Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud!
Pennsylvania voters have options on how to return their mail ballot: by mail, at a drop box, at their county board of election office, or other officially designated location.
Touts aggressively peddle something that is supposed to benefit you, e.g., a person stands outside a horseracing track selling a tip sheet with the names of horses they say you should bet on that day. Do note, however, that the tout makes her/his money by selling you information, not by using the same information to get rich by making the bets they recommend!
The carnival barker is paid for attempting to get people to attend what promises to be spectacular entertainment events, typically a circus. If you have ever been to Times Square, then you have experienced folks barking about plays, movies, restaurants, tours, and other things their sponsors paid them to represent.
Unlike those who believe it to be ethically responsible to use the products they endorse, touters and barkers might not make use of the products they hustle. For them, it’s all about the “Benjamins” or their equivalents. With the foregoing in mind, consider the recent shenanigans by 3 increasingly infamous “entertainers.”
Curtis James Jackson also known as 50 Cent threw in his 2 cents by tweeting, “WHAT THE F***! (VOTE ForTRUMP) IM OUT, Man — F*** NEW YORK The KNICKS never win anyway. I don’t care Trump doesn’t like black people 62% are you out of ya f****** mind.”
O’Shea Jackson, who goes by the stage name Ice Cube, staged a public stunt by stating, “I will advise anybody on the planet who has the power to help Black Americans close the enormous wealth gap.” With this rationale, he is credited with helping 45 develop his Platinum Plan to assist Black America notwithstanding the fact that heretofore he had denounced 45.
Not to be outdone, Kanye Omari West, seemed a little sleezy when he supposedly gave up on his red hat and declared that he no longer supported 45. Yet, he saw no contradiction between the possibility of him taking a few votes from Vice President Biden and, therefore, helping 45 by Kanye Omari West himself running for President. In a presidential campaign ad, he declared mysteriously, "We as a people will revive our nation's commitment to faith, to what our Constitution calls the free exercise of religion, including, of course, prayer.”
We might never know what really caused Curtis James Jackson, O’Shea Jackson, and Kanye Omari West to support 45, but there are some relevant hypotheses to consider. First, consider the notion of a colonized mind, i.e., a mental condition in which oppressed people seek to regain their humanity by adopting the beliefs, values, behaviors, and prized possessions of their oppressors. For a thorough discussion of the colonized mind, consult Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. To appreciate just how warped the colonized mind can be, consider the dynamics Fanon discussed in his Chapter, “The man of color and the white woman.”
“Out of the blackest part of my soul, across the zebra striping of my mind, surges this desire to be suddenly white. …Now -and this is a form of recognition that Hegel had not envisaged- who but a white woman can do this for me? By loving me she proves that I am worthy of white love. I am loved like a white man. I am a white man. Her love takes me onto the noble road that leads to total realization. . . I marry white culture, white beauty, white whiteness. When my restless hands caress those white breasts, they grasp white civilization and dignity and make them mine…” In some pathological sense, maybe endorsing 45 is a colonized mind grasping the persona of the Strongman and making it theirs, all while ignoring the havoc wreaked on humanity by Strongmen such as Hitler, Hussein, Stalin, and 45 (See Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy, by Kenneth C. Davis).
Another hypothesis could be that the above three personalities’ touting and barking per 45 is a matter of the Stockholm Syndrome. In this bizarre instance, hostages develop an alliance with their captors as in the case of the White newspaper heiress Patty Hearst identifying with her multiracial militant, revolutionary kidnappers, the Symbionese Liberation Army. Ms. Hearst went so far as to engage in a bank robbery with her captors. Maybe the above three personalities are so “sick and tired of being sick and tired” of systemic racism that they identified with a major perpetrator and, in turn, acted out on behalf of 45.
Without the benefit of a qualified psychiatrist to examine the foregoing touters and barkers, it might be better to consider a more parsimonious hypothesis rooted conceptually in Black American culture, i.e., tearing your butt and showing out in public.
Tearing your butt and showing out in public takes place when a child, who knows better, engages in extreme behavior that emanates from a narcissistic, grandiose sense of self-importance and she/he believes she/he is deserving of special treatment. For example, I was with my mother who had finished shopping at a grocery store in Johnstown, PA. While she was checking out, I saw a lollipop, grabbed it, and put it on the checkout counter. My mother said, “No” and put the lollipop back. I fell down on the floor, screamed, cried, and kicked my feet. My mother then tore my butt up, i.e., she immediately picked me off the floor and “slapped me into my senses” for showing out in public and, yes, she tore me up again when we got home because, as she said, “I knew better.”
