafonte sat in for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show was as anticipated as the latest episode of the webcast series Verzuz showcasing Patti Labelle and Gladys Knight.
The two Black culture events converged for me last weekend when I watched the documentary about the historic Woke Week, The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts The Tonight Show, and the so-called battle of the R&B divas on the same day.
As soon as that preposterous photo of President Trump brandishing the bible hit the stratosphere, I intuitively sensed who was behind his pilgrimage from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church.
“This reeks of the First Daughter,” I shared with a friend. I sat up straight in my chair, threw my shoulders back, thrust out my chin and cheekbones (mine are natural, without benefit of a plastic surgeon’s scalpel) and delivered my best Ivanka.
“Daddy, this is an important moment,” I tittered, lips pursed. “It will be like Moses and the Ten Commandments.”
My friend laughed. “Is she like the girls you attended school with?”
“Oh no! She went to Chapin. Brearley girls are not like that.”
Three decades later, I’m embarrassed to admit it remains etched in my consciousness that Chapin girls are blonde and snooty whereas Brearley girls are brighter, better, more magnanimous.
The truth is much more complicated.
A lot has happened since Tom, Amandla and I took this picture at the Democratic National Convention in Denver twelve years ago! I thought about that heady, soul-stirring experience while watching DNC 2020's opening night coverage. Michelle Obama's widely lauded speech framed life in America today in a bold, truth-searing fashion. She made it quite clear: We've got to vote as if our very life depends on it. Because it does. In 2008, there was so much jubilance and promise—of hope, of change. Watch this television news story to see how excited I was (I appear one-minute in.)
I was just as outraged as the rest of the world when I first saw the video of Amy Cooper wielding her white privilege in Central Park, her shrieks penetrating like a sword in an ultimately futile attempt to cut down Christian Cooper (no relation). One month later, the video is now at 45 million views.
In fact, I was so very outraged I consciously chose to ignore the slight inflicted by Christian’s sister, Melody, in her tweet that circled the globe.
In the middle of the night a collective grief weighs down on me like a haint. Yet another black person’s senseless death. George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Speak their names into the prayer and justice fields.
Remembering moments like this one from May of last year. Amandla and I stopped outside of her fabulous loft apartment in Paris' 11th arrondissement to drink in the evening. I arrived from L.A. for a week, having been charged with ferrying Kumo the cat across the Atlantic. One year later I've just finished watching the result of Amandla's six-month rendezvous with Paris—the eight-part Netflix series, The Eddy. It’s a soul-stirring, cinematic marvel, and a poignant deep-dive into the lives of some riveting characters, including troubled Julie, played by Amandla. She is "scintillating" in the role, possesses an "arresting presence," and delivers a "scene-stealing performance," reviewers say. Plus there's this appreciation by Amy Taupin in Artforum and this gorgeous Emmy magazine cover. I may just have to stream it again.
"There goes summer!"
My brother sent this text to me and our two siblings when it was announced a few days ago that Los Angeles would be sheltering in place through July. Or maybe it's August. Since then, the city or perhaps the Los Angeles Times—has walked back this declaration. It's hard to keep track.
As for me, summer was cancelled, or rather, became a non-starter, when the following email arrived in my in-box late yesterday afternoon.
I had to write about Mommy. It was painful at times. I was conflicted. Can one be open with another's secret? She came to me early one morning. I felt her guiding me, urging me on. Yes, I could breathe life into her story and give her life. Even in death.
On Facebook I follow the group "The Golden Age of Illustrations," along with some 148,000 others. The images are lush, gorgeous, brilliant. This one stopped me in my tracks. A naked black woman. And is that Jesus? The post explained that the illustration, by John Farleigh, appears in the 1933 book, The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God. The author? One Bernard Shaw. As in George the playwright.
It's nearly impossible to find images of black people in this feed. The men, women and children are usually pink and rosy-cheeked. I immediately clicked "Like" when I came across a cartoon by E. Simms Campbell, an African-American artist whose works were the first to appear in popular national publications, including Life magazine in 1931, and created Esquire's wide-eyed mascot, Esky.
I wanted to know more. So I did what any other self-respecting arbiter of instantaneous gratification in the 21st century would do.
I like to make stuff...and think about stuff.