Given that certain people knew better but still tore their butts and showed out in public, perhaps we should never again purchase products associated with them. More importantly, for now, let’s “dis” them and not permit them to cause a disingenuous raucous just a few days before the election.
Let’s focus on electing the first Black woman as Vice President of the United States. With “Momala” Harris as Vice President of the United states, young and old children won’t have to show out in public because she will make it possible for all voices to be heard appropriately and acted upon.
Jack L. Daniel
Co-Founder, Freed Panther Society
Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media
Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black
October 23, 2020
Touchstone Center for Crafts is excited to announce a grant award from Center for Craft in Asheville, North Carolina. The Craft Futures Fund grant will be used to help fund Touchstone’s Virtual Open House on Saturday, September 26th. With this event, the Center plans to connect with new audiences more widely across communities, increase accessibility, and build diversity – with the hope of expanding the demographics of the craft field.
“Craft organizations across the field are adapting to current realities. Touchstone's Open House allows anyone from around the world to visit their studios and experience their educational offerings," says Stephanie Moore, Executive Director of Center for Craft. "The potential to broaden audiences and improve accessibility is incredibly promising."
“Nothing beats visiting Touchstone’s campus and watching live demonstrations, but perhaps touring our studios virtually, watching online demonstrations, and interacting with artists virtually will actually reach more people than our typical event does” says Lindsay K. Gates, Executive Director at Touchstone Center for Craft. “Starting with our own organization, the Open House has the potential to help attendees understand what to expect of the craft school experience, inform them of the educational and professional opportunities, and inspire them to become involved in the craft community.”
Touchstone is bringing their immersive experience to you direct from the mountains of the Laurel Highlands on Saturday, September 26th. Participants can view campus and studio tours, demonstrations in blacksmithing, ceramics, glass, metals & jewelry, and painting, watch a live stream of the noborigama wood kiln being unloaded, participate in online art activities, and learn how to get involved in this creative community. The event will be held online from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm at touchstoneopenhouse.org.
Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp. (91.3 WYEP & 90.55 WESA) is the official media sponsor for Touchstone’s Virtual Open House. Funded in part by the Fayette County Tourism Grant Program.
ABOUT CENTER FOR CRAFT Founded in 1996, the Center for Craft (formerly The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design) is the leading organization in the United States identifying and convening craft makers, curators, and researchers, and matching them with resources, tools, and networks to advance their careers. Over the years, the Center has become a vital community resource, serving thousands of visitors annually. As a national 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the field of craft, the Center administers more than $300,000 in grants to those working in the craft field.
For more information on all grants administered by Center for Craft, click here. www.centerforcraft.org
ABOUT TOUCHSTONE CENTER FOR CRAFTS Founded in 1972, Touchstone Center for Crafts’ mission is to advance excellence in the arts and crafts by educating and encouraging individuals to develop technical skills, good design, and innovative expression. We achieve this through an array of media including blacksmithing, ceramics, glass, fine metals, drawing/painting, and other special topic areas. Touchstone’s 150 acre wooded campus is located in the Laurel Highlands, just 60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, near Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, Ohiopyle State Park, and Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. Touchstone is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization offering immersive learning experiences in 7 fully equipped studios, workshop scholarships for teens and adults, artist residencies, internships for artists, and professional gallery exhibitions.
To learn more about Touchstone Center for Crafts please visit www.touchstonecrafts.org.
Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore, get wisdom.
And in all your getting, get understanding.
Typically, generational wealth refers to material things of significance passed on from one generation to the next. This type of generational wealth provides succeeding family members with a foundation that enables them to avoid “starting from scratch” or having to “lift themselves up by their bootstraps.” Instead, these generational wealth recipients are provided a “head start” that enables them to not only cope with acquiring basic necessities such as food, shelter and health care but also to actualize themselves as human beings.
Imagine the privileged position you would be in if, for example, your parents made it possible for you to graduate from college not only free of debt but they also gave you a new car as a graduation gift. Consider the economic advantage you would have if you also enjoyed the number one American wealth generation act, i.e., you inherited a mortgage-free multi-bedroom home.
Unfortunately, the well-known fact is that the foregoing type of generational wealth is one of the key disparities many Blacks experience as a result of systemic racism. As noted on September 28, 2020 by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, “…the typical White family has eight times the wealth of the typical Black family and five times the wealth of the typical Hispanic family… In the 2019 survey, White families have the highest level of both median and mean family wealth: $188,200 and $983,400, respectively… Black families' median and mean wealth is less than 15 percent that of White families, at $24,100 and $142,500, respectively…”
To be sure, living in a capitalistic society, Blacks must not only understand but also practice the rudiments of the American/international financial system. At the same time, we must not forget that, as the “passport for the 21st century,” education and the wisdom related to its use are critically important types of generational wealth. Otherwise, the material aspects of generational wealth become a matter of “easy come, easy go.” For an example of the latter, we need look no further than a current national leader who received hundreds of millions from his father and, today, he has debt in the hundreds of millions! Lest Blacks are appropriately educated, they might not only lose ground in terms of material wealth, but also their pursuit of equity and social justice.
We must heed the wisdom articulated by Carter G. Woodson when he wrote, “If you can control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.”
A Black person, for example, could sit on the Supreme Court for years, but if she/he is miseducated, then that person might attack laws designed to assist Blacks as well as members of other oppressed groups. It will be they who will lead the attack on laws that aid the LGBTQ community.
Lacking wisdom and, at the same time, properly miseducated a Black elected attorney general might purposefully fail to have a grand jury indict White police officers who murdered an innocent Black woman and, instead, obtain an indictment for one White police officer who wantonly shot bullets into the apartment of a White person.
Profoundly miseducated and, without generational wisdom, such a Black person might be the first to come to the rescue and wipe “Karen’s tears” after she was nationally criticized –even if Karen had called the police to arrest the Black person because she “looked suspicious” as she was getting into her recently purchased 2020 car. Another such miseducated Black might be the one to hug “Karen” after she was found guilty of murdering their uncle and, still another, might straighten the wrinkle in “Karen’s” dress when she rises to be sentenced in court.
Lacking generational wisdom, the proximity to power along with a big title and big salary (for a Black person) could cause miseducated folks to become classic “house Negroes.” To appreciate just how far those without wisdom might go and squander Black equity and social justice generational wealth, please read the September 28, 2020 New Pittsburgh Courier Digital Daily article “Ten of the most noteworthy House Negroes in America.” Therein, you will note the detrimental deeds of Clarence Thomas, Daniel Cameron, Jason Whitlock, Candace Owens, Terry Crews, Kanye West, Charles Barkley, Stacy Dash, Diamond & Silk, and Herman Cain.
If we are to end the cycle of “being sick and tired of being sick and tired” and, instead, make consistent, significant, incremental progress when it comes to Blacks acquiring freedom, justice and equality, then we must not squander the generational wisdom of those who came before us. We must not only “say their names” but also acquire the wisdom of ancestors such as James Baldwin, Daisy Bates, Mary McLeod Bethune, Gwendolyn Brooks, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Toni Morrison, Myrlie Evans-Williams, Fannie Lou Hammer, John Lewis, Audre Lorde, Martin Luther King, Jr., Pauli Murray, Rosa Parks, Bayard Rustin, Carter G. Woodson, and Malcolm X.
Regarding a bit of generational wisdom from Audre Lorde, always remember that “… survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.”
Lest the foregoing type of generational wisdom is internalized, years from now after yet another urban insurrection stimulated by racist abuse, Black folks will be babbling, “We had a Senior Vice President for…, and an Executive Associate for…, and a Special Counselor for…, and it seemed we’d make so much progress. But here we are again, having made so little progress over so much time.” Truly, “my people are destroyed” not only for lack of material wealth, but also lack of knowledge, understanding and wisdom!
Jack L. Daniel
Co-Founder, Freed Panther Society
Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media
Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black
October 13, 2020
Avis Williams has always loved to cook and share her culinary talents with friends and family. Now, anyone can enjoy the delicious comfort food she prepares by visiting Hilda’s Soul Food Kitchen in Homestead. The restaurant specializes in Southern hospitality and cooking that will “bring back memories of your grandmother’s kitchen” and “bring the South to Pittsburgh.” Opening the restaurant in July fulfilled a 10-year dream for Williams, who named the restaurant in honor of her mother.
After working in accounting and banking for many years, Williams prayed about making the change, and then “God started opening doors.” Although she previously helped to run a catering business, she had no professional training, so she decided to go back to school to learn how to manage a restaurant. Williams is graduating from CCAC’s Hospitality Operations Management program this year. Through the program, she learned every aspect of restaurant management—from maintaining food in the right order in the refrigerator, to becoming ServSafe certified, which is the industry standard in food safety training and is administered by the U.S. National Restaurant Association.
“CCAC was a tremendous help,” said Williams. “Every class that I took was so beneficial. The whole setup of the program is exactly what someone needs if they’re looking to manage a restaurant.”
Although she was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Williams acquired a love of Southern cooking through her husband and other family members who are from the South. Hilda’s is definitely “filling a niche” by offering daily specials, such as meatloaf and gravy with rice and Southern creamed peas, BBQ ribs with mac ’n cheese and greens, smothered pork chops with two sides, or blackened salmon or chicken tossed salads. Fridays are fish FRYdays with crabcakes, salmon cakes and shrimp étouffée, and every Saturday features a Southern breakfast buffet. Patrons can also sample Southern specialties such as boiled peanuts and pimento cheese.
Customers have responded enthusiastically to the new restaurant, which is currently open for takeout and delivery. The restaurant has limited seating, and Williams plans to offer indoor dining in the future when health concerns about COVID–19 have lessened.
Hilda’s Soul Food Kitchen, located at 514 E. 8th Ave., Homestead, is open Tuesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a Saturday breakfast buffet from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. For more information or to place an order, call 412.462.4220.
Visit ccac.edu to learn more.
When Ashlé Hall arrived from bustling Philadelphia to the small town of Titusville, Pennsylvania, to study physical therapy at Pitt-Titusville, she admits it was a bit like landing on the moon. While there were other Black students on campus, the town with its population of 5,200 was not very diverse.
“It was immediate culture shock. The only place to hang out was at the Wal-Mart,” said Hall, who had just graduated from the predominantly Black West Catholic Preparatory High School. And, much to her dismay, the store did not carry any Black hair or skin products.
She became reliant on weekly care packages shipped from her mother back in Philly, containing the familiar jars of creamy butters and oils Hall needed for her hair. Soon her female classmates were also asking for products and more boxes arrived. Hall began to mix and experiment with some of the ingredients, amid her busy life of classes, studying, and duties as president of the Black Student Union and a residence assistant.
The shift to social work
Two years later, Hall had transferred to the main Pitt campus and had switched her major to social work, inspired by a summer job as camp counselor at the Sarah Heinz House—an organization that provides afterschool and summer programs for kids up to 12 years old.
“Some of the kids were in foster care. They really opened up to me and told me their stories. It was then I thought, ‘I want to do more to help,’” she said.
As a participant in the School of Social Work’s Child Welfare Education for Baccalaureates (CWEB) program, Hall had committed to one year of post-graduation employment as a caseworker at Allegheny County’s Office of Children, Youth and Families (CYF). Helping to place dozens of Black children with white foster families, Hall began to notice a pattern. It wasn’t unusual, as she was leaving the home, for the parent to call out, “Wait, what do I do about their hair?’”
Hall began to offer the moms tips on braiding and caring for Black hair. She recommended products and made an instructional video. Visiting foster homes every 30 days, she saw her suggestions take hold. And, on the side, she began creating her own line of all natural ingredient hair care products.
“In the Black community, sitting on the front porch and getting your hair braided is part of growing up,” said Hall, adding that the state of a child’s natural hair has everything to do with self-esteem and ties to their culture. “Proper education on caring for Black hair will allow foster parents to develop that parent-child bond that supersedes a trip to the salon,” she said.
Help from Pitt experts
By 2018, Hall had secured her bachelor’s degree in social work and was immersed in the school’s master’s program as an Edith M. Baker Integrated Healthcare Fellow. She had connected with the staff at Pitt’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC), who provided her with market research, marketing plans and pricing recommendations for Ashlé Taylor’s Line of hair products.
Ashlé Taylor's Collection products are available in the University Store on Fifth. (Ashlé Hall)
“Ashlé is thoughtful, creative and wholly invested in the success of her business,” said SBDC Management Consultant Lynne Nincke. “She realized the need for natural hair care products on university campuses … and identified a second need with families who don’t have the knowledge to care for children with natural hair.” The SBDC provided the introduction that eventually landed the creams and conditioners in Pitt’s University Store on Fifth.
The bright display on the store’s main floor, with colorful silk hair bonnets and products like Marshmallow Detangler and Jelly Jello Gel, has been a welcome sight for Pitt’s students of color. The products, all priced below $15, bear an image of a young woman reading a book and a back label called “syllabus.” Her Instagram name is also listed so customers have been reaching out to thank her and ordering online. Her best seller? The Shea Smoothie, applied to hair before it’s braided, and can also be used on the skin.
Hall feels having her products in the University Store provides Black students with “a sense of familiarity and support.”
CYF helped start it all
An internship this year at UPMC Children’s Hospital neonatal intensive care unit made Hall realize she wants to eventually work in a hospital setting.
Right now, she is a milieu therapist on the seventh floor of UPMC Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, counseling patients with a range of mental illnesses. But she hasn’t forgotten those little ones who are still being placed in loving homes. She has arranged with local nonprofit Beverly’s Birthdays to have her products tucked into gift boxes that arrive at homes for families-in-need all over the country. The organization’s mission is to provide birthday cheer for children experiencing homelessness and with other needs. Hall also provides products to families in the My Best Self program, which provides trips for kids to hair salons.
“There’s a long waiting list. Children need something immediate until they can get to the salon,” said Hall.
Looking back, the young entrepreneur says it was CYF that opened many doors for her. She calls child welfare one of the most challenging areas of social work but feels every regional social worker should experience one or two years at CYF.
Said Hall: “I wouldn’t have done it any other way.”
Source: University of Pittsburgh
Pitt Social work graduate student Ashlé Hall, entrepreneur with a new line of hair care products.
Who could have prepared my football teammates and I at Shady Side Academy for the summer of 2020, for me, it is going down in history as one of the most unpredictable, frustrating, upside down you turn me seasons I have ever encountered. Of course, this is due to the COVID-19 pandemic scare which hit our team with such a great force like a lineman tackling a quarterback without much protection.
Let me backup, it was Spring, March 2020 to be exact, and as an eighth grader, I was anxiously trying to get out of middle school, when COVID-19 reared its ugly head. Students were forced out of our daily school routines and rushed into an online learning experience to be located at home for about three months without much notice or preparation. The online experience was confusing and a little strange in the beginning, it did not feel normal to not be around my classmates, but once I got my ZOOM skills down, I persevered. Needless to say, I missed connecting with my friends and my teachers in person, its hard to recreate the excitement and action that takes place in a classroom, for me it is an important part of the overall learning experience. During my online instruction in the spring, my mom was always looking over my shoulder while I sat at the kitchen table and my dogs were enjoying biting my toes during my endless ZOOMS, but still online learning could not take the place of being at Shady Side Academy for a regular school day with my classmates and teachers.
Like many people surviving the pandemic here in the United States and around the world we believed by summer COVID-19 would be a thing of the past, this horrific historic disaster, would be brief and just like that life would soon be back to normal, at least by summer, right? Not. Unfortunately, here we are in the middle of August and the virus still has deadly tentacles that continues to spread ferociously, touching everyone’s lives in unpredictable and sadly harmful ways even for us athletes who dream of playing football. I was excited about participating in summer football camp at SSA that kicked off in June. I envisioned my life as a football player taking off especially since this is the first time I would be practicing on a High School team. I was relieved when football practice for the summer was not cancelled, however while the powers that be sorted out our football destiny, we had a few moments of interruption and uncertainty. When we got the green light to continue practice through the summer most of my teammates and I were relieved and we understood we would have to practice differently under COVID-19, no doubt this would not be your regular football season.
Your football game strategy and techniques needs to be on point especially with COVID-19 looming over the field, social distancing with my passionate teammates who are eager to run a cool play and throw a football is a new challenge. You better keep your stride and forget about the fact that we had to wait four long weeks before we could even touch a football. On the long hot 90 degree days, you better make sure you have your own water jug, no sharing sips and stories around the big Gatorade cooler, remember to stand 6-feet apart (this is always on your mind.) Don’t forget your plays and get into formation, run the ball, COVID-19 rules, they exist, they are real and required.
While COVID-19 has tried to take away everything good this summer, I’m thankful that our team, one of the few in the region is still able to practice and come together. While the politics continue over whether or not we will have a season, I still enjoy my football practice even with the extra safety precautions and the major changes required and necessary. As part of the precautions, every morning our temperature is taken and we are asked questions regarding our travel activities. My teammates diligently wear our masks for most of our practice and we place our items in a small hoop, making sure not to contaminate anything. Overall, everyone is working hard at following the social distancing rules because we understand the importance of why we have the guidelines in the first place is to help keep us safe and alive.
My favorite part of every practice is when we go to lift weights, in smaller groups, with masks secured, my teammates and I turn up the music and focus on our goals of winning. Moments like this help me escape the harsh reality of COVID-19 and I am thankful that our football camp was not canceled. I appreciate the camaraderie of the players and how important it is for my mental and physical growth overall. I realize so many other players in other school districts have already canceled their football seasons and fall athletics, and I understand the difficult decisions that many people have to make because of COVID-19. These are tough decisions for families, school administrators, coaches, lawmakers, and the athletes but in the face of adversity we are all learning important lessons about life and how precious these moments are sometimes we have to run the most difficult plays to get to the end zone.
My coach, Chuck DiNardo at Shady Side Academy emphasizes during practice to work hard at everything that you do, and when you show up for practice be ready to do your best. He also tells us to thank our parents and others who are making sacrifices for us to be able to practice, and more importantly we should not take them for granted especially during this deadly pandemic.
TO BE OR NOT TO BE, indeed, this is the question that sums up our football season-- whether or not we will have a season come fall is still up in the air and a heated political hot potato, I am not sure who really wins in the end. While the politics about the season continues to be sorted out, I can appreciate that everyone on my football team still comes to work hard every practice and we all have respect for each other, our coaches, and our equipment and stadium. More importantly, our team focuses on respect and trust the most. Coach DiNardo, aka “Coach D” says that he wants to be able to trust us to keep working hard even when we are tired. We are tired of this pandemic, but our spirits are not broken by the desire to continue to play a game that means so much to us young athletes.
As our social distancing rules continues, for me football is still a great escape from this pandemic, sincere props go out to Coach DiNardo, Coach Charles Calabrese “Breezy,” Coach Dave Havern, Coach Josh Frechette, and Coach Alex Bellinotti for their dedication and leadership throughout the summer practice. Indeed, I am a better player because of their relentless commitment and support through this highly unusual, unpredictable but need I say, worthwhile summer of football. Whether we play football or not will continue to be debated, I hope those marking the decisions understand most of us athletes still care about what actions take place. What resonates with me during these turbulent times, is our SSA football chant after each practice where my teammates and I come together to shout loud and proud: “Family on 3. 1. 2. 3. Family.” Family is what matters the most and sometimes it comes in the form of a football team, and sometimes in a family we learn crucial life long lessons during difficult situations like this dreadful pandemic, these are the moments that you need to be strong, stay focused and keep grinding!
Isaiah Beckham, PUM Contributor
August 17, 2020
Isaiah Beckham, Shady Side Academy Football player, 9th grade student.
This month, Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” turns 60. In recent years, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has sparked criticism for how it addresses race and racism. Some have labeled it having a White savior complex.
The novel, set in the 1930s in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama, is anchored around the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. Atticus Finch, a white man, serves as Robinson’s lawyer. Widely considered a coming-of-age novel, the story is told from the perspective of Scout Finch, Atticus’ daughter, who is six years old when the book begins.
As the book marks its 60-year milestone, and as teachers prepare for fall, Pittwire reached out to Geoffrey Glover, a lecturer in the Department of English in Pitt’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, for a conversation about the book amid renewed controversy—and guidance on how to approach it in the classroom.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is studied in classrooms across America. More recently, the book has come under scrutiny. Where do you see it being problematic?
That’s one of the things I’ve been getting my students and teachers to focus on. The very idea that this novel actually speaks about racism as a complex well-rounded treatment is a bit of a misnomer.
Rather, it approaches racism from one direction—from an external, White outsider mentality. The focus of the novel is zeroed in on either Scout as an innocent character or Atticus, a paragon of moral virtue standing up against injustices. But what’s lost in that is the focus on Black humanity and Black complexity. We have Tom Robinson, who is literally killed by the system of judicial practice that is going on during this time period. That’s often neglected in these discussions. The text moves us away from that and moves toward a portrait of white courage, even white guilt to a certain extent.
That said, if we can’t modernize the discussion of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” we’re doing a disservice to the spirit of the book.
So, do you think the novel should be taken out of curriculum altogether?
I still believe this text should be taught, but how it’s taught should be carefully contextualized.
It also matters when it’s taught. The discussions are different in middle school, high school and college classrooms. I would argue that you may need to teach it more than once. Revisiting it would encourage students to actually see their growth in their understanding of racism as a systemic process and their growth in their participation in that system, whether voluntary or not.
What are reasons that the novel should be taught?
We can hold the novel up as an early attempt of dealing with racism. It deals with race as a problem of personal morality. That’s the implication you get. There’s a loss of innocence we see in the story, that gaining of experience and the moral compass of the story. Especially if you locate it in Scout versus Atticus. Race is a problem that can be addressed through multiple generations. It acknowledges that White America needs to own this problem too.
The story also recognizes the interconnectedness of race, class and gender. The crime that’s investigated is a rape of a White woman of lower class by a Black man. The woman is questionable in her credibility because of her class, and the Black man isn’t believed because of his race. It reflects the story of Emmett Till. It’s not just an issue of race, but also of class and gender.
The book does promote an early form of anti-racism that we are building off of and adding to now. You can see it as a process novel. It’s an early step in formulating an anti-racist mentality for the majority of the United States. It does imply that White Americans should fix inequality following years of inequality.
What are some better ways to approach this novel?
One way to approach it is to de-center Whiteness. You can have an oppositional reading of the text that focuses on the few instances of Black characters and give students the opportunity to create their own meaning for some of the scenes.
Teachers can also have their students act out certain scenes. You have White characters who are given a whole lot of direction through the text, but consider asking students, “What are Tom’s motivation for scenes, how is he acting? How would you portray that?” You can go into depth into these characters by changing the medium.
In the book, the Ewells are poor White individuals; they aren’t good or upstanding. That’s a good thing. It shows there are ranks of power and control within Whiteness. In classrooms, we can talk about how those are constructed and maintained. Important questions to ask are: “What does whiteness mean in the 1960s, when it was written? What does it mean in the 1930s when the book is set? And what does it mean now?” Those are three historical contexts we have to balance as readers.
How about framing Atticus, the classic hero figure in the story?
I think we should be de-romanticizing Atticus. The reasons why are clearer when you look at Lee’s second novel, “Go Set a Watchman.” In that story, Scout returns to her hometown later in life and is dealing with her father, who hasn’t aged well. He’s more than arguably racist in this second story. That suggests that his actions in the novel may not be motivated by a heroic need to right the wrongs of racial inequality in America. Rather, he just likes the idea of fairness, order and continuity and dislikes the idea of chaos and illegal behavior of all kinds.
This is a discussion that can be valuable to students. But if you hold him up as a hero, it undermines the complexity that we don’t like to see in our heroes. It’s an interesting way of teaching the text.
You mention pairing the novel with something else is also a good approach. Do you have any suggestions?
There are a host of different readings you can pair it with to meet different purposes. For talking about a Black child’s interaction with racism versus white child’s interaction with racism, and the loss of innocence they both experience, I’d pair it with “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison—obviously for college students.
“Recitatif,” a short story also by Toni Morrison, is another. The characters in this story are never defined by their race; there are no racial markers. We, the readers, bring race into it. So, consider reading this short story and then bring that process into “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
There’s Octavia Butler’s “Kindred.” It humanizes Black experiences and the legacy of slavery and racism. Compare that that approach to “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It’s interesting because “Kindred” a time-travel story about a Black woman in the 1970s who travels back in time and is enslaved.
“Internment,” by Samira Ahmed is another one. It talks about being crushed under institutional racism from a Muslim’s perspective. That in and of itself is valuable because it’s talking about different vectors of the same problem.
Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” or “Battle Royale” both focus on the failure of institutions to support help or free African Americans during the middle of the 20th century.
“They Eyes are Watching God,” by Zora Neale Hurston is another.
My personal favorite: “If He Hollers Let Him God,” by Chester Himes. It’s very much about Black rage and rage against institutions of racism. It links to the despair Tom felt as he went to escape.
How are conversations about this book different today than they may have been as recent as last year?
Just in the past three months, we’re seen a massive transformation in the kind of social discussion we’re having and the awareness of policing and law enforcement.
You can actively see an awareness by larger groups of people. Folks that may not have concerned themselves with race at all may now be thrust into these conversations they can’t help but deal with. They may feel indicted or oppressed themselves. We may not have been able to have that conversation last year. I don’t think the same people would’ve shown up.
Source: University of Pittsburgh
Geoffrey Glover offers ways to read the book (Tom Altany-Pitt